In any generation it is rare to find an individual with as deep an understanding of and dedication to Torah as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. Going by the Hebrew calendar, One year ago today we lost a giant from this world.
Rabbi Lichtenstein was known as a champion of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. He passed away Monday April 20th, 2015 at the age of 81, a tragedy that reached across the entire spectrum of the Jewish world.
History and Accomplishments
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein was born in France in 1933. As the Nazis were coming to power, his family fled to the United States when he was only seven years old. There, he completed his bachelor’s degree and rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University in New York, before moving on to Harvard where he earned a PhD in English literature.
Rabbi Lichtenstein became part of an honored Lithuanian rabbinic dynasty when he married the daughter of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the father of Modern Orthodoxy, from whom he received his rabbinical ordination.
A passionate religious Zionist, Rabbi Lichtenstein moved to israel in 1971 when he was asked to head the budding Yeshivat Har Etzion together with the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital (who passed away in 2010.) He also served as the head of the kollel at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem.
While known for his scholarly works and considered one of the most distinguished thinkers within the rabbinate, Rabbi Lichtenstein was remembered by his former students and fellow scholars for his focus on morality and his incredible sensitivity to humanity.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin shares his feelings on the loss
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the founder of the Efrat settlement and the Ohr Torah Stone network of schools and institutions, shared his perspective and appreciation for Rabbi Lichtenstein:
“Rabbi Lichtenstein was one of the most special human beings I ever had the privilege of knowing.” Riskin, whose time at Yeshiva University overlapped with Lichtenstein’s, said that he stood in awe of the scholar’s erudition and personal comportment.
During lectures, Rabbi Lichtenstein would be the one to always know the correct place when his teacher, Rav Soloveitchik, was at a loss of where to find particular Talmudic references, Riskin recalled.
“He could quote poetry and Shakespeare and he could quote philosophers… and in addition to all of that there was a probity and an integrity and an ethical sensitivity that I have never seen in anyone else,” he said.
When he heard of Rabbi Lichtenstein’s passing, Rabbi Riskin said he burst into tears.
“He was one of a generation. He was a giant, a very, very modest giant, and I’m sure all of us [who knew him] will feel greatly his loss,” he said. “It’s a tremendous loss because we are living in a world in which the rabbinate is not necessarily representative of integrity to the highest degree; the rabbinate is certainly not regarded as a field in which people are very knowledgeable in secular learning and philosophy and thought; and Rav Aharon was very unique.”
“Everyone knew Rav Aharon as an intellectual giant, which of course he was, but if you had the privilege to get to know him, even a bit, you learned about his warmth, his smile and his voice – in English and in Hebrew, in prose and in song.”
Israeli Political Figures:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as “a Zionist with deep roots, [who] had a sharp mind and taught thousands of students.”
“When I bestowed upon him the Israel Prize, I saw stand before me a rabbi, teacher and great educator,” Netanyahu said. “He was sharp as-a-tack, grassroots, quick-witted Zionist.”
“Rabbi Lichtenstein will be remembered as a Zionist leader and Torah scholar of unparalleled stature,” he said. “He nurtured many thousands of students at Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut. He loved the Land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.”
Israeli Knesset Member, Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said Rabbi Lichtenstein was one of the few people in the religious-Zionist population with whom she found a common denominator, and she would speak to him and other rabbis from Yeshivat Har Etzion about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
“His Judaism was smart, accepting and reconciling, without compromising on his principles,” Livni stated. “He left behind an inspiring Jewish worldview.”
Much of the content in this article has been summarized from last year’s Jerusalem Post article: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Rabbi-Aharon-Lichtenstein-modern-Orthodox-visionary-dies-at-81-398645
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