Following the death of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the Lithuanian public is hinting at the president of the Council of Torah Scholars of Degel HaTorah and the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, the 98-year-old Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, as the natural heir to take over the reins of leadership.
Since the death of Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, the Lithuanian community has adopted a two-part leadership in the persons of Rabbi Kanievsky and Rabbi Edelstein.
In practice, however, even though he escaped from the leadership positions all his life, Rabbi Kanievsky was behind many decisions concerning the conduct of the Lithuanian public in Israel. Now, it seems, Rabbi Edelstein will become the leader of the Lithuanian public.
The leadership of the two Rabbis has been characterized by marked differences over the years. While Rabbi Edelstein focused mainly on decisions in the Lithuanian-educational field, Rabbi Kanievsky was required to decide on political issues concerning the entire haredi public.
Although both identified with the Lithuanian idea of diminishing the admor/rebbe title etiquette in issues related to blessings and rebbe-chassid relations, over the years Rabbi Kanievsky's home has become a focal point for Jews of all walks of life to visit for blessings and advice, while Rabbi Edelstein remains less known to the secular public.
There are also characteristic distinctions between them: While Rabbi Kanievsky used to shorten his answers up to only a few words, both in his answers of Halachic responsa and in his responses to all aspects of life, Rabbi Edelstein tends to give lessons that are characterized by length and deal mainly with education and encouraging Torah study and moral laws.
The differences in leadership were also evident during the Coronavirus pandemic. While Rabbi Kanievsky refused to leave the boys' schools closed for extended periods of time, Rabbi Edelstein believed that extra care should be taken to maintain health in all that it entails.
The dominant feature of both leaders has been that both adopted Rabbi Shteinman's decisions in matters of religion and state, unlike the 'Jerusalem Faction' which adopted a much stricter approach which included going out to the streets to protest government reforms on issues related to the status quo.
What will Rabbi Edelstein's leadership be like? Will it be even more pragmatic than Rabbi Kanievsky's leadership was concerning the Lithuanian rabbinical attitude toward the current government? It's too early to tell. What is certain though, is that the longer his leadership will be, the greater his popularity will grow within the haredi community, and especially within the Lithuanian street.
During Rabbi Kanevsky's funeral, Rabbi Edelstein was the first of the eulogizers.
In his remarks, he said that Rabbi Kanievsky "was a great man. There is a lack of leadership in Israel when such a great man passes from the world... The whole world was affected by him, the whole public, the whole world owes him."
Rabbi Edelstein added: "We are a poor generation, an orphaned generation, we lack men of profound wisdom. We lack the influence of a great man like him."