Despite being considered "modern" and "open " in his worldview, Rabbi Lichtenstein, an eminent student of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (known as "the Rav"), upheld the Rav's traditional position on interfaith dialogue and relations with the Christian world.
Eight years ago, before penning a Jerusalem Post op-ed, "Right of reply: Beware theological red lines", JewishIsrael’s Content and Research Director, Ellen Horowitz, contacted Rabbi Lichtenstein in order to seek clarification on Rav Soloveitchik's celebrated treatise on interfaith dialogue, "Confrontation", and regarding the use of the term "Judeo-Christian". At that time, Rabbi Lichtenstein endorsed Mrs.Horowitz's understanding of the the Rav's position and said that he imagined that the Rav would be "very distressed" over the theological nature of the current evangelical-Israel relationship.
“Although Pastor John Hagee has been meticulous and outspoken in his opposition to missionary activity in Israel, he is, nevertheless, promoting a passionate Judeo-Christian agenda heavily infused with a gospel which theologically fuses Jews and Christians together in manner which has never been sanctioned by those entrusted with protecting the Jewish faith and maintaining Israel as an independent single faith community.
We Jews are on forbidden ground when we're drawn to Christian leaders who declare that "The battle for Jerusalem has begun, and it is time for believers in Christ to support our Jewish brethren," or that "we are one" and "our roots are Jewish."
After consulting with those closest to and most familiar with Rav Soloveichik's convictions, I feel comfortable offering the following synopsis: While the Rav recognized the validity of "a Judeo-Hellenistic-Christian tradition within the framework of Western civilization," he noted that "people confuse two concepts when they speak of a common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic." He called it "absurd" to speak of the "commensurability of two faith communities which are individual entities." We are not to relate to any other faith community as "brethren" even though "separated." Any spiritually inspired endeavors with the Christian community should not take place on a theological level, but rather on a mundane, secular, and humanistic plane.
Rather than try and build a relationship on common denominators, we should build with an understanding and respect for differences. And it is instinctual and necessary for us Jews "to recoil and retrace our steps" when we feel uncomfortably close to losing our status as a totally independent faith community. Evangelical Christians are inspired by a theological mission to save the Jewish people spiritually and/or physically. That being the case, we Jews have a mission too. We are obligated to transform any Jewish-Christian union into an honest, proper and permissible alliance - complete with uniform guidelines and legislation. Our emphasis should be placed on justice and morality without the theological trappings.”
In JewishIsrael's November 2012 response to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's attempt to reinterpret Rav Soloveitchik's position vis a vis seeking theological commonality with the Christian world, we again cited Rabbi Lichtenstein's views. Excerpts from JewishIsrael Responds to Rabbi Riskin's Reinterpretation of the Rav:
"The Jew feels himself unique among the peoples. He might find himself immersed among them; however, he always feels separate from them…Its [the Jewish nation's] uniqueness pertains both to the present as well as to the eschatological future, both on the socio-historic, as well as the meta-historic level. ‘Hen am levadad yishkon uvagoyim lo yitchashav!’ ---Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on Parashat Balak”
JewishIsrael went on to write that:
"Every Jew retains the privilege to cherish and develop an intimate relationship with G-d within the bounds of Torah - without outside forces infringing on, influencing, and disturbing that relationship. And that should be okay, as respect for privacy, for boundaries, and for differences, should potentially form the foundations of healthy alliances between all people, communities and nations. However, impassioned Christian evangelicals are drawing closer to the Jews and to Israel with a theological mandate in hand that calls for the breaking down and erasing of the sacred lines between faith communities."
Rabbi Lichtenstein was also among the endorsers of the Document of Principles, “Regarding the Acceptance of Assistance from Christian Sources”, formulated in November 2012 by the Committee of Binyamin Region Rabbis. The scope of the rabbinic treatise went beyond the questions of accepting monetary and hands-on assistance from gentile sources. Very sensitive prohibitions with regards to avodah zarah, empowering Christianity, participation in Jewish-Christian gatherings, expressing admiration for Christian belief, and expressing gratitude were addressed in an unequivocal manner by the committee. The rabbis involved expressed great concern about the blurring of the line between Christianity and the Jewish faith, the dangers of strengthening Christianity in Eretz Yisrael, and problems inherent in becoming dependent on Christian sources.
May the Lichtenstein family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Document of Principles, “Regarding the Acceptance of Assistance from Christian Sources”