Thousands of Jews from across France and around Europe traveled to Paris on Sunday to hear from the new leader of the haredi, non-hassidic world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.

Having conducted a similar visit six years ago, the 98-year-old rabbi embarked on the rare journey abroad to speak with Jewish communal leaders and strengthen the community ahead of the upcoming Jewish holidays.

According to associates of Shteinman, concerns about the legal status of brit mila and shechita, Jewish religious slaughter, in Europe were foremost among his decision to travel and express his support for the French Jewish community.

Several thousand people turned up to the main event where the rabbi addressed the assembled audience, comprising a broad cross-section of French Jewry, as well as visitors from Germany, Belgium and other European countries.

Haredi journalist Yisrael Cohen from the Kikar Hashabbat news website described the atmosphere to The Jerusalem Post as “jubilant and moving,” adding that “there is a sense that the whole of Paris is celebrating a holiday, children in their Shabbat clothes and everyone in fine suits are coming to welcome the [spiritual] leader of the generation.”

The visit was agreed upon last week, and Shteinman flew out Sunday morning on a private jet lent to him by French businessman Rafael Harari.

Upon arrival, the rabbi was escorted by police from Charles de Gaulle airport to the auditorium. He was scheduled to return to Israel Sunday evening.

Shteinman’s journey was delayed briefly when he reported feeling weak, and he left his house a couple hours later than expected.

MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism party escorted Shteinman to the airport, and his personal physician accompanied him on the trip.

Rabbi Yitzhak Katz, the head of the Yad Mordechai network of educational institutes in France and the dean of the largest yeshiva in Paris, along with other communal leaders, requested and arranged the trip.

Katz said that the visit of “such a great religious and spiritual leader in Paris gives the entire community energy, and provides a sense of support to French Jewry to preserve Jewish tradition even during worrying times.”

Rabbi David Tuyito, an associate of Katz, told the Post that the Jewish community in France is concerned about the influence events in Germany surrounding brit mila will have in their country, as well as threats to shechita in other European countries.

“This is one of the reasons why the community is gathering together today to say in a loud voice ‘we will not allow anyone to harm Jewish tradition,’” Tuyito said.

David Kahana, a member of Katz’s community in Paris, said “We know it is not easy for Rabbi Shteinman at his age to travel, but for us, for all the Jews in Paris, this is a historic and exciting occasion which provides us with a burst of inspiration during these times.”

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