Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman said he would be content if 10 people came to his funeral. On Tuesday, tens of thousands attended the commemorations for the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, one of Israel’s most influential rabbis, who has died aged 104.
Images from the funeral procession in Bnei Brak showed packed streets filled largely with men dressed in the typical black and white clothing of the ultra-Orthodox.
There were no eulogies, as Shteinman requested in a will that also included the plea that his followers neither name their children after him nor write press articles about him.
“Ten people at my funeral would be enough,” he wrote in his will, which was read by a student at the funeral.
Shteinman, widely regarded as “Gadol Hador” or “leader of the generation”, was known for his rabbinic scholarship, his relatively pragmatic rulings and extremely modest lifestyle.
He was seen one of the key figures in the Haredi world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and credited with guiding the ultra-Orthodox through the challenges of modernity in Israel.
He was also a longtime political kingmaker whose orders were strictly followed by his representatives in parliament.
Born in 1913 in Belarus, Shteinman studied there and in Switzerland before emigrating to British-mandate Palestine in 1945. He was the only member of his family to survive the Nazi occupation of eastern Europe.
He taught at the leading talmudic schools in Bnei Brak, the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city in the suburbs of Tel Aviv where he also lived.
The ultra-Orthodox, known in Hebrew as “Haredim” or “those who fear God”, are the fastest-growing religious group in Israel.
Shteinman was often called to judge on sensitive matters such as how much the traditionally insular community should integrate with the larger Israeli society, embrace technology, pursue higher education, work or agree to serve in the largely security military.
In recent years, he had faced a challenge from a more extremist rabbi in Jerusalem who sent thousands into the street to protest about the small numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have enlisted in the army.
Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox community, said that until just recently Shteinman was of clear mind and hosting followers who sought his advice.
“He was a person who knew very carefully how to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the individual,” he said.
“His legacy is greatness of scholarship … but at the same time a very nuanced leadership.”
The Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, praised Shteinman as a leader who “carried on his shoulders the existential weight of the Jewish people”.