Aharon Lichtenstein’s Zealous Commitment to the Principle of Moderation

April 23 2015

Aharon Lichtenstein, who passed away on Monday, was the American-educated head of a prominent Israeli yeshiva and a leading figure in Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism. Chaim Saiman reflects on Lichtenstein’s zealous commitment to the principle of moderation:

The term “moderate” . . . is often applied to a person of few convictions. In this sense, moderation is the opposite of passion. If one does not have core values, it is easy to compromise. Moderation can be a symptom of flexible values.

Not so Lichtenstein. For him, moderation is born of a burning and lifelong desire to reconcile conflicting truths. He was renowned for speaking passionately and at length of his ideals and convictions. His belief and faith in God was like few others I have witnessed. And compromise, in the sense of a concession where one’s values are concerned, was simply not in his otherwise prodigious vocabulary. In many ways he was extreme: in his love of the Torah, the Talmud, and their study. His religious zeal was awesome—in the original sense of the term. Further, there simply was no gap between the high ideals he taught and how he lived them out. His faith in and observance of Judaism, his work ethic, the passion and intensity he brought to every field of endeavor—these are hard to describe in terms that do not sound extreme.

Yet he was a moderate in this sense: he taught . . . that, whether in Talmud study or life, we are often confronted with opposing [but lofty] goals, values, and ideals. But rather than assume that one is correct, and the other is false, we should hold them both in what he called a “dialectical tension,” that is, see each value as positive in its own right and then explore how competing values may work together.

Of course, values inevitably clash, and in conflict we must choose. However, we pick Value A over Value B not because Value B has been proved false or unimportant, but because life requires a decision to be made. Foundationally, however, both values remain intact, and we should do the utmost to uphold the rejected value, even as the counter-value wins out in practice. In fact, Lichtenstein would argue that precisely because we have given up on a value in one context, we must redouble our efforts to reinforce it elsewhere.

Read more at Jewish Week

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism, Yeshiva


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy