(JTA) — Hundreds of thousands of mourners attended the funeral for Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian haredi Orthodox community, who died at the age of 104.
Shteinman, who has been considered the “gadol hador,” or great sage of his generation, died Tuesday morning of cardiac arrest after being in and out of the hospital for much of the last year.
The funeral later that day began in front of his home in Bnei Brak, a mostly haredi city in central Israel. There were no eulogies in response to a request that Steinman put in his will. He also asked that his followers not name their children after him.
Shteinman was the spiritual leader of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism party and served as the dean of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He has been considered the gadol hador since the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv in 2012.
Critics in the haredi world thought Shteinman was too lenient, privately allowing men not studying full-time in yeshiva to seek professional training and find jobs, or to enlist in the Israeli military. Publicly he spoke against military service and those who chose a profession over learning Talmud.
The rabbi was widely known for living modestly. He remained in a small, modestly furnished apartment for his entire adult life and held few public positions.
He wrote dozens of books on halacha, or Jewish law.
The rabbi was born in 1913 in an area of the Russian empire that is now Belarus, and grew up in Brisk. In 1938, after receiving a draft notice from the Polish army, he moved to Switzerland, thus saving himself from the Nazis. He moved to prestate Israel in 1945.
“With the death of Rabbi Shteinman, the Jewish people lost a central beacon of spirit, heritage and morality,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following the announcement of his death. “The rabbi took advantage of every available moment to study and disseminate Torah. He established halachic rulings, decided on weighty issues, and acted for the public in true love of Israel.”