Hundreds Of Thousands Attend Levaya Of Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman

 Bnei Brak, Israel – Several hundred thousand people have taken part in the levaya of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leader of the charedi world who passed away on Tuesday morning aged 104. Tens of thousands from the Haredi community streamed to Bnei Brak from around the country in order to participate in the funeral procession of the departed rabbi, with men, women, boys and girls lining the streets, watching from balconies, climbing walls and taking up any available vantage point to watch the proceedings. Mourners who gathered spoke of Rabbi Shteinman’s great depth of Torah knowledge, his great humility and his almost complete abstinence from worldly pleasures, fasting frequently and sleeping just a few hours a night. The rabbi’s humility was borne out in his will, in which he requested that no eulogies be said for him, although Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, who will likely be accepted as the new “leader of the generation,” did give a speech about the rabbi. Rabbi Shteinman also requested that eulogies not be written about him in newspapers, saying that a picture of him in the newspaper would be enough, and asked that no rallies be held for him, that notices of his passing not be printed, and that announcements of his death on the radio and in the streets over loudspeakers not be made. All these requests have largely been ignored by the press and the public. “It is enough that just ten people come to the funeral,” said the departed rabbi in his will, read out in front of hundreds of thousands of mourners waiting for the funeral procession to begin. He also requested a simply burial plot, saying “my place in the cemetery is next to regular people,” and requested that no titles be written on his headstone and that it be “the cheapest and simplest” one available, and that money not be wasted on an expensive place in the cemetery. Exceedingly frail, Rabbi Shteinman had been in and out of hospital over the last few months and was put on life support early Tuesday morning from which he never recovered. Rabbi Shteinman has formally led the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic Haredi community since 2012 when the former leader of the generation Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv died. But he has been the de facto leader on issues of public importance to the Haredi community since the mid-1990s when the health of then leader Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach went into severe decline. Even when Elyashiv was technically the leader of the generation, Rabbi Shteinman was making decisions on critical issues such as military service enlistment, with the support of Elyashiv who was more involved in making decisions on matters pertaining strictly to Jewish law rather than Haredi daily life choices. Rabbi Shteinman was not a modernizer or a reformer, he was a strong proponent of Haredi men studying Torah in yeshiva as the pinnacle of human endeavor, and was of the opinion that everything else was of secondary importance. To this end, he sought for much of his life to make full-time yeshiva study after marriage a more economically viable option, and to greatly increase the number of Haredi men in full time study, a goal that was achieved as the ranks of yeshiva students rapidly swelled in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is also noted that when the welfare state which was critical in supporting so many yeshiva students began to creak under the strain, Rabbi Shteinman did not try to hold back the increasing number of men who in the late 1990s and 2000s began to leave the yeshiva halls to gain a qualification, find a job and even go to the army. Famously, Rabbi Shteinman sent a delegate to the Tal Committee, which in 2002 formulated a new, legal framework for mass exemptions from military service for yeshiva students, but which included a provision that those not completing the requisite number of hours in yeshiva would have to enlist. This was a critical concession to the demands of the state which essentially marked the beginning of the trend of Haredi enlistment and made such a route for a Haredi man communally acceptable, albeit still undesirable. The leadership will now be taken up by Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, 94, the dean of the prestigious Ponovezeh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and expressions of support for his leadership are likely to come from other senior rabbis of the Haredi world, first and foremost Rabbi Haim Kanievsky in the coming days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a press release, said the Jewish people “lost a major beacon of spirit, heritage and morals” who “worked for the greater good with sincere love for his fellow Jew.”

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