Yeshiva University chancellor Norman Lamm resigned Monday amidst growing pressure over allegations of sexual abuse at Yeshiva University High School stretching back decades, a scandal that was first reported by the Forward in December.
In a letter announcing his resignation, Lamm apologized for his failure to go to police with reports of sexual abuse against high school students.
But Kevin Mulhearn, an attorney representing 22 men allegedly abused at YUHS between 1971 and 1989, said that the apology did not go far enough.
“Rabbi Lamm’s mea culpa, in admitting that he responded inappropriately to reports of sexual abuse at YUHS, is a positive first step, but only a first step,” Mulhearn told the Forward. “The conspiracy of silence at Y.U. involves many high-level administrators, not just Rabbi Lamm. It is the institution as a whole, not just one man, which needs to make amends.”
In a letter published July 1 by the JTA, Lamm claimed that his resignation from Y.U. was planned three years ago. Lamm, 85, says in the letter that he was unable to write it on his own, and that he was helped by family members.
Lamm’s total compensation from Y.U. in 2010 amounted to $485,000, including deferred compensation and other benefits.
Lamm served as president of Y.U. from 1976 until 2003. In an interview with the Forward in December, Lamm admitted that he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations during that period but had not alerted the police.
“If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly. It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry,” Lamm told the Forward.
In his July 1 letter, Lamm expressed regret for those actions.
“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.”
Lamm is a student and protégé of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the leading figure of American Modern Orthodox Judaism. Like Soloveitchik, Lamm championed the notion of Torah Umadda, the principle that Orthodox Jews should pursue both religious and secular studies. During his tenure as president, Lamm rescued Yeshiva University from fiscal peril, shoring up the institution’s finances and growing its endowment. A sort of physical embodiment of Y.U., Lamm has written widely on Jewish topics, and is seen as major figure in Modern Orthodox Judiasm.
In a statement, current Y.U. president Richard Joel praised Lamm, though didn’t address his apology for inaction on sex abuse.
“I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm for his half-century of service to Yeshiva University,” Lamm wrote. “Dr. Lamm’s contributions to the Jewish world as a distinguished rabbi, philosopher and scholar are unparalleled. We wish Dr. and Mrs. Lamm health and fulfillment into the future.”
A spokesman for Y.U. declined to comment on Lamm’s letter.
In his letter, Lamm seemed to acknowledge that the abuse scandal that took place during his tenure could tarnish his legacy.
“We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future,” Lamm wrote. “[I]t is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities. But we can and must do it.”
For the alleged abuse victims, all that might not be enough.
“As an attorney representing 22 men who were sexually and physically assaulted by YUHS administrators and teachers, I can state categorically that YU’s cold, callous, and calculating indifference and inaction to sexual assaults at YUHS created a deep reservoir of pain,” Mulhearn said.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.