Rabbi Lichtenstein was born in Paris, France, but grew up in the United States, studied in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin under Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner. He earned a BA and semicha ("rabbinic ordination") at Yeshiva University and a PhD in English Literature at Harvard University, where he studied under Douglas Bush.
After serving as Rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University for several years, Rabbi Lichtenstein answered Rabbi Yehuda Amital's request in 1971 to join him at the helm of Yeshivat Har Etzion, located in Gush Etzion, and moved to Jerusalem. He maintained a close connection to Yeshiva University as a Rosh Kollel for the Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, an affiliate of Yeshiva University and its rabbinical school, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
In 2005, he and his wife Dr. Tovah (née Soloveitchik) moved to Alon Shvut, where Yeshivat Har Etzion is located. They were married in 1960 and have six children.
On January 4, 2006, Rabbi Yaaqov Medan and Rabbi Baruch Gigi were officially invested as co-rashei yeshiva alongside Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein, with an eye toward Rabbi Amital's intention to retire. On October 28, 2008, Rav Lichtenstein's eldest son, Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, was officially invested as co-Rosh Yeshiva, simultaneous with Rav Amital's official retirement, this time with an eye toward Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's eventual plan to retire.
He was committed to intensive and original Torah study and articulates a bold Jewish worldview that embraces elements of modernity within the framework of a Torah life, reflecting the tradition of his teacher and father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in line with Centrist Orthodoxy.
Lichtenstein was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Literature on Israeli Independence Day: May 6 2014. He passed away on April 20, 2015. He was a source of inspiration for a wide circle of Jewry, for both his educational attainments and his intellectual and spiritual leadership. He was especially admired by many centrist Modern Orthodox leaders.