Aharon Lichtenstein, a world-renowned Modern Orthodox rabbi and scholar, famous for his intellectual approach to learning, his broad general knowledge and his political moderation, is the winner of the Israel Prize for Jewish Religious Literature for 2014. He will receive the prize on Israel's Independence Day.
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Education Minister Shai Piron was the one who notified the 80-year-old rabbi, who for many years has headed the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study and army preparation).
The committee members noted that “his multifaceted work is characterized by its depth, scope, well-developed logic, sharp intellect, sensitivity and imagination. Rabbi Lichtenstein’s work encompasses the entire realm of Torah study: Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, halakha [traditional religious law], Midrash, halakhic literature, and the rulings of the early and later halakhic authorities. His work reflects an exceptional combination of knowledge of all aspects of the Torah and a depth of theoretical Talmudic thinking, incorporating original and creative thought while adapting to Israeli public life and dealing with the challenges of time and space.”
A native of France, Lichtenstein was raised in the United States in a Hebrew-speaking home and studied with the great Torah minds of his generation – first and foremost his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. While pursuing studies at a yeshiva he completed a doctorate in English literature at Harvard University. Afterward he served as a rabbi and as head of the kollel (yeshiva for married men) at Yeshiva University in New York City.
In 1971 he immigrated to Israel with his wife, Tovah, and became codirector of along with the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. In the late 1980s he helped Amital and others to establish the dovish, national religious Meimad party, which favored diplomatic compromise with the Palestinians.
In a conversation with Haaretz, Rabbi Lichtenstein said that he is excited by the news of the prize, and feels that it “enhances the reputation of the Torah.”