Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz), the world-famous Talmudist, Kabbalist, educator, community rabbi, philosopher, prolific author—and, above all, devoted Chassid—who was internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of this century, and was hailed by Time magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar,” passed away in Jerusalem on Aug. 7 (17 Menachem Av, 5780.) He was 83 years old.

Born in 1937 in Jerusalem to Avraham Moshe and Leah Steinsaltz—Polish immigrants with avowedly secular left-leaning worldviews—young Adin was consummately curious as a boy and teenager growing up in the Katamon neighborhood of the Holy City. He would recall how he explored the religious texts he first encountered with the same rigor and voraciousness that he had applied to the writings of Communist and Socialist thinkers that his parents had proffered to him.

With a determination that closely matched his intellect, the teen won his parents’ permission to study Talmud and Chassidic philosophy full-time in the Chabad yeshivah in Lod. There he was exposed to the teachings of the Rebbe the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory—who had recently taken up the mantle of leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement following the passing of his father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

In the model of many great rabbinic scholars throughout Jewish history, Steinsaltz also studied chemistry and physics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem before entering the field of education. He established several experimental schools and became Israel’s youngest school principal at the age of 24.

In 1965, he married Chaya Sarah Azimov, the daughter of Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov, director of the Chabad schools in Paris, and scion of a longtime Chabad family.

Devoted Chassid

In the Rebbe, the prodigy found not only an intellectual giant but a spiritual guide and living embodiment of authentic Jewish leadership in the Mosaic tradition. Steinsaltz was taken with the Rebbe’s care and devotion to reaching every Jew, regardless of the level of personal sacrifice it took, and applied himself thereto with gusto.

He also came to appreciate that “[The Rebbe] possessed some sort of supernatural capability and that he was in contact with another state of being, which I do not hesitate to call the Divine,” recalled Even-Israel in My Rebbe, his 2014 biography of the Rebbe. He begins his book by stating: “The first time I met the Rebbe, I felt his intense personality, his almost complete otherness.”

That first meeting took place in 1970, when at the age of 33, he was sent to bring greetings to the Rebbe as personal representative of President Zalman Shazar.

The Steinsaltzes had three children, Esti (today Esther Sheleg), Meni (Menachem Yaakov Tzvi) and Amechayeh (acronym for Avraham Moshe Chaim Hillel). Besides providing guidance in his Torah studies and communal leadership, the Rebbe provided fatherly care and advice in personal matters as well.

One day in 1989, for no reason apparent to them, the Rebbe advised Rabbi and Rebbetzin Steinsaltz that the family change their name from Steinsaltz, which suggests bitterness, to a Hebrew alternative.

Shortly thereafter, their 15-year-old son, Meni, was diagnosed with leukemia, and the Rebbe blessed the boy and surprisingly advised the parents that they were not to pursue the marrow transplant the doctors were urging. “The doctors were furious that we chose to follow the Rebbe’s guidance, not theirs,” recalled Even-Israel in My Rebbe. “Despite their prediction, our son healed, married and had children … Years later the doctors admitted … that their approach had been wrong.”

Award-Winning Author of Groundbreaking Jewish Texts

For many, Rabbi Even-Israel will be best-remembered for translating and elucidating the entire Talmud in Modern Hebrew and then English—an unrivaled solo feat he began around the time of his marriage and completed decades later.

His classic introduction to Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, was published in 1980 and has been reprinted in eight languages. In all, he authored more than 200 books and hundreds of articles, including groundbreaking translations. Videos and excerpts from many of his writings can be found on Chabad.org.

A frail man with a wry smile and a soft voice, Even-Israel was known for his caustic sense of humor and disdain for pretense. An admirer recalls once complimenting him after a class on Talmud for beginners, innocently telling the rabbi how much he had enjoyed it. “You were not supposed to ‘enjoy’ it,” was the reply. “You were supposed to learn something!”

The recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies in 1988; the President’s Prize and National Jewish Book Award in 2012, for making the study of Talmud more accessible; and the Yakir Yerushalayim (“Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem”) medal in 2017, Even-Israel served as scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies in Washington and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, and as visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Since the late 1950s, he taught thousands of classes, many of them for decades on end, attracting presidents, prime ministers, men and women of letters, and many others from the upper crust of Israeli society. One class he regularly taught on Chabad philosophy every Thursday at 10:40 p.m. had originally been presented by Rabbi S.Y. Zevin and included as a regular Shazar and many of his intellectual cohort. Shazar continued to participate while in office.

At the Rebbe’s behest, he served as rabbi of the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue, the only Jewish place of worship in Jerusalem’s Old City that survived the Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967. He began the task a few years after the liberation and continued making the trek from his home to the Old City every Shabbat until his frail health prevented him from doing so.

In Israel, the schools under his leadership provide Chabad Chassidic teachings and are geared to students from a diverse range of backgrounds, particularly those from Modern Orthodox (National Religious) circles.

At one point, feeling overwhelmed by his crushing workload consisting of multiple “full-time jobs,” Even-Israel wrote to the Rebbe asking which duties he should drop. The Rebbe’s reply: Continue doing everything and add more. It was a directive that he took to heart, often explaining by way of physics how the Rebbe sought to change human nature. Indeed, he continued to expand his historic output, elucidating the Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud Yerushalmi, Rambam and Tanya, while balancing his other responsibilities, until his stroke in 2016. With herculean effort, he continued pushing himself to accomplish certain editorial tasks even in his aphasiac condition.

In time, his children joined him in his publishing and educational endeavors, and the Steinsaltz Center is currently directed by his son Rabbi Meni.

As word of his passing spread, accolades and tributes have poured in from across the landscape of Jewish life.

He was a man of great spiritual courage, deep knowledge and profound thought who brought the Talmud to Am Yisrael in clear and accessible Hebrew and English," tweeted Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) is survived by his wife, their three children, 18 grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, including a boy who was born the day before the passing of his great-grandfather.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the family requests that the funeral procession and burial be limited to family members.