Mar 18, 2010 — Accepting the inaugural Lamm Prize on March 16, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke about the dichotomy between Torah and chachma [secular wisdom] and the need for both in a Jew’s intellectual being. “How can we apply Torah to the world if we can’t understand it?” he questioned. “Are we supposed to behave towards secular knowledge the way the Vatican behaved towards Galileo? Us? The people of knowledge?”
Calling Yeshiva University “the single most important educational institution in chutz la’aretz [outside of Israel]” Rabbi Sacks said that “YU has been led and inspired for so many years by the man we honor tonight Rabbi Norman Lamm – man of Torah and chachma.”
The Lamm Prize is one of several tributes to Rabbi Lamm that was established in celebration of the chancellor’s 80th birthday. In addition to the Lamm Prize, YU has recognized Rabbi Lamm with the endowment of the Rabbi Norman Lamm Kollel L’Horaa, an intensive advanced semikhah [rabbinic ordination] program in Jewish legal issues; the creation of Yad Lamm – a physical space on campus that will house displays and text documenting Rabbi Lamm’s 27 years as president; and the Lamm Archives online, which includes over 800 digitized sermons, audio and video.
Rabbi Sacks was presented with a citation, which read in part “for spreading hope in a world desperately in need of it. For acting as an exemplar of Jewish thoughts and deeds. For championing G-d and Torah with the whole world watching.”
“Tonight’s honoree was not my first choice,” quipped Rabbi Lamm, “he was my only choice.” Sacks, who has served as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom since 1991 has maintained a prolific writing career of original works and new translations, most notably his translation of the siddur [prayer book]. He received the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for contributions to Diaspora Jewry in 1995 and was knighted in 2005. His most recent book, Future Tense, is a call for Jewry to reject insularism and reclaim their heritage as a light unto the nations.
Saluting Rabbi Lamm, at the inaugural Lamm Prize ceremony, President Richard M. Joel applauded the chancellor’s “lifetime of dedication to the cause of Torah U’Madda [Torah and secular knowledge] in all of its facets.”
But Rabbi Sacks spoke also of the private Rabbi Lamm, recalling a friendship that started over 40 years ago when he was a young student in need of a mentor with whom to discuss his questions. “The private Rabbi Lamm – who showed kindness all those years ago to a young student – changed my life,” he recalled.
Throughout his stay Rabbi Sacks will enhance the academic life of the University by actively engaging with students and faculty. On March 17, he addressed close to 1,000 area high school students and followed that with a question-and-answer session. He will also spend Shabbat on the Beren Campus with his wife, Lady Elaine Sacks, who along with Esther Joel, wife of President Joel, will discuss their roles in the Jewish community.