Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, among the most prominent rabbis in Modern Orthodoxy and the Israeli national-religious movement, died on Monday at the age of 81.
Lichtenstein was a noted and prolific Jewish legal authority, head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, a key religious seminary in the Israeli religious-Zionist world, and the son-in-law of famed American Modern Orthodox spiritual leader Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.
He was ordained by the Boston-based Soloveitchik in 1959 and held a PhD in English literature from Harvard University conducted under the tutelage of literary critic Douglas Bush. Lichtenstein was awarded Israel’s highest civilian honor, the Israel Prize, in 2014.
Lichtenstein was born in Paris in 1933, the year the Nazi party rose to power in neighboring Germany, but fled Vichy France with his family in 1941 for the United States. The family settled in New York in 1945, where Lichtenstein studied in religious seminaries and eventually entered Yeshiva University.
He was invited to jointly head, with Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the Har Etzion Yeshiva, located in the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, in 1971, and has lived in Israel ever since.
A 2014 profile in the online magazine Mosaic characterized his approach to religious study thus: “As a Talmudist, Rabbi Lichtenstein is a proponent of the ‘Brisker’ method, for which his wife’s family is renowned. In this pedagogical approach, legal disputes or contradictions within the Talmud may be understood by analyzing the logical or ‘conceptual’ underpinnings that account for the divergent rabbinic rulings under examination. In Rabbi Lichtenstein’s hands, the method has been further abstracted so that it can be employed at the very outset of any exercise in Talmudic analysis.”
According to the profile’s author Elli Fischer, who studied at the Har Etzion Yeshiva, “the canonical stories about him do not recount his genius or erudition but his humility: answering the yeshiva’s public phone with a simple ‘Aaron speaking,’ or, after students in an army classroom have all fallen asleep, continuing an involved Talmudic lecture so as to allow them to get some much-needed rest.”
A humanist who incorporated his study of non-Jewish thinkers with his more traditional and stringent study of Talmud, Lichtenstein was famously clean-shaven, a rarity in the highest levels of the Orthodox rabbinic world.
He is survived by his wife Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein and six children.
The funeral will be held on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. at the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the Gush Etzion bloc, according to Israel Radio. Lichtenstein will be laid to rest in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.