Steinsaltz Center Digitalizes the Rabbi’s Legacy
On Aug. 7, 2020, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) passed away in Jerusalem at the age of 83. But the Steinsaltz Center that he opened many years earlier continues to publish books in his spirit and style, and has catapulted its projects by moving into high digitalization mode.
To celebrate that scholarship and encourage participation in moving it forward, an elegant gala was held on October 2, after Rosh Hashana and on the cusp of Yom Kippur, at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, with the title, “A Living Legacy, Jewish Knowledge in the Digital Age.” It was organized by Liza Even-Israel, the daughter-in-law of the late Rav Adin Even-Israel and wife of Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, the Rav’s son, and was moderated by Israeli journalist Amit Segal, who is the chief political commentator of Channel 12 News and of Yediot Aharonot.
The speakers included Rabbi Meni and Ron Dermer, who served as the Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2013 to 2021. Dermer told the dinner guests, “I first met Rav Steinsaltz 27 years ago when I was the president of a student society at Oxford University. We were hosting a debate between the Rav and Richard Dawkins, the world-renowned atheist, on whether God exists. It was a good debate. I think God won.
“I remember the Rav’s unassuming manner, his insatiable curiosity, those piercing blue eyes, and his singular sense of humor. I said that night that if a teacher is measured by how much knowledge they spread and how many students they have, Rav Steinsaltz is surely the greatest teacher of our generation. His Herculean effort to translate and write a commentary on the Talmud had already opened up the gates of knowledge to hundreds of thousands of students. But that was only the beginning. … We learn, therefore we are.”
His remarks were followed by a fascinating presentation of the English language Mishnah Project, the Steinsaltz Digital Platform, and a panel discussion of “Jewish Knowledge in the Digital Age,” that included, in addition to Rabbi Meni and Ambassador Dermer, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, and Jordana Cutler. Rabbi Allouche is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona, a former student of the Rav and a graduate of the Rav’s high school yeshiva, Makor Chaim. Cutler is Public Policy Director, Israel & the Jewish Diaspora, for Meta (Facebook). From Nov 2013 – Jul 2016 she was Chief of Staff of the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.
Liza Even-Israel told this reporter. “We have the Steinsaltz Daily Study app that you can download to Android or Apple. It has over thirteen thousand users and is still only in Beta. In keeping with our mission to ‘Let My People Know,’ we are building a new platform which will include an archive of all the Rav’s materials including items that were never released to the public, that will be available for teachers, researchers and students.
“The Hebrew Mishnah was the last series the Rav translated during his lifetime. The Mishnah will be in stores G-d willing very soon. We are now fundraising for the English translation. The Rambam Mishneh Torah in English is also underway.” The evening also celebrated the new Steinsaltz web portal.
The Rav’s commentary on the Mishnah includes content from experts in zoology, astronomy, agriculture, and many other disciplines. Producing the Mishnah in English is expected to take six years, include 13 volumes, and make it accessible to millions throughout the world. Each volume of the Koren Steinsaltz Mishnah contains an average of 750 color photographs and illustrations.
The evening included musical accompaniment by Aaron Hillel Attia and Shmuel Allouche.
Rav Amechaye Even-Israel, Rav Steinsaltz’s son and project manager of the Mishnah Project, said in a pre-recorded message, “Saying good-bye for the last time to your father…standing there are the funeral, you could see that the closest people to him were his students … I lost a father. I think they lost something that was much more than that. It left me with the urgent call that his mission really needs to go on.”
Rav Meni said, “His main request, that remained through his last days, to his last moment, was to continue in his life’s mission – to make the Jewish canon accessible and available to everybody.”
The Rav authored more than 130 titles that have been translated and published in millions of copies. In a short film he had said, “My plans are for the next 140 years…”
The Rav authored more than 130 titles that have been translated and published in millions of copies. In a short film he had said, “My plans are for the next 140 years …”
Rav Meni described how when he was a teenager he remembers getting up in the middle of the night and seeing his father in his study with a Talmud open and next to it a book of science fiction (“Probably Asimov,” he said).
Rav Allouche described how when he was walking with the Rav in Time Square a number of years ago, the Rav would accept all the flyers pushed at him by multiple random people, and Rav Allouche asked, “Why are you taking them? You don’t need them.” And the Rav said, “I don’t need them, but these people need me to take them, because after they’ve given out a thousand flyers, they get their pay. So why not help a person get his pay a little bit quicker?’ Here was a man whose head was in the heavens, but his feet were on the ground.”
Cutler introduced to the audience the premiere of the first Metaverse Torah which is access with VR headsets. Four people virtually discussed a Torah issue, ending with a virtual “Shehecheyanu.” She said that they are asking, “How can we as a company help people to understand this technology? It is important that we be involved in how we want the internet to look for our children in the future. If we are involved in the design, it will be less frightening.”
Rav Meni: “With the new web portal, scholars will be able to cross-reference ideas and terms from early biblical and later Jewish sources. One can download an app that will give them nine different cycles of daily learning. Tanach, Mishneh, Talmud, Rambam, Tanya … all of it with the Rav’s commentaries.”
While Rav Allouche was with the Rav in America in 2014, it was he who got the call that the bodies of the three boys who had been kidnapped and murdered, two of whom were students at Makor Chaim, had been found. The Rav was told the news and was silent, and cried, and then he quoted the verse “Wake up God, why are you sleeping?”
Allouche added, “We spoke about death and about the afterlife and the Rav said, ‘They say there are angels in heaven and they have wings. But I’ll tell you what’s prettier. A human being with wings. And that’s what I try to do. To give people wings so that they too can fly, grow and soar to the heavens.’”
Toby Klein Greenwald and her husband Yaakov worked for Rav Steinsaltz in the 1970s. Yaakov was his student in earlier years, and Toby taught for seven years in his Makor Chaim high school yeshiva in Gush Etzion. She is an award-winning journalist and theater director and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.