Monday, April 20, 2015

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zecher tzaddik l'vracha

The loss of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein is a great tragedy. In the charedi days of my youth, I figured that he couldn't be a "real" talmid chacham - after all, he was clean-shaven and had studied English literature in university, whereas I had been taught that only exclusive Torah study produces real Gedolim. But then my horizons broadened, and I learned that many great Torah scholars had also studied other disciplines (and that several members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah had also been to college!).

Then I started to actually study what Rav Lichtenstein  had to say. I discovered that he was a gadol b'Torah who was wise, thoughtful, sophisticated, and humble. Rav Lichtenstein's treatment of the topic of Daas Torah is one of the most important discussions of the topic that I have ever seen. You can read the original Hebrew at this link, and my friend Joseph Faith produced an English translation which you can download here.

May his legacy endure and inspire.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you and thank Joseph Faith very much for sharing Rav Lichtenstein's words of Torah. I haven't read these words before, but I just did and I agree with everything you wrote about his ability to approach such a volatile subject in a way that is respectful of all sides and yet is still able to make a clear and powerful point.

    May his legacy endure and inspire. And may we be blessed with another generation of rabbis of his stature.

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  2. Can somebody please give me some context of why/when he wrote the article about daas torah?

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  3. Rav Ahron Lichtenstein Zatzal was a huge tzaddik. But you are trying to revise what he stood for. Yes he went to university and studies literature in depth, but the ikkar of his life was sitting and learning "Yomam V'layla" (yes, BTW, he believed in Torah Lishma). You should have heard the Q and A he gave in Teaneck a few years ago. People were asking him questing expecting him to be all gung ho pro-College and secular studies and while he is of course not against them, he made in abundantly clear that the Ikkar part of ones life must always be sitting and learning Torah. He even said that the most important part about his learning literature was it helping him to learn certain Sugyas better.

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    1. And you that Rav Slfkin, author of the encyclopedia of Torah animals, doesn't think Torah is the ikkar?

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    2. I believe anon is referring to learning Torah, which often appears in this forum to not be such an important aspect of Judaism

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    3. I think that the attitude displayed on this forum is that when you look at the groups who narrowly focus on Torah learning for all to the exclusion of other subjects of study and other endeavors, you get various perverse results.

      To wit, the establishment and support of the State of Israel is of zero value and perhaps negative value.

      When you get a result like that, something has gone seriously awry...

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    4. notElon- Yaron is correct. I was reffering to Torah learning.

      David Ohsie- Although R' Slifkin does attack that too... I was refering to his attacks on Torah learning in general and attacks on Torah Lishma. Look at old posts how he doesn't believe learning anything other than Halachos that will be put into practice and not Gemorah etc.

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    5. David Ohsie- Although R' Slifkin does attack that too... I was refering to his attacks on Torah learning in general and attacks on Torah Lishma. Look at old posts how he doesn't believe learning anything other than Halachos that will be put into practice and not Gemorah etc.

      Can you provide a reference or two? The question of how much time to spend on theoretical learning vs. practical halacha, as well as how much time to spend on non-halachic areas, as well as how much time to spend on so-called "secular" learning is an old one. I haven't seen attacks on "Torah learning in general" here.

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  4. In Hebrew it says this was a lecture delivered Chanukah 5772 (i.e. late 2011). I assume it was a "press conference" based on what was on his mind at the time, though I dare not to venture a guess what particular event(s), if any, precipitated it. They say he became a bit more willing to be vocally critical in his later years.

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  5. I read Mevakshe Panecha which is a discussion bet R Chaim Sabato and R A Lichtenstein ztsl, and I found R Lichtensteins view's more "yeshivish" than I had expected.

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  6. My daughter tells me the story that she was once waiting for a lift at the "trampiada" (hitch-hicking post) at Gilo on the way to Gush Etzion some years ago. An old car pulls up and picks up her and some other hitch-hikers. She glances at the driver and was astounded to see that it was Rav Lichtenstein! Unlike many prominent Rabbis he didn't have his own driver and didn't feel he needed a fancy car although I am sure he could have afforded it.
    We should also remind everyone of the seminal article he wrote in Tradition magazine saying that the Hesder Yeshivah system was L' CHATHILAH for the large majority of young men (meaning that Hesder was not a second-best choice).This was a very bold statement from such a prominent Rosh Yeshivah....especially considering that many, many Religious Zionist leaders prefer their young men to study full-time for years and to delay IDF service.

    A modest man, a titanic scholar, a fearless exponent of his views, a lover of Am Israel. He will be missed.

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  7. A Mamlachti.


    Billy

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  8. "I figured that he couldn't be a "real" talmid chacham - after all, he was clean-shaven and had studied English literature in university"

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with someone in the early '70s. I told this gentleman that a certain person was a talmid chacham. He disagreed. I asked him why not since I knew that the person had wide Torah knowledge, etc. The gentleman told me that he could not possibly be a talmid chacham because his hair was too long.

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  9. Seems worth pointing out that R Lichtenstein's opinion about Daas Torah in the transcript linked here (thank you Mr Faith) makes clear that he has little problem in principle with Daas Torah as generally understood. His concern is the current implementation in practice due to the stature of people issuing 'Daas Torah' opinions. This is little different to the opinion of Rav Herschel Schachter. So the two people who can be (I think it's fair to say) considered the most senior talmidim of Rav JB Soloveitchik are both in favour of at least most elements of the theory of Daas Torah.
    So I presume it's fair to say that Modern Orthodoxy should embrace it. Or not?

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    1. In theory, yes (as R'AL described it). In practice you note the obvious limitation.
      KT

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    2. Like they say (was it Yogi Berra?) - in theory, theory and practice ought to be the same. In practice, they're not.

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  10. That sicha of Rav Lichtenstein's zt"l was not preempted by any particular incident, and did not stem from stam "an increased willingness to be vocally critical" chas ve'shalom. It was given as part of a series of shiurim (Yemei Iyun) which Yeshivat Har Etzion hosts every Chanuka. Each year has a different theme and that year's theme happened to be da'as Torah.
    Yehi Zichro Baruch

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