The 104-year-old leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, Rabbi Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, died Wednesday at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in the city of Bnei Brak.
Steinman had been considered one of the top leaders of the community since the 2012 death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv. He was also the spiritual leader of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism political party.
Steinman was “a leader who bore on his shoulders the entire weight of the existence of the Jewish people,” President Reuven Rivlin said in one of the first public responses to Steinman’s passing on Tuesday morning.
The president described Steinman as “a giant of Torah and a guide who instructed the lives of thousands upon thousands,” and noted that “despite his firm views, he knew how to present his opinions in a gentle way, with a deep love for every Jew. His wisdom was second only to his humility,” Rivlin said.
Steinman was famous for eschewing wealth and the trappings of power. He held almost no formal positions in ultra-Orthodox institutions and lived out his days in a modest apartment on Hazon Ish Street in Bnei Brak.
United Torah Judaism lawmaker Moshe Gafni, whose party saw Steinman as its spiritual leader, said in a statement, “This morning we lost the leader of this generation, a merciful and kind heart towards all. All of Israel has been orphaned.”
Describing the day as “sad and difficult,” Shas leader Interior Minister Aryeh Deri lamented the loss of a man who embodied “104 years of Torah learning.”
Steinman arrived at the medical center on November 20 for treatment and a medical checkup but doctors decided to keep him hospitalized. Since then he had remained in the center and his condition has become progressively worse.
Steinman had been hospitalized multiple times in recent months amid growing concerns for his health.
He died around 8 a.m. Tuesday from heart failure after resuscitation efforts failed, according to hospital officials.
During his deterioration, seminaries took to conducting regular prayers on his behalf, including at the cost of canceling Torah study sessions.
Steinman’s funeral was set for noon, with a procession beginning at his Bnei Brak home.