In his introduction to Tradition Journal’s recently published “Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm Memorial Volume,” Tradition editor Rabbi Jeffrey Saks notes Rabbi Lamm’s inauguration in 1958 as Tradition’s own 30-year-old founding editor. Over the decades his body of work has been anchored by the RCA journal as strongly as his other professional affiliations, if not more so.
Like Rabbi Lamm’s life and career, the essays compiled in the memorial volume cover a huge span of topics in fields as varied as Torah and worldly wisdom; Hasidism and the ideology and theology of its opponents; Modern Orthodoxy’s relationship to our brethren on the right and left; faith, community, marriage and family; morality; education; the rabbinate and leadership; Israel and Zionism’ the Holcaust and more. The contributors include rabbis, professors, philosophers, rebbes, directors of educational institutions in America and Israel, psychologists and leaders of Jewish communities.
The launching of the volume on Leil Hoshana Rabba inspired Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of Congregation Rinat Yisrael to highlight Rabbi Lamm’s ability to be doresh (compassionate) to all types of individuals who parallel the four species that we take on Sukkot. “Rabbi Lamm was able to create hidur hamitzvah, the beautification of the mitzvah, through his connection of past to present to future. Like an evergreen, he was fresh and fertile in all seasons,” Rabbi Strauchler said.
Taking part in the online launch were Tova Warburg Sinensky, granddaughter of Rabbi Lamm, who serves as the yoetzet halacha for the Teaneck Yoetzet Initiative, the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta and the Yoetzet Initiative of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey; and her husband, Rabbi Tzvi Sinensky, director of the Lamm Heritage Archives. As a young couple, they had the privilege of learning weekly b’chevruta with Rabbi Lamm in his office at Yeshiva University, from 2005 to 2007. During their studies of Nefesh Hachaim by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Rabbi Lamm would pull out tracts on Pirkei Avot which were relatively unknown but were included on the shelves of his extensive, eclectic library.
In her presentation, Tova Sinensky explored Rabbi Lamm’s struggle with the concepts of chidush versus hit’chadshut. He saw hit’chadshut as aimed not at the external world but rather at newness in the world of character, personality and spirit within. Chidush, according to Rabbi Lamm, refers to looking at Torah through novel ideas and critical lenses. Rav Chaim of Volozhin was wary of chidushim as he feared that they would lead man away from the truth, that they would threaten the balance between Torah dependence and independence. Rabbi Lamm differed and believed that in order to access Truth we need innovation, we need to play an active role in our learning. He cited Rav Tzadok of Berlin that in developing chidushei Torah we are actually partnering with Hashem, involved in the act of creation through learning. Lamm recalled the shiurim of Rav Soloveichik, which offered a balance of tradition and innovation. According to Lamm, innovation in learning is a source of vibrancy for future study and we must always find newness in tradition in order to keep our study fresh and vibrant.
Rabbi Tzvi Sinensky’s presentation explored the conflict recounted in the Gemara between talmud and maaseh. In his 1991 publication of “Torah U’Maddah,” Rabbi Lamm posited that the most persuasive argument for melo kol ha’aretz kevodo, the world is filled with His honorable presence: The fundamental belief of our faith is that the most powerful way to arrive at novel ideas is through the integration of various fields of knowledge. We must strive to create a sense of unity, synthesis and sacredness within our secular studies. There is no distinction between the sacred and secular as all of life is integrated and sanctified by Torah.
Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1927. At Yeshiva College, he earned a BA in chemistry in 1949. In 1951 he earned his semicha from RIETS and in 1966 he earned a PhD in philosophy. He served in the rabbinate for 25 years, 17 of which he served as the spiritual leader of the Jewish Center of Manhattan. He was elected third president of Yeshiva University, a position he held for a quarter of a century until his retirement in 2013. He was a prolific writer and peerless orator. He passed away on May 31, 2020 at the age of 92, shortly after the passing of his wife, Mindella, the previous month.
The newly published “Tradition: Rabbi Norman Lamm Memorial Volume,” edited by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks and published by The Rabbinical Council of America, is available through contacting the RCA at www.rabbis.org or by calling 212-807-9000.The volume is available online at www.traditiononline.org. It will also be available at local Jewish bookstores.
To receive the weekly curated content from Rabbi Lamm’s sermons, go to yu.edu/about/lamm-heritage or on Facebook at facebook.com/LammHeritageArchives.