Strictly Orthodox leader Aharon Shteinman dies in Israel aged 104

Thousands expected at funeral of Lithuanian-born rabbi, who was a spiritual and political leader


The strictly Orthodox world is in mourning for Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, a leader of the Lithuanian stream of strictly Orthodox Judaism, who died late on Monday aged 104.

He was one of the last Haredi leaders born and raised in Eastern Europe, and began the rebuilding of the great yeshivas in Israel after the Holocaust.

While he dedicated his life to the study and teaching of Torah, he also wielded significant political power as the spiritual leader of Degel Ha'Torah, one of the main factions making up Israel’s United Torah Judaism party. 

Born in 1913 in the town of Kamenitz, then part of the Russian Empire and today in Belarus, he studied in Poland’s famed Brisk Yeshiva as a boy and a young man.

In 1937, facing a possible draft to the Polish army, he moved to Switzerland to continue his studies at Montreaux Yeshiva, where he was to become a Rabbi and teacher. Most of his family who remained in Poland and Lithuania were murdered in the Holocaust. 

After the Second World War, Rabbi Shteinman arrived in Mandatory Palestine. As a young rabbi led a number of Yeshivas which had been founded in Israel to replace those in Lithuania that had been either disbanded by the Soviet Union or destroyed by the Germans in the Holocaust.

He was appointed a Rosh Yeshiva at Ponivezh, the yeshiva that over the decades was shaped into the centre of Torah learning in the Israeli coastal city of Bnei Berak. 

It was 1988 when Rabbi Shteinman, then aged in his mid-70s, first became involved in politics when he was appointed to the new “Council of Torah Greats” that directed the Degel Ha'Torah group.

The Lithuanian party that had broken away from Agudath Yisrael, an old Haredi party that was dominated by Hassidic rabbis.

He became an influential and conciliatory figure, working to repair the split in the Haredi community, meeting regularly with the leaders of the Ger and Chabad Hassidic courts.

He was also opposed to open conflict with Israel's secular establishment. Despite his devotion to lifelong Torah study, he was known for granting approval on an individual basis to many young Haredi men who wanted to leave yeshiva to enlist in the IDF and study in vocational colleges.

Rabbi Shteinman died in hospital in Bnei Berak. Thousands were expected to attend his funeral later on Tuesday.

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