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

Retiring Giant of Faith Mishandled Yeshiva Sex Abuse Scandal

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By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 03, 2013.
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In his letter announcing his retirement, Lamm apologized for failing to go to police with the sex abuse allegations.

“At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived,” Lamm wrote. “I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land.”

Some praised Lamm’s show of contrition. Goldin said that attendees at the RCA convention thought his retirement letter was brave. “People are very proud of him for his honesty, his courage, as well as his accomplishments over the past decades,” Goldin said.

Others argued that Lamm’s apology was beside the point. “It’s not about Rabbi Lamm,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, spiritual leader of The National Synagogue, in Washington, and a graduate of Y.U.’s high school, college and rabbinical school.

“Rabbi Lamm served the institution for decades, and I’m so grateful for what he did. But he said stuff in his resignation letter that should invigorate his successors and his students to follow his lead, and should invigorate them to do a real investigation with transparency and accountability. I fear that’s not what’s going on.”

The Forward reported in May that Y.U.’s board had not promised to make the results of an ongoing investigation into sex abuse at Y.U. public, and that the firm hired to conduct the investigation had not requested interviews with a number of victims named publicly in Forward stories.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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