Aharon Lichtenstein, Renowned Modern-Orthodox Rabbi, Dies at 81

Lichtenstein, the head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, was a world-renowned rabbi, scholar and political dove.

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Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.Credit: Archive: Limor Edrey

Prominent religious-Zionist rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein died on Monday at the age of 81.

Lichtenstein, a world-renowned Modern Orthodox rabbi and scholar, was the head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, located south of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion. He received the Israel Prize, Israel's highest civilain honor, for Jewish Religious Literature in 2014.

Lichtenstein was born in Paris in 1933, the year the Nazi party rose to power in Germany. Soon after, in 1941, his family fled Vichy France to the United States. There, Lichtenstein was raised in a Hebrew-speaking home.

Lichtenstein studied with the great Torah minds of his generation – first and foremost his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Ber (Yosef Dov) Soloveitchik, the leader of the modern Orthodox movement, until his death in 1993.

While pursuing studies at yeshiva, he completed a doctorate in English literature at Harvard University. Later, 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, after he was invited by Yehuda Amital, who also held a doctorate in English literature, to join him as the codirector of the Har Etzion Yeshiva. In the late 1980s he helped Amital and others to establish the dovish, national-religious Meimad party, which favored diplomatic compromise with the Palestinians.

Lichtenstein was considered a political dove that did not hesitate at times to criticize the leaders of Israel's religious-Zionist community, for example, in connection with their behavior during the disengagement from Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences on Monday, saying that Lichtenstein's great knowledge was manifested in his literary work, and served generations of students.

"A year ago, when I awarded him the Israel Prize, I saw before me a rabbi, a teacher and a great educator," he said, praising Lichtenstein as a Zionist with a sharp mind. The rabbi "loved the land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Torah," Netanyahu said.

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