An Appreciation: Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l

by Karen Miller Jackson

Shortly before this journal went to print, the Modern Orthodox world heard that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, had passed away. Given that this JOFA Journal is about the nature of halakhic authority, it seemed appropriate to write about the Modern Orthodox world’s leading Torah scholar and educator and the influence Rav Lichtenstein had on Orthodox feminism. As the only member of the JOFA Journal editorial board living in Israel, I was given this challenge. Rav Lichtenstein was a unique combination: a great talmudic scholar who also held a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard. He was the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize just one year ago. He moved to Israel in 1971 to join Rav Yehuda Amital in heading Yeshivat Har Etzion, which has graduated many Modern Orthodox leaders in Israel and beyond.

There will be many hespedim (eulogies) and memoirs published by students and family members who knew Rav Lichtenstein well. I met Rav Aharon (as his students fondly refer to him) only once, but his influence on the world of women’s batei midrash where I have studied was tremendous. Whether I was learning in Matan, Midreshet Lindenbaum, or Drisha on the other side of the ocean, almost all my teachers were students of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. When I studied at Lindenbaum, both of his daughters were part of my beit midrash experience. Rav Lichtenstein’s older daughter, Esti Rosenberg, directed the Israeli program; she has since gone on to establish Migdal Oz, a beit midrash for women known for its intense learning of Talmud and halakhah. His younger daughter, Toni Mittelman, studied in Lindenbaum at the same time as I did. She too has gone on to teach Talmud in Midreshet Amit Be’er, located in Yeruham.

At Rav Lichtenstein’s funeral, all six of his children delivered hespedim. Six sons and daughters alike stood at the podium in the men’s beit midrash and spoke about their father’s Torah, his middot (fine qualities), and his devotion to family. This seamless consistency was a testament to the message Rav Aharon and his wife, Tova Lichtenstein, instilled in their family regarding Torah study: For men and women alike, Torah study is the ultimate value. As Esti Rosenberg said so beautifully:

"מודה לך בשם בנות ישראל על סיועך בפתיחת שער ללימוד תורה לבנות ישראל."

“I thank you in the name of the daughters of Israel for your assistance in opening the gates of Torah learning to the daughters of Israel.”

Some feminist voices may have asked to see and hear more from Rav Aharon, but it seems appropriate now to appreciate what we received—namely, the message that girls and women should aim high in their learning and know that, if they study Torah, they too can be great Torah scholars. This is certainly not a given for many girls at this time. No doubt these values were due in part to the influence of Rav Lichtenstein’s wife, Dr. Tova Lichtenstein, the daughter of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

On a personal note, my husband and I met with Rav Lichtenstein just before we got married seventeen years ago. We had some significant halakhic questions, which we wanted to discuss with a posek who understood the modern world we lived in. I was, of course, quite intimidated as we entered the study of this intellectual Torah giant. However, Rav Aharon was patient and understanding. He did not just give straight answers. Instead, he discussed (in fact, recounted with ease) the relevant sources with both of us. It was clearly important that, beyond a p’sak, Rav Lichtenstein wanted us to know and understand the sources.

The influence of Rav Lichtenstein, zt”l, influence on Torah study for women may not have been overt and was conducted in a quiet way. Yet, the message that high-level women’s Torah education is essential was conveyed to his rabbinical students and was demonstrated most clearly by the way he educated his daughters—two female Torah leaders who followed their father’s example.

May the memory of Rav Lichtenstein zt”l be for a blessing through his many talmidim, as well as the talmidot, who were influenced by his teachings.


Karen Miller Jackson is a Jewish educator and writer living in Ra’anana, Israel. She teaches at Matan HaSharon and is founder of Sherutech, a guidance program for girls before national/army service. Karen is on the board of Kolech and the editorial board of the JOFA Journal.

 

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