Tag Archives: Talmud

Jew of the Week: Rav Shteinman

Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman (1914-2017) was born in what is now the city of Brest, Belarus. To avoid being conscripted into the Polish army, the young yeshiva student fled to Switzerland with some classmates. He continued his diligent studies in a Swiss yeshiva until being arrested during World War II and sent to a labour camp. Shteinman was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. He settled in Israel after the war. There, the young rabbi quickly made a name for himself as a Torah prodigy, and was soon appointed rosh yeshiva, head of a Torah academy. He would serve as a rosh yeshiva for the next five decades, while also establishing a number of children’s schools for the underprivileged. Meanwhile, Rav Shteinman wrote profusely, authoring dozens of bestselling books and discourses on Torah, Talmud, and Jewish thought, as well as being recognized as an expert in the field of education. While abstaining from politics himself, Rav Shteinman was the spiritual leader of Israel’s Degel HaTorah party, playing an influential role in government. In his 90s, and in frail health, the Rav decided to journey around the world to strengthen Jewish communities. Countless thousands gathered to greet him and hear his wise words in Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Manchester, Odessa, Berlin, Gibraltar, Paris, and many more small towns. On these trips, he would give as many as 10 talks a day.

Rav Shteinman was known for his extreme piety, humility, and modesty. His daily diet was nothing but a cucumber, a boiled potato, and one small bowl of oatmeal. He lived in a tiny apartment, with little furniture but walls lined end to end with books. He slept on the same thin mattress that was given to Jewish refugees upon arrival in Israel for some 50 years. Streams of people lined up at his open door each day seeking counsel and blessings. Rav Shteinman stood only for truth, even when it brought him adversity. This was particularly clear when he supported the Nachal Charedi, an IDF unit for yeshiva students. Even after some backlash from ultra-Orthodox communities, the Rav stood his ground and continued his support. He was widely recognized as the gadol hador, the world’s chief rabbi. Sadly, the great rabbi passed away yesterday, at 103 years of age. (His condition had turned critical two weeks ago after the tragic death of his 72-year old daughter from a heart attack, even though no one had told him of her passing.) Rav Shteinman wrote in his will that it would suffice to have just ten men to carry out his funeral, and requested no eulogies. Nonetheless, the funeral procession brought over 600,000 people. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated that Rav Shteinman “bore the entire weight of the Jewish people’s existence on his shoulders… he knew how to convey his ideas gently, in a pleasant manner, and with a great love of the Jewish people… He was a man whose wisdom was exceeded only by his humility.”

Words of the Week

You are also living on a miracle.
– Rav Shteinmanto a doctor that told him the frail rabbi is “living on a miracle”.

The streets of Bnei Brak fill with hundreds of thousands of mourners for Rav Shteinman’s funeral procession.

Jew of the Week: Rashi

Illustration of Rashi from 1539

Illustration of Rashi from 1539

Shlomo Itzchaki (1040-1105) was born in Troyes, France, the only child of a rabbi. He began his Torah studies at age 5 under the tutelage of his father. At 17, he married and moved to Worms, Germany to study at the yeshiva of Rabbi Yakar. He later studied under several other rabbis, including his uncle, and the chief rabbi of Mainz. At 25, now himself a rabbi, Itzchaki returned to Troyes and was invited to serve on the town’s rabbinical court. Soon after, he took over as the head of the court, and the central authority on Jewish religious and legal matters. By 30, Rabbi Itzchaki had opened a yeshiva, which went on to become a centre of Torah study for countless Jews. Undoubtedly, the Rabbi is most famous for his profound commentaries on the Bible and Talmud. These are included in just about every publication of the Bible and Talmud since the 1500’s. In these texts, he is referred to simply as “Rashi”, an acronym of his initials. Rashi’s commentary on the Five Books of Moses alone inspired over 300 future commentaries. Even the Christian world studied his texts (here, Rashi was sometimes referred to by his Latinized name, Isaacides). In fact, many Christian commentaries on the Bible are based on Rashi’s texts. One of the more famous ones, that of the monk Nicolas de Lyre, was so heavily drawn from Rashi that de Lyre was nicknamed “Rashi’s ape”. Nonetheless, it was de Lyre’s commentary that inspired Martin Luther, the father of Protestant Christianity, and Luther used this text to produce his famous translation of the Bible. In addition to his commentaries, roughly 300 of Rashi’s other legal texts exist today. These texts are studied by linguistic scholars, too, who are looking to better understand both Hebrew and medieval French. According to tradition, Rashi also worked as a winemaker to support himself financially. He had three daughters who were scholars in their own right, with some suggesting that they completed a number of his unfinished commentaries, and possibly even donned tefillin. Rashi’s grandsons were some of the biggest rabbis of the following generation, including Rashbam and Rabbeinu Tam. Recently, an ancient map was discovered showing the location of Rashi’s grave. It happens to be under a public square in Troyes. A monument now stands over the site.

Words of the Week

The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.
– Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg