Audio Roundup Special: The thought of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein

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by Joel Rich


Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier: The thought of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein


The thought of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein.
My general take has always been– R’Aharon was a highly nuanced thinker influencing in a time when nuance was continually losing favor.  He speaks to me but I’m not sure what percent of today’s MO/RZ resonates to his brand.
1a. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Biography
        Biographical sketch of R’Lichtenstein including his writing, personal history and involvement in YU, YHE, Gruss….
1b. Overview of RAL’s Thought
        The world is complex – we need a holistic approach that maintains our integrity.  Religion, ethics and the “outside world” must all be part of a holistic, integrated life.
2a – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on The Centrality of Talmud and Torah Study
        Why do we study torah in general and gemara in particular?  How do we think about the quantity and quality of studying different areas of torah (and non-torah?)?  The primacy of talmud study was debated between R’Lichtenstein and R’Shagar.
2b – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Conceptual Approach to Talmud Study: Theory
        The conceptual Brisker approach has evolved since R’Chaim’s initial application to resolving textual issues.  It distinguishes between primary and secondary issues and R’YBS extended it to mapping sugyot and broad themes.  R’Lictenstein continued to expand themes, extend the sources surveyed and also employed modern language.
2c – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Conceptual Approach to Talmud Study: Practice
        In practice, R’Aharon’s approach was to look at the source, nature and scope of a halacha for analysis.  This shiur examines a response R’Aharon wrote to the Knesset concerning abortion.  Halacha does include a humanist element.
2d – Rav Aharon Lichtensein on the Study of Tanakh  (word document)
        Word document with sources concerning R’Aharon’s nuanced approach to using “modern” text analysis approaches to the study of Tanach.
3a – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Secular Wisdom in Theory
        Torah u’chochma means Torah comes first, Talmud Torah is its primary expression and chochma has great ancillary value.  The ancillary value is primarily in personality development and as an aid to Torah study.  It also gets you a job and can strengthen your faith and ability to withstand faith challenges.
3bi – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Secular Wisdom in Practice, Part I: Henry More
        R’Aharon’s response to some of the objections to Torah u’chocma are discussed here.  There’s a practical problem due to changes in the academy (how they analyze literature).  Then onto an analysis of R’Aharon’s paper on Henry Moore and the interaction of intellect and religion.
3bii. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Robert Frost
        R’Aharon analyzes Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  There’s a dialectic between Torah and the outside world (Frost’s version was ethics and nature) for those of us who live in both worlds.
3c – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Academic Talmud Study
        The real problem with the academic study of Talmud is the lack of reverence and focus on history and criticism.  Basically, they are outsiders
4a – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein: Does Judaism Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakha?
        Analysis of the classic R’Aharon essay – Everything HKB”H does/commands is ethical but we sometimes struggle to see it.  Natural law is reflected in lfnim mshurat hadin.  R’Bleich disagrees!
4b – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Judaism and Humanism
        We have obligations that flow from our human existence (humanism) and have Jewish obligations that are additive.  Defining each is important, balancing them requires that halacha take precedence.  HKB”H is central to all our calculations.
4c – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Pesak Gedolim and Humanism
        A true gadol must have depth, breadth, communication skills and common sense.  (me – and can dribble with either hand)
4d – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Sexuality and Family
        R’Aharon was one of the first rabbinic leaders to openly discuss relationships.  Marriage has both external (pru u’rvu) and internal (relationship) justifications.  Chazal seemed very pro relationship but Rishonim seemed to view it as a necessary evil.  It’s hard to reconcile these opinions.
        Chinuch of your own children should be a very high priority.
        Mishkav Zachor is certainly a toevah but so are faulty weights and measures (you get the drift)
4e – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Prayer and Spirituality
        R’Aharon followed R’YBS’s lead on a number of prayer issues.  We view ourselves as standing before HKB”H and focus on our utter dependence on him…
        The spiritual and intellectual elements of prayer (and life) should reinforce and balance each other.
4f – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Zionism and Aliyah
        Zionism is very important!  Religious Zionism comes in a number of flavors – R’Aharon was non-messianistic.  He was also a middle of the roader concerning the relationship between the state and religion
4g – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Hesder and the IDF
        Seems to start part way into shiur and cuts off before the end. Army service needs to be part of an integrated life
4h – Holiness in the Thought of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein
        Holiness is infused (or added) in this world by man’s active role through halacha
4i – Faith and Belief in the Thought of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein
        Man needed belief when he didn’t feel in control, modern man feels in control! (obviously classes were given pre-corona).
        Some view emunah as it will all be good, others just that we will maintain a relationship with HKB”H
        R’Aharon’s source of faith was his parents, teachers, Jewish history and HKB”H (i.e. we know we can’t “prove” it.  It was a validating experience when I first read R’Aharon on this point.)
5a – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and the Haredi World
        There are philosophical and practical differences between the Chareidi and MO/RZ worlds.  R’Aharon aspired to have us bridge the gap and have the best of both worlds.
5b – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on the Orthodox Jew and the Other
        How do we relate to non-orthodox Jews?  We appreciate partial accomplishments and find common ground but don’t validate the unacceptable.  Pretty much the same ground rules with non-bnai brit relationship
5c – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Talmud Study for Women
        Shiur starts with the evolution of rabbinic responses to women’s learning.  R’Aharon viewed the primary purpose of education as molding ovdei hashem.  Today this means serious Torah (Talmud) learning for women.
5d – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on Women in Communal Leadership
        R’Aharon articulated a nuanced approach to srarah.  Not surprisingly, others disagreed.
5e – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on National-Religious Policy Issues
        Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, the Gaza withdrawal and renting to non-bnai brit were all triggers (not meant as a pun) which required RZ reflection.  While it’s important to consider how things look to “outsiders”, it’s more important to consider internal definitional and educational issues.  We need to remember to focus on broader communal responsibilities respect for others’ opinions and non-simplistic thinking (me – not an easy sell today)

About Joel Rich

Joel Rich is a frequent wannabee cyberspace lecturer on various Torah topics. A Yerushalmi formerly temporarily living in West Orange, NJ, his former employer and the Social Security administration support his Torah listening habits. He is a recovering consulting actuary.

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