The State of Israel has awarded the nation's highest honor to elder diplomat Henry Kissinger and five other notables.
Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz, whose life work is the Steinzaltz edition of the Talmud; famed Israel Philharmonic Orchestra director Zubin Mehta; the Rashi Foundation, and two others received Israel's Presidential Medal Thursday.
The awards were presented at a news conference at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem.
Kissinger, who was born to Jewish parents, received the award for his “unique contribution to Israel and his peace-making efforts in the Middle East.” He served as U.S. Secretary of State during the Yom Kippur War. Acclaimed by Jews and non-Jews alike, Kissinger's role during that war and in other situations has been debated, as were his motivations then and later.
In late 2010, a set of audio tapes came to light revealing shocking comments between the veteran diplomat and then-President Richard Nixon.Kissinger was heard telling the American leader, "And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern."
Steinsaltz, hailed by TIME magazine as a "once in a millenium scholar" has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews. The world-renowned rabbi has authored numerous Jewish legal and Torah texts and translations.
Attorney Uri Slonim, chairman of Variety Israel, was honored for his volunteer efforts with captive and missing soldiers, and other charitable work.
Also honored was human rights activist Yehudit Peled Carr, who for more than 25 years helped rescue thousands of Jews from Syrian prisons and facilitated their escape from that country.
The honor, awarded by President Shimon Peres for the first time, is considered a gesture of gratitude to individuals who have made a significant contribution to Israel's global image and to its society.
Heading the advisory committee who helped select the honorees were former Israeli President Yitzchak Navon and former High Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar.