Jerusalem – Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, the head of a prestigious religious-Zionist yeshiva and an Israel Prize winner for his contributions to rabbinic scholarship, died on Monday at the age of 81.
Lichtenstein, who earned his doctorate in English literature from Harvard University, was considered a giant in the modern Orthodox world.
Lichtenstein was born in France in 1933. His family managed to flee the country to the United States in 1940. He immigrated to Israel in 1971, taking up the position of head of the Har Etzion yeshiva in Alon Shvut.
Long considered a moderate among the religious Zionist community, Lichtenstein was highly critical of the far-right incitement that preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
He was also an opponent of insubordination by soldiers who are called upon to refuse orders to evacuate settlements.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement on Monday expressing sorrow over the passing of Rabbi Lichtenstein.
“Rabbi Lichtenstein’s erudition was manifest in his literary work and it proved valuable to generations of students,” the statement read.
“A year ago, when I bestowed upon him the Israel Prize, I saw before me stand a rabbi, teacher, and great educator,” Netanyahu said. “He was a sharp-as-a-tack, grassroots, quick-witted Zionist.”
“Rabbi Lichtenstein will be remembered as a Zionist leader and Torah scholar of unparalleled stature,” he said. “He nurtured many thousands of students at Har Etzion yeshiva in Alon Shvut. He loved the Land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called Lichtenstein a special person and an inspiration.
“He was a first-class role model of uncompromising integration of commitment to tradition and the halachic world with moderateness and modernity, between old and new, Torah and higher education,” Edelstein said.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said Lichtenstein was “one of the greats” who “combined higher education and following Halacha in clear language, while staying connected with the public he taught and led.”
Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan called Lichtenstein “a tremendous scholar who taught generations of scholars in great depth and continued the learning method of the wise men of Brisk, which he learned from his father-in-law Rabbi [Joseph] Soloveitchik.
“Rabbi Lichtenstein was one of the pillars of the religious-Zionist Torah world. He believed with all his might that IDF service does not stop hesder yeshiva students from being great scholars,” Ben-Dahan added.
MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), a former student of Lichtenstein’s, said the rabbi “taught his students to look for the truth of the Torah through constant debate and to strive for a true connection between the internal world of the Torah with building the state of the Jewish People in our time.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that Lichtenstein was one of the people in the religious-Zionist population with whom she found a common denominator, and she would speak to him and other rabbis from Yeshivat Har Etzion about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
“His Judaism was smart, accepting and reconciling without compromising on his principles,” Livni stated. “He left behind an inspiring Jewish worldview.”
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.