The Yeshiva University community mourns the loss of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm ZT”L, the former president, Rosh HaYeshiva and chancellor of Yeshiva University. He was an elegant and articulate spokesman for Jewish life in modern times. His oratory, wisdom and leadership inspired our institution for more than three decades.
A prolific author in the field of Jewish philosophy and law, a distinguished academician and a charismatic pulpit rabbi, Dr. Lamm had an extraordinary impact on the Jewish community. With a rare combination of penetrating scholarship and eloquence of expression, he presented a view of contemporary Jewish life that spoke movingly to all.
He was elected Yeshiva University’s third president in August 1976, succeeding Dr. Samuel Belkin (1943-1975) and Dr. Bernard Revel (1915-1940). He became the first native-born American to head the nation’s oldest and most comprehensive Jewish institution of higher learning. He served as president until June 2003, during which time he also became Rosh HaYeshiva of the affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). After retiring as president, he was elected chancellor, serving as both chancellor and Rosh HaYeshiva until July 2013, when he announced his retirement after being at Yeshiva University for more than 60 years.
“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. In his decades of leadership as our president, chancellor and Rosh HaYeshiva, he elevated Yeshiva University to new heights and educated thousands upon thousands of students who now serve as leaders of our community and pillars of our society. His enormous impact is simply incalculable in considering both the influence of his ideas as well as the number of alumni who graduated during his tenure from across our institution’s graduate, undergraduate and rabbinic programs,” said Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University.
“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. 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.”
He was born in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, on December 19, 1927, to Pearl Baumol Lamm and Samuel Lamm. Dr. Lamm received his elementary and high school education at Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath. In 1945, he entered Yeshiva College, where he majored in chemistry. Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 tested his skills in the laboratory when, as a student, he was asked to work on a secret munitions project for the struggling state. The project was headed by Dr. Ernst D. Bergmann, who later became head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. He graduated summa cum laude in 1949 and was class valedictorian.
Upon graduation, Dr. Lamm pursued advanced scientific studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, while continuing his Judaic studies and rabbinic scholarship. At the urging of Dr. Belkin to choose the rabbinate rather than science as his career, he was ordained as a rabbi at RIETS in 1951 and earned a PhD in Jewish philosophy from the University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies in 1966.
During the 17 years preceding his election as president, Dr. Lamm served on the Yeshiva University faculty, beginning in 1959 as an instructor in philosophy, culminating in his appointment as the Erna and Jakob Michael Professor of Jewish Philosophy in 1966. He also lectured at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, where he was a visiting professor of Judaic studies.
A pulpit rabbi for 25 years, he served as the spiritual leader of The Jewish Center in Manhattan. Prior to that, he served as assistant rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and then as rabbi of Congregation Kodimoh in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Dr. Lamm gained wide recognition for his writings and discourses on the interpretation of Jewish philosophy and law, especially in relation to problems involving science, law, technology and philosophy in the modern world. He authored 10 books, including his major work, Torah Lishmah (1972), about the Mitnaggedim, and The Religious Thought of Hasidism: Text and Commentary, which won the coveted 1999 National Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought. He also published many articles on Jewish law in many journals, one of which was cited in two separate landmark Supreme Court decisions on self-incrimination.
Dr. Lamm edited or co-edited more than 20 volumes, including The Library of Jewish Law and Ethics. He was the founder and first editor of Tradition and associate editor of Hadarom, a journal of Jewish law; founder of the Torah U-Madda Journal; and founder of the Orthodox Forum.
He was also active in many educational, religious and humanitarian endeavors, traveled extensively, served on many governmental commissions, and received numerous awards and honorary degrees.
Dr. Lamm is survived by his children, Dr. Chaye Lamm (David) Warburg, Dr. Joshua (Rivkie) Lamm and Shalom (Tina) Lamm; son-in-law Rabbi Mark Dratch, husband of Sara Lamm Dratch Z”L, who passed away on February 28, 2013; and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is survived by his sisters, Tzivia Sittner and Miriam Auslander, and was the brother of Rabbi Dr. Maurice Lamm Z”L. His wife, Mindella (Mindy) Lamm Z”L, passed away on April 16, 2020.