NEW YORK, Aug. 20 (JTA) Rabbi Avrohom Pam, one of the most respected voices in the fervently Orthodox Jewish community, died early last Friday morning of cancer.
Pam, who was 88, was one of eight members of Agudath Israel of America’s Council of Torah Sages and longtime dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn.
In 1997, Pam gave the opening lesson for a group of 18,000 at a national celebration marking the completion of the Talmud cycle, an event for religious Jews who read a page of Talmud each day.
In 1990, he helped found the Shuvu network of religious schools in Israel for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He also was an advocate for education for Jewish immigrants to the United States.
Remembered as unassuming, Pam insisted before his death that no eulogy be given at his funeral, so the service last Friday consisted solely of prayers and psalms.
Thousands of mourners turned out for the occasion, even though many local Orthodox Jews spend their summers in the Catskill Mountains.
Born in Russia, Pam came to New York as a child. He studied at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and began teaching there in 1937.
He often said that Russian Jewish immigrants were the “great- grandchildren of our greatest rabbis and leaders, and we have a special responsibility to them to give back what they were denied” under communism, said David Zwiebel, one of Pam’s former students and executive vice president for government and public affairs at Agudath Israel of America.
Pam was known for his strong statements against corruption and criminal activity among fervently Orthodox Jews.
Referring to a scandal in which four Chasidic Jews in suburban New York obtained presidential pardons, allegedly in exchange for their community’s support for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, Pam this spring called for “making immediate and intense efforts to make Orthodoxy synonymous once again with honesty and integrity.”
At Agudath Israel’s last convention, in November 2000, Pam gave a speech expressing his concern about recent cases of fervently Orthodox Jews misusing or stealing government funds.
Speaking in both Yiddish and English, Pam noted “the ultimate irony of people who dedicate their lives to learning Torah and then use unethical means to support themselves,” Zwiebel recalled.
Pam lived in a small house in Brooklyn and, though he had been ill for several years, continued to walk the two blocks from his home to the yeshiva, using one of his wife’s shopping carts as a walker.
A few weeks ago he brought his hospital bed and doctor with him, so he could speak at a parlor meeting to raise money for the Shuvu schools.
One of Pam’s strong concerns was the need for people to be careful with their words and treat each other with respect.
Zwiebel recalled how distraught Pam looked one day in the yeshiva. When asked to explain, Pam said, “I just heard one of the boys say, ‘S-H-U-T- U-P.’ “
Abraham Biederman, an activist in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community and a former student of Pam’s, said Pam had “thousands and thousands of students and tens of thousands of people who were his admirers and adherents.”
“Whatever he said went, not by force but by warmth of personality,” Biederman said.
One of Pam’s most famous students was Rabbi Norman Lamm, who went on to become president of Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of centrist Orthodoxy.
Lamm, who studied with Pam 57 years ago shortly after graduating from high school, recalled the elder rabbi as a “very important talmudic scholar, very wonderful teacher and most of all, a gentle man, a man of profound chesed, or graciousness and goodness.”
“In many ways he was a voice of rationality and peacefulness,” Lamm said. “He did not believe in confrontation, in the kind of truculent internecine politics that take place.”
Pam was buried in a cemetery in Queens, N.Y. He is survived by his wife, Sarah, three sons and several grandchildren.