By: Sruli Fruchter and Yosef Lemel  | 

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Former YU President, Dies at 92

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, former president and chancellor of Yeshiva University, passed away on Sunday, May 31. He was 92. 

Born in 1927 in Brooklyn, New York, Rabbi Lamm attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath through elementary and high school before attending Yeshiva College from 1945-1949, where he graduated summa cum laude as the class valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He continued to study advanced chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. During his time at Yeshiva College, Rabbi Lamm studied Talmud under the tutelage of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. 

Through the insistence of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, his predecessor in the YU presidency, Rabbi Lamm ultimately pursued a rabbinic career instead of one in chemistry and was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in 1951.

Rabbi Lamm joined the Yeshiva College faculty in 1959 as a lecturer in Jewish Philosophy and was appointed the Erna and Jakob Michael Professor of Jewish Philosophy in 1966 after earning a Ph.D. in that field of study from Rabbi Soloveitchik.

A pulpit rabbi for nearly 25 years, Rabbi Lamm served in senior rabbinic positions in New York’s Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Kodimoh in Springfield, Mass. and finally the Jewish Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1958, serving there until his appointment as YU president in 1976. 

Following the retirement and subsequent passing of Rabbi Belkin, Rabbi Lamm was unanimously appointed president of YU by the Board of Trustees. His presidency saw a major fundraising campaign that contributed to the financial growth of Yeshiva and increased its endowment fund to over $1 billion. Through this initiative, an over $35 million debt was repaid to the Bowery Savings Bank of New York. Rabbi Lamm also oversaw a mass renovation of the Wilf Campus and the creation of the Sy Syms School of Business and the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies for Women. For 25 years he served as president until 2003, after which he continued as the chancellor of YU and rosh hayeshiva of RIETS until his retirement in 2013. 

Rabbi Lamm authored 10 books — including “Torah U’madda,” “Faith and Doubt, “Torah Lishmah” and “A Hedge of Roses” — that primarily dealt with religious and philosophical topics; these works were in addition to the many essays he wrote for Tradition — a prominent Modern Orthodox journal of Jewish thought which he founded in 1958 — and other publications. 

Throughout his writings and speeches, Rabbi Lamm stressed the concept of Torah Umadda, the pursuit and integration of Jewish and secular knowledge. Rabbi Lamm also spearheaded the Torah U’madda Project in 1989, which culminated in the annual publication of the Torah U’madda Journal. His scholarship has been cited in multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases including the landmark Miranda v. Arizona

“Norman Lamm was a defining force in fashioning a Torah Judaism of depth, texture and color,” said President Emeritus Richard Joel, who directly succeeded Rabbi Lamm as president. “I proudly considered myself his student. His words and deeds will continue to inspire so many of us. He and Mrs. Lamm were role models for a generation. He cared for our people profoundly, and leaves a legacy of wonderful family, timeless teaching, and impactful leadership.”

“Rabbi Lamm was the premier expositor of our community’s worldview. His teachings and writings anchored modern life in Torah values and taught us how we can grow from the interchange of history’s great ideas,” expressed Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, the current YU president who — like Rabbi Lamm — previously was the senior rabbi of the Jewish Center from 2000-2007. “As a visionary leader, sophisticated scholar, master orator and prolific writer, Rabbi Lamm left an indelible mark on Jewish history and was a central architect of the modern Jewish experience.” 

President Berman reflected, “For my part, his loss is deeply personal, as he was a mentor and rebbe. He generously and lovingly gave me much of his precious time, sharing with me his Torah and wise counsel. Our community has lost a legend, and we mourn the passing of our teacher and guide.”

Rabbi Lamm’s wife, Mrs. Mindy Lamm, recently passed away on April 16 at the age of 88 from COVID-19. They are survived by their three children Dr. Chaye Warburg, Dr. Joshua Lamm and Shalom Lamm, as well as 17 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. Their fourth and youngest child, Sara Dratch, passed away in 2013.

The Rabbinical Council of America will hold a memorial tribute on June 2 featuring remarks by various members of Rabbi Lamm’s family, President Ari Berman, Rabbi Dr. Yossi Levine, Rabbi Herschel Schachter and Rabbi Dr. David Shatz. The tribute will be live-streamed on YouTube. 

Private funeral services took place today at 4 p.m.

Elisheva Kohn and Elazar Abrahams contributed to this story.

Photo Caption: Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University