Rabbi Lichtenstein: an academic & a mensch

  • Rabbi
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader of the National Religious Movement in Israel and a prominent modern-Orthodox scholar, died on Monday morning at the age of 81.


Rabbi Lichtenstein was co-head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc.

Locally, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Yeshiva College, Bnei Akiva and the broader Jewish community had a unique connection with Yeshivat Har Etzion for many years and numerous Yeshiva College graduates learnt directly under Rabbi Lichtenstein.

Rabbi Goldstein said in a message of condolence: “The South African Jewish community owes a great debt of gratitude to Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l for teaching and inspiring generations of South African students who came to learn in his yeshiva in Har Etzion in Israel.

“He was a towering talmid chacham, whose scholarship and piety were famous throughout the world. There are many members of our community who occupy senior rabbinic and lay leadership positions, who benefited greatly from Rav Lichtenstein’s brilliance, as well as the very fine yeshiva which he nurtured and led for so many decades. His passing is a loss for all Am Israel.”

Rabbi Leron Bernstein, on behalf of the leadership of Yeshiva College, said: “It is… with a profound sense of loss that we acknowledge the passing of Rav Aharon zt"l - a personal mentor and leader for so many of the leaders and community members in our midst.”

“While this tremendous loss cannot be described in words, Rav Aharon’s presence, wisdom, inspiration and guidance will be sorely missed by all of us in the Jewish world and beyond. Be’ezrat Hashem, his legacy will live on through his talmidim, teachings and the beautiful works that he has left behind,” added Rabbi Bernstein.

Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva College Rabbi AvrahamTanzer, whose wife Marcia was a cousin of Rabbi Lichtenstein, added: “He was a humble and sensitive human being and it was a privilege to know him. He was to have succeeded Rabbi Soleveitchik at Yeshiva University, but surprised everyone by making aliyah and building up Har Etzion Yeshiva.”

Rabbi Lichtenstein received a doctorate in English literature from Harvard University and was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Literature in 2014 for his scholarly works.

He 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 aliyah in 1971. His son, Mosheh, currently serves as one of the yeshiva’s heads.

He 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, Lord 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 honoured his fellows even when he disagreed with them, a living role model of Jewish ethics at its best.”

The eulogies and funeral in Israel took place on Tuesday morning, with live streaming of the proceedings available.


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