Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, an exceptional scholar, died on Friday, August 7th, in Jerusalem, aged 83. He spent around 40 years translating the Babylonian Talmud, making it accessible to thousands of people. The Shaarei Zedek Medical Center announced his death, and a publicist mentioned that Adin Steinsaltz had acute pneumonia.
For centuries, the study of Talmud was done by yeshivas, who struggled to teach one another what it meant. The Talmud is a record of rabbinical debates on the ethics and laws of Judaism between A.D. 200 and 500, written largely in Aramaic.
Rabbi Steinsaltz’s main achievement was to create a Hebrew translation of the Talmud that allowed ordinary Jews to read the texts independently. Over the years, the Talmud’s Hebrew edition has been translated by several publishers into Spanish, Russian, French, and English.
Translating the Talmud
Rabbi Steinsaltz, completed the entire 45 volume Talmud translation in 2010, working around 16 hours a day. He is widely known for bringing the Talmud into the 20th century. Rabbi Steinsaltz started working on Talmud’s translation back in 1965 when he was just 27.
In his translation, Rabbi Steinsaltz included the ancient commentaries written by notable figures such as scholar Rashi. He also supplemented the translation with his own commentaries and biographies of other commentaries. Additionally, he explained various Talmudic concepts in his edition.
Rabbi Steinsaltz aimed to accommodate everyone, including individuals that had the lowest level of knowledge. During an interview with The New York Times, Rabbi Steinsaltz said that he was trying to create a book for a living teacher.
Many people referred to Rabbi Steinsaltz as a man of exceptional knowledge and great courage. He brought the Talmud to the Jewish people in accessible and clear English and Hebrew.
Random House translated the Talmud in 22 different English volumes, all of which were published, but they stopped. One of the first English translations of the Talmud was the Steinsaltz edition. Korean Publishers Jerusalem Ltd published this edition, and they have been publishing it since 2009.
Before the Steinsaltz English translation, Soncino Press completed a 30-volume translation. But, this edition could not be used for self-study as it didn’t have an efficient commentary. Mesorah Publications also translated the Talmud in 2005, creating a 73 volume edition.
This edition is the most popular to date among individuals that participate in Daf Yomi and other Orthodox Jews.
Rabbi Steinsaltz Life
Rabbi Steinsaltz was a sharp observer of humanity and a prolific writer, writing more than 60 books on theology, zoology, and philosophy. He studied Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, a classic that has been translated into eight different languages.
Rabbi Steinsaltz grew up in a secular family unit and only became interested in Jews in his teens when he studied with a fellow rabbi. He is known for giving lessons surrounding “lashon hara,” which focuses on setting a cage-like jaw on the human body to prevent it from speaking evil.
Rabbi Steinsaltz was born in 1937 in Jerusalem to parents, Leah and Avraham Steinsaltz. He studied physics, mathematics, and chemistry at the Hebrew University while attending rabbinical studies. He became a school principal at the young age of 24 and founded numerous experimental schools during his lifetime.
While Rabbi Steinsaltz spent most of his life in Jerusalem with his family, he once visited the Vatican. Rabbi Steinsaltz has three children, namely Esther Sheleg, Menachem and Amechaye, and eighteen grandchildren.
Rabbi Steinsaltz began his Talmud translations in 1965, and at the time, it was more of a hobby as he had several schools to run. When he began, he didn’t know the immensity of work required to translate the Talmud fully.
What started as a leisure pass time is now one of his greatest achievements. Thanks to Rabbi Steinsaltz, the Talmud is now available to hundreds of individuals.