Harav Shteinman was hospitalized several weeks ago with shortness of breath and passed away early on Tuesday morning. In according to his will, he was buried 6 hours after his passing.
Police blocked major highways and roads around the cemetery and emergency medical services were on hand to deal with the flood of people flocking to the funeral. The emergency service MDA said even before the funeral began it had treated about 70 people for injuries resulting from the massive crowd.
Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman led a council of sages that controlled the small Degel Hatorah lawmakers’ faction, part of the United Torah Judaism party, which has often held the balance of power in Israel.
In particular, Shteinman broke with tradition by giving tacit consent to the enlistment of religious soldiers in the first ultra-Orthodox unit set up by the Israeli military.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government includes ultra-Orthodox political parties, said the Jewish people had “lost a central beacon of spirit, heritage and morality”
Following the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in 2012, he was widely regarded as the Gadol Hador (Leader of the Generation), the leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian world.
Harav Shteinman was born and raised in Brest (Brisk), then part of the Russian Empire. He studied in Yeshivas Imrei Moshe, headed by Rabbi Moshe Skolovsky, in Brest, and attended shiurim (Torah lectures) given by Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav. He also studied in Kletzk under Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
Upon reaching draft age in 1937, he was subject to the Polish draft, as Brest had come under the control of the newly established Polish state in the aftermath of the First World War. He and his close friend, Rabbi Moische Soloveitchik (a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik) tried to evade the draft by starving themselves, but they were declared fit to serve by the draft officer.
The two then fled with other Brisk students to Montreux, Switzerland, where they returned to Torah study in Yeshivas Etz Chaim. With the outbreak of World War II, the two became war refugees and were incarcerated in the Schonenberg labor camp near Basel, where nearly all the inmates were Torah-observant. Shteinman and his friend were put to work laying roads, but due to his thin frame and short stature, Shteinman was soon released from manual labor and assigned to a desk job.
Shteinman was the only member of his family to survive the war. While still in Switzerland, he married Tamar (Tema) Kornfeld (d. 2002), the daughter of Rabbi Shammai Shraga Kornfeld of Antwerp. She had been sent to Switzerland from Poland to cure her respiratory problems and had also become a refugee when World War II broke out. Together they had four children.
During his initial years in Israel, Shteinman and his family lived in Kfar Saba; his sons were sent to a cheder in Petah Tikva. Eventually they relocated to Bnei Brak, where he headed the Ponevezh Kollel. In 1955, the Ponevezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, opened the yeshivah ketanah of Ponevezh, called Ponevezh L’Tzi’irim, and asked Shteinman to serve as rosh yeshivah together with Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. Shteinman stopped giving his regular shiur in 1998, but retained the title of rosh yeshiva. He was also rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Gaon Yaakov, which is led by his son-in-law, Rabbi Zev Berlin.
Shteinman was also the author of a popular series of kuntresim (pamphlets) on Torah subjects such as emunah (faith), chinuch (education), and hashgacha (Divine providence). The pamphlets are based on shiurim (Torah lectures) that he began giving to Ponevezh Kollel students in his home in 1994, and on shmuessen (ethical talks) that he began giving to students in Yeshivas Gaon Yaakov in 1978. Ranging in size from 24 to 100 pages, the pamphlets quickly sell out.
Rabbi Elazar Shach, the founder of the Degel HaTorah political party, when consulted for advice, would at times refer people to consult with Shteinman.
Shteinman was a leader of the Haredi Degel HaTorah political party and exerted much political power in the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) political coalition. He was close with the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, a major supporter of Agudat Israel.
When he was in his nineties, Shteinman undertook to visit and strengthen key Haredi and religious communities outside of Israel. In 2005 he visited a number of cities in North America with significant Haredi populations or institutions, including in Brooklyn, New York, and Passaic, meeting with many American Haredi rabbis including Rabbi Aharon Schechter of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin.
He traveled to the Jewish community of Los Angeles on Lag Ba’omer in 2006 during a trip to America. Over five thousand individuals attended the gathering. He planned to travel together with Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, to Montreal in May 2006, but they delayed their trip to avoid protests from the Neturei Karta. After visiting Montreal, the rabbis parted ways.
In May 2007 Steinman visited France, then England, where he addressed large gatherings in Manchester and Gateshead. In June 2010 Shteinman visited the Jewish communities of Odessa, Berlin, and Gibraltar. In 2012 he traveled to Paris to deliver talks to the French Jewish community.
Shteinman is known for his extremely modest lifestyle. His apartment on Chazon Ish Street 5, is sparsely furnished and has not been painted in many years. Until 2014, he slept on the same thin mattress that he had received from the Jewish Agency upon his arrival in Israel in the early 1950s.
Shteinman originally published his main works on the Talmud anonymously under the name Ayelet HaShachar (alluding to his initials and those of his wife, Tamar [AYeLeT = Aharon Yehuda Leib Tamar] in Hebrew, as well as the “morning star” of Psalms.