Norman Lamm Leaves Outsized Legacy in Modern Orthodoxy — And a Cloud

Retiring Giant of Faith Mishandled Yeshiva Sex Abuse Scandal

yeshiva university

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 03, 2013.
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“He was one of the first people to write about social and political issues from the perspective of Torah, and it opened the field,” Berman said. “It enabled people to see that it was really possible for the ideals of Modern Orthodoxy to live in the real world and not just in academia.”

Lamm also reached out to Jewish religious leaders from outside the Orthodox sphere. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, remembers Lamm speaking to his class at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform seminary, in the 1970s. “It was an extraordinary session,” Yoffie recalled.

“He articulated the views of what we then called Modern Orthodoxy, and he was emphatic about his own convictions; yet at the same time, he spoke with great respect.”

Lamm was replaced as president of Y.U. in 2003 by Richard Joel, who had previously led the Jewish student outreach group Hillel. Lamm stayed on as chancellor of the university and the titular head of the rabbinical school. He continued to live in Y.U.-owned housing, a gracious duplex on the Upper West Side. The school moved him to another, slightly smaller apartment in 2011.

Lamm’s total compensation from Y.U. in 2010, the most recent year for which records are publicly available, amounted to $485,000, including deferred compensation and other benefits.

In December 2012, Lamm told the Forward that staff credibly accused of improper sexual activity “not only at [Y.U.’s] high school and college, but also in [the] graduate school” were “quietly let go” and that the police were not alerted.

Roughly 20 former students of Yeshiva University High School for Boys have told the Forward that they were emotionally, physically or sexually abused while attending the school.

“If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly,” Lamm said. “It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry.”

The Forward later reported that George Finkelstein, an administrator pushed out of Y.U. amid allegations of sexual improprieties with students, had gone on to teach students at a Jewish day school in Florida, and later to hold a prestigious post at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Finkelstein allegedly behaved inappropriately with young men in both Florida and Jerusalem, the Forward reported, leading one man to file a police report against him in Jerusalem.


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