In Memoriam of Rabbi Lamm: A Personal Reflection From Rabbi Yosef Blau
Editor’s Note: To honor the memory of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, The Commentator reached out to prominent members of the Yeshiva University community to share their personal reflections of Rabbi Lamm’s life and work. We start with a reflection from Rabbi Yosef Blau, the mashgiach ruchani at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm hired me to become mashgiach at Yeshiva one year after assuming the presidency of Yeshiva University and RIETS. I will focus my recollections on his critical role in saving and expanding Yeshiva.
Rabbi Lamm was the first American-born leader and graduate of Yeshiva to become its president. He inherited an institution on the verge of bankruptcy and whose rabbinical leadership was European. Though his rabbinical experience had not required significant fundraising, Rabbi Lamm quickly learned a new skill and enabled Yeshiva to survive.
Balancing the Yeshiva and the University was an ongoing challenge. Rabbi Dr. Lamm was a Talmudic scholar who had the respect of the roshei yeshiva and guided the yeshiva through the transition after the Rav stopped teaching. He turned the slogan “Torah Umadda” into a coherent philosophy with a number of modalities.
At the same time he was able to give direction to the university, including its secular graduate schools. The pressures of the job were endless and criticism came from both the right and the left. The term “Centrist Orthodoxy,” which he introduced, reflected his personal commitment to the golden mean of the Rambam. As an outstanding orator and writer, Rabbi Lamm’s unique skill set, which was critical to his success as a pulpit rabbi, had to be translated to his role as Yeshiva president.
Rabbi Lamm played a historic role in the resurgence of Orthodoxy in America and the world. Without his efforts, Yeshiva might not exist today and Orthodox Judaism would not enjoy the respect and prominence he helped it achieve.
Photo Caption: Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University