Six speakers recounted their personal connections with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, the legendary Modern Orthodox leader who passed away last month, at a gathering in the Young Israel of Woodmere on Monday night.
The exceptional nature of Rav Lichtenstein’s connection with everyone he touched was emphasized by each speaker.
The type of questions shul rabbis have to tackle today often pose complex human challenges unlike those brought to a rabbi’s attention in the past, and Rav Lichtenstein’s level-headed guidance — always within the bounds of halacha — was treasured by those who consulted him, YIW Rabbi Heshie Billet said.
Rebbetzin Rookie Billet expressed gratitude for Rav Lichtenstein’s encouragement of Torah scholarship for women, and for his urging her to accept the principalship of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, which is known for rigorous academics that include Talmudic study.
When Mrs. Billet would pose quesitons about issues raised at her school, “he was always patient and measured, calling upon his vast halachic knowledge as well as his awareness of community politics [and] kavod harabanim, sensitive to the feelings of all involved in giving me either a decision — or advice in coming to my own wise decision in areas where there was that kind of flexibility permitted. He was always steadfast about the halachic process but open and sensitive to listening to all the factors.”
Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Shalom in Lawrence, who was present at Rav Lichtenstein’s lavaya, recalled the first time he met Rav Lichtenstein some 50 years ago.
His first reaction on entering Rav Lichtenstein’s shir as a young bochur “was one of absolute stunned amazement” at the brilliance before him, he said.
In the years since, the guidance Rav Lichtenstein provided to him and to other rabbis was priceless, Rabbi Hain said, describing an open approach that incorporated total respect for Torah as well a compasionate understanding of the needs of individuals who posed whatever issues were before him.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Division. Also speaking were Joel Steinmetz and Myron Kirschbaum.