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The Lamm Legacy

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Rabbi Norman Lamm stepped down as chancellor of Yeshiva University this week after serving in numerous posts at the university since 1966, including professor, president, rosh yeshiva and chancellor. As arguably the leading figure in American Modern Orthodoxy since the death of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in 1993, Lamm been instrumental in articulating a modern Jewish viewpoint on a range of issues.

As a member of the Jewish Law Commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, Lamm testified before a Senate subcommittee conducting hearings on threats to the privacy of Americans. Echoing the current debate over the NSA’s data surveillance program, Lamm told the committee in 1967 that Jewish religious law considers non-physical intrusion “the equivalent of physical trespass” and that “the spirit of Jewish Law rejects the idea of a national data bank.”

While serving as the associate rabbi of the Jewish Center in New York City and professor of Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University, Lamm was elected chairman of the New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

In 1970, Lamm joined with other Orthodox rabbis to fight the so-called New Left, a group they described as “tactically anarchistic, politically fascists and morally nihilistic.” The rabbis feared the group posed a threat to Jewish youth.

In 1976, Lamm was chosen to be the president of Yeshiva University, the first American-born figure to hold that post. In 1979, Lamm launched a campaign to raise $100 million for the university by 1986, the institution’s 100th anniversary. But the plan ran aground in 1980 when the Bowery Savings Bank sought to foreclose on its portion of the university’s $40 million mortgage due to lack of payment. But by the end of his tenure, Lamm was widely praised for saving the school from financial ruin. Lamm stepped down as president in 2003 and was named chancellor, a post he held until last week.

Throughout his life, Lamm wrote numerous books on Jewish thought and modernity, including “A Hedge of Roses: Jewish Insights into Marriage and Married Life” and “Faith and Doubt: Studies in Traditional Jewish Thought.”

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