By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, son-in-law of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, and one of the leaders of the religious Zionist movement, passed away last week. He had studied under Rav Yitzchok Hutner in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and then studied under the Rav in Yeshiva University.
Rav Lichtenstein received semichah from Rav Soloveitchik, and the following year he married the Rav’s daughter. In the Rav’s shiurim, Rav Lichtenstein often acted as the Rav’s right-hand man. He had an uncanny memory and was able to recall Tosfos from many tractates that backed up the points that Rav Soloveitchik was making in his shiurim. “He had a remarkable memory and a very deep grasp of the sugyos,” recalled a Telz student who would go to hear shiurim from the Rav.
Rav Lichtenstein was a rosh yeshiva in Yeshiva University before moving to Eretz Yisrael and becoming the co-rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Har Etzion. Last year, Rav Lichtenstein was awarded the very prestigious Israel Prize. Rav Lichtenstein had also received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard University.
Rav Lichtenstein was a man of remarkable middos; no one recalls any incident of Rav Lichtenstein ever being angry, and he never wasted a moment.
He had a remarkable intensity in avodas Hashem. At Rav Soloveitchik’s levaya on chol ha’moed of Pesach 1993 he said Tehillim in such powerful intonations that all who heard him were overwhelmed and inspired.
When the Israeli government pulled out of Gush Katif, the entire religious Zionist movement was presciently horrified at the potential repercussions. The rabbinic leadership of the religious Zionist movement was torn apart. Should Jewish citizens refuse to listen to the directives of the army? Rav Lichtenstein ruled that although the decision was wrong and ill-advised, the citizenry could not stand up against the state. Rav Lichtenstein took a lot of heat for this position, but he was firm in his convictions and remained resolute. This characterized who he was.
Rav Lichtenstein was a brilliant Talmudist and master of halachah whose explanations of Talmudic concepts were often quite innovative. For example, he explained the concept of “something lost in deep waters” as not working through the principle of “yiush,” giving up hope; rather, he explained, when something gets irretrievably lost this creates a complete cessation of ownership. Rav Lichtenstein applied this principle of cessation of ownership in numerous places throughout Shas.
Rav Lichtenstein is survived by six children. His son Moshe will take over his position as co-rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Har Etzion.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.