Rav Aharon Lichtenstein was born in 1933 in Paris, France. In 1941, several months after the Nazi invasion of France, his family fled to the United States. In his youth, Rav Lichtenstein was recognized as an outstanding student at Yeshivat Rabbi Chaim Berlin, where he studied under Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l. He continued his studies at Yeshiva University under Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, who granted him rabbinic ordination. In 1957, Rav Lichtenstein completed a doctorate in English Literature at Harvard University, after which he returned to Yeshiva University to serve as an instructor of Talmud and as rosh kollel at Yeshiva University’s affiliated Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. In 1960, he married Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein, Rav Soloveitchik’s daughter.
Shortly after Yeshivat Har Etzion’s founding, Rav Amital invited Rav Lichtenstein to serve as rosh yeshiva in his stead. After visiting the yeshiva, Rav Lichtenstein accepted upon the condition that Rav Amital would remain as co-rosh yeshiva. Rav Lichtenstein made aliya with his family in 1971, and he served together with Rav Amital as rosh yeshiva for four decades, teaching thousands of students and developing Yeshivat Har Etzion into an internationally recognized beacon of high-level Torah scholarship and service to the Jewish people. Rav Lichtenstein also served as rector of Herzog College and as rosh kollel of Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem. He resided in Jerusalem from the time of his aliya until 2006, when he and his wife moved to Alon Shevut. In 2011, Rav Lichtenstein announced his retirement from daily teaching.
Throughout his career, Rav Lichtenstein was known for his mastery of the vast breadth of Torah, as well as the depth and incisiveness of his Talmudic and philosophical analyses. His diligence in Torah study, day and night, was legendary. Hundreds of his students became roshei yeshiva and rabbis in Israel and throughout the world. Alongside his Torah greatness, Rav Lichtenstein was renowned for his deep humility, nobility and love of humanity.
Over the years, Rav Lichtenstein published many articles on Talmud, Halakha and philosophy. Many of his Talmudic studies were collected in his books Minchat Aviv, as well as in the eight-volume series Shiurei HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein al Ha-Talmud. For these volumes, he was awarded the Rav Kook Prize for Torah Literature in 2013. The award committee’s decision stated that “In these books, Rabbi Lichtenstein brings the Brisker conceptual method of Torah study to its highest luster, to deep and impressive fulfillment, opening up methods of traditional Talmudic analysis for the current generation.” Rav Lichtenstein also published books on Jewish thought and ethics, including Leaves of Faith (2 volumes), Varieties of Jewish Experience, By His Light: Character and Values in the Service of God, Return and Renewal, Values in Halakha and a number of parallel volumes in Hebrew. Rabbi Chaim Sabato published a book-length interview with Rav Lichtenstein entitled Seeking His Presence (Mevakshei Panekha). On Yom Ha’atzmaut 2014, Rav Lichtenstein was awarded Israel’s highest honor, the Israel Prize, for his extensive and varied Torah literature.
Rav Lichtenstein passed away on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5775 (2015) at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein, six children — including Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein and head of the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women in Migdal Oz, Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg — as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His legacy of humility, intensity in avodat Hashem, and rigorous learning continue to animate the yeshiva today.