A renowned expert in medical ethics and halachah will be speaking at the Young Israel of Holliswood on Sunday, January 13, at 9:30 a.m. in a lecture that is billed as “once in a decade.” The buzz relating to Rav Avraham Steinberg is understandable, considering his extensive body of work: the five-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Law and as the editor of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, a project more than seven decades in the making. “Rabbi Steinberg is a phenomenal speaker, author, and person,” said Awi Federgruen, who is organizing Rabbi Steinberg’s visit to Queens.
A descendant of a long line of rabbis, he made aliyah as an infant shortly after Israel became independent. Trained as a rabbi and neurologist, Rabbi Steinberg has written numerous articles and books on medical ethics, consulting with peers in the profession, lawmakers, and leading poskim on matters of life and death. Questions such as saving a terrorist’s life, human cloning, artificial insemination, terminal illnesses, and abortion are among the controversies addressed in his writings.
“I’ve had over the past seven years the privilege of working with him on public health issues where he has been extremely helpful,” said Federgruen, who teaches at Columbia University, where he is the Chair of the Decision, Risk, and Operations Division at its Graduate School of Business.
“The main reason he is coming to our community and others is to raise funds for the Talmudic Encyclopedia. It is an important project that is used across the Jewish religious spectrum,” said Federgruen. “Since its inception, it has sold more than a million copies. He leads a team of 35 talmidei chachamim who are working on completing it.”
The Talmudic Encyclopedia had its start in 1942 in Israel when Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan, son of the N’tziv and namesake of Bar Ilan University, and Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin felt the need to preserve Torah knowledge at a time when Torah scholars were being murdered en masse in Europe. They sought to gather information on as many topics as possible and arrange them alphabetically. The first volume was published in 1947, with 39 volumes in print seven decades later. Rabbi Steinberg joined the editorial team around 2007, picked on account of his past work in publishing the Hilchatit Refuit or Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Law. With his knowledge of halachah, medicine, and technology, Rabbi Steinberg is an adviser to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Knesset, and has been consulted on medical ethics by prominent poskim including Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, and Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l.
They praised the volumes of the Talmudic Encyclopedia that were published in their times, as have Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Avraham Shapira, Rav Yehezkel Abramsky, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In secular jurisprudence, Rabbi Steinberg said that Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein referenced it in 150 of his rulings. He expects the Hebrew-language Talmudic Encyclopedia to be completed by 2024, with 70 volumes in total, each one between 600 and 700 pages in thickness.
The team working with Rabbi Steinberg on this project is comprised of scholars who know Shas, many of them having learned at prestigious yeshivos such as Mir, Ponevezh, and Chevron. Their writing style is very specific and reviewed by leading roshei yeshivah in Israel. On the 70th anniversary of the first volume, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin honored Rabbi Steinberg at his home, recognizing the cultural value of this project.
For the layman, the massive project is accompanied by the Talmudic Micropedia, also in Hebrew, which offers a concise description of topics addressed in Jewish law. With less than a year remaining until the next Siyum HaShas, the opportunity to hear Rabbi Steinberg and his contributions towards Talmudic learning is a unique source of inspiration.
By Sergey Kadinsky