Aharon Lichtenstein, the famed talmudic scholar and yeshiva head who passed away last week, was the leading proponent of a Modern Orthodoxy that, as Shalom Carmy writes, was not a “tepid compromise” between religious observance and Western culture. Rather, in his life and in his thought Lichtenstein propounded a vision of living Judaism to its fullest:
Rabbi Lichtenstein’s advocacy of liberal-arts study as an ancilla to religious study and devotion should speak to traditional believers whether Jewish or Christian. Though revelation stands at the center and the proper study for the Jew is not simply man, but man confronted by God, we encounter the image of God when we encounter the Arnoldian best that has been thought and said, and we understand ourselves and others better when we confront the voice of the other. To think otherwise is “mere chauvinism.”
He was a Zionist who treated Jewish sovereignty in Israel as a means rather than an end. He adopted Rabbi [Joseph B.] Soloveitchik’s view that territorial compromise, however painful—he compared it to amputating a limb to save a life—is permissible in the land of Israel for the sake of peace. It mattered little to him that this position was anathema to the religious maximalists who often dominated discourse.
Despite an aversion to publicity, Lichtenstein spoke up, when necessary, on urgent public issues. His sense of complexity did not stifle moral clarity. On the contrary, he was impelled to witness to that complexity in the face of one-sided, simplistic positions.