Scholar Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, 81

Scholar Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, 81

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader of the national religious movement in Israel and a prominent Modern Orthodox scholar, died May 20.

A head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc, Lichtenstein was 81.

The rabbi, who received a doctorate in English literature from Harvard University, was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Literature in 2014 for his scholarly works.

“It’s a tremendous loss to the Jewish world,” said Rabbi Sam Klibanoff of Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston. “His death leaves a void that will not be easy to replace — not with someone of his intellect and influence — albeit in his quiet and modest way.” 

Although Klibanoff did not study with Lichtenstein, he had the opportunity to meet him at a number of conferences and said, “He was a gentle, warm person.”

Lichtenstein, who was well known for his talmudic methodology, also had “an unbelievable literary style,” said Klibanoff. “There’s no way you could read anything he wrote without the use of a dictionary.” 

Lichtenstein was the head of Yeshiva University in New York when he was asked to head the fledgling Har Etzion Yeshiva jointly with the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital. He made aliya in 1971. Lichtenstein’s son, Mosheh, currently serves as one of the yeshiva’s heads.

Lichtenstein was ordained in 1959 in Boston by the prominent American Modern Orthodox leader Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and became his son-in-law a year later. He had fled his native France with his family in 1940, settling in the United States.

The former chief rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, called Lichtenstein “a man of giant intellect, equally at home in the literature of the sages and of the world, a master talmudist, a profound exponent of Jewish thought, a deep and subtle thinker who loved English literature and whose spiritual horizons were vast.”

“No less impressive was his stature as a human being, caring and sensitive in all his relationships, one who honored his fellows even when he disagreed with them, a living role model of Jewish ethics at its best.”

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