A Tribute to R. Lichtenstein

Mosaic (the successor of Jewish Ideas Daily) has published an article which is my tribute to Moreinu Harav Lichtenstein.

I wrote the last part first. Last year, at the event celebrating Rav Aharon's 80th birthday, I and many others who I spoke to afterward had real religious experiences that it took some time to digest. A few weeks later, I wrote an essay that I distributed to some friends, attempting to unpack. The concluding, personal element of the Mosaic piece is a distillation of that essay, which follows a sorry attempt to introduce Rav Aharon to a general audience.

Below are some paragraphs from the original essay that didn't appear in the Mosaic piece:

There is an important double entendre in the title of By His Light, a book adaptation of Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein's thoughts on values and character development. The (intentional) ambiguity lies in the fact that R. Aharon himself is offering his thoughts on what it means to walk by God's light, which in turn allows us to develop our religious personalities through the light that R. Aharon sheds. For R. Aharon, the antecedent for "His" is God Himself, whereas for the rest of us, the antecedent is R. Aharon.

Then came the Friday morning of Rav Aharon’s birthday celebration. It was Rosh Hodesh, the first day of a new Jewish month. In those months, this semi-holiday was in fact the one date each month when the Old City of Jerusalem was once again wracked by the type of sectarian strife that ripped it to shreds once before. Factions and counter-factions fought over control of Judaism’s sacred precincts. In an earlier age, the Talmud tells us, the great sage Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai slipped out of besieged Jerusalem and petitioned the Roman general-cum-emperor Vespasian to be allowed to establish an enclave for the rabbis at Yavneh, outside the riven and doomed Jerusalem. That morning, Alon Shvut felt like Yavneh.
I felt secure that Rav Aharon’s effect on my faith was not diluted or confused by any personal charm or magnetism, as I have spent several years cultivating a visceral and – to my mind – healthy allergy to charisma, especially the rabbinic variety. There was no argument or proof that I heard at that event that could have had any profound effect on my convictions. Most of my mental energy during the hour of Rav Aharon’s lecture was spent trying (largely unsuccessfully) to decipher his difficult language. As always, his high register and conceptual complexity, combined with the fact that he spoke in my second language (Hebrew) and has somewhat slurred speech that has not improved with age, made it quadruply challenging to follow along.

A final note to those who arrived at this blog via the link at the end of the Mosaic article: this blog is largely defunct. I use it mainly to redirect some traffic toward articles I've published elsewhere. If you want to follow along, I recommend my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

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