By: Shmuly Singer and Pinky Shapiro  | 

The Search Is On; Riskin, Sacks Decline Speculative Offers (Vol. 66, Issue 8)

The resignation of Yeshiva President Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm just hours ago raises the specter of uncertainty, as his office will become vacant for the first time in a quarter-century.  The reported creation of the position of University Chancellor and Lamm's immediate appointment to that office raise further questions in the hierarchical future of the Yeshiva administration. 

The most significant in a plethora of recent administrative resignations, Lamm's departure from the helm of Yeshiva reopens the historic debate of the duality of Yeshiva's presidency, while fanning the flames of speculation over his potential successor.  In the tradition established by his predecessors, Rabbi Lamm serves both as Yeshiva's President and as its RIETS Rosh HaYeshiva.  His move over to the office of University Chancellor lends itself to illustrate the ability to separate these two positions.  Many in the Yeshiva family have feared the fission of these offices as the university continues to secularize its administration.

However, Lamm asserted in his personal statement to the extended Yeshiva Family that he “asked the Chairman of the Board [of Trustees] to appoint a search committee for [his] successor as President of Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.”  The specific wording of this request highlights Lamm’s desire to keep the two offices a single unit.

The wishes of Rabbi Lamm and their reflection on reality might be questioned by some skeptical of Lamm’s influence on choosing his successor after his resignation.  In response to this, Dr. Jeffery Gurock, Special Assistant to President Lamm, clarified, “The Board will choose Dr. Lamm’s successor, and Dr. Lamm will have a say in the process.”

Murkiness continues to obscure the process by which a successor to the presidency will be chosen, however.  According to Gurock, “If we follow precedent, the committee that will choose Dr. Lamm’s successor will be comprised of faculty and Board members.”  Reportedly, this committee would convene in May of 2001 and have its work completed no later than August of 2002.

The precedent Gurock referred to can be traced back to the early months of 1976.  The fifty member Presidential Search Committee that eventually chose Rabbi Lamm as Yeshiva’s third president represented the various undergraduate and graduate divisions of Yeshiva.  The committee also included outsiders chosen to present perspectives on the needs of the University in the area of communal services, a function comparable to the modern-day Max Stern Division of Communal Services. 

That committee screened fifty-seven candidates over an eight-month period before submitting its recommendations to the Board of Trustees.  In concurrence with the committee recommendation, the Board unanimously selected Rabbi Lamm to serve as president.

In spite of this historical paradigm, the future nature of the presidency and the specific composition of the committee await elucidation.  Nevertheless, a number of high-profile public figures have been mentioned as potential successors.  The members of the ‘short list’ all retain impeccable academic credentials while possessing leadership positions in the broader Jewish community.  Sources in Yeshiva have speculated that potential successors to the Presidency include Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of the Ohr Torah Institutes in Israel, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, the Dean of the Soloveitchik Institute in Boston and former Editor-in-Chief of the Torah U’Madda Journal.  

This short list appears to have shortened somewhat overnight, as two of the candidates expressed their disinclination to assume the Yeshiva Presidency. “I’m presently in the place I most want to be,” remarked Riskin of his community in Israel.  “I love Yeshiva, but I’m very happy in Israel, and I hope to stay. I’d hope they find someone in America to assume Rabbi Lamm’s responsibilities.”

Rabbi Sacks expressed similar reservations about leaving his current station. “A good soldier doesn’t desert his post,” stated Sacks.  “There is much left to do here in Great Britain.   Rabbi Lamm was kind enough to ask me to assume his post recently, and I declined for this reason.  Furthermore,” he continued, “I think there is a great deal to be said for his successor to come from the American Jewish community.   The best guardians of an institution come from within that institution’s ranks,” he concluded.  

In spite of the continuing uncertainty, some Jewish leaders suggested that Lamm himself would continue in his spiritual leadership role.  “Yeshiva is the bully pulpit of the Jewish People,” remarked Israel Singer, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, a long-time friend and colleague of Lamm’s at Brooklyn College.  “Norman Lamm, the master builder, created that pulpit, and now it’s only waiting for someone to fill it.   Perhaps, if he does assume the post of Chancellor, he can use his brilliant creation to its maximum potential as the leader that Orthodoxy has craved since Rabbi Soloveitchik passed away.”