Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A tremendous treasure trove of divrei Torah and Jewish thought has been made even more accessible to the Jewish world through Yeshiva University’s launch of the Lamm Heritage Archives last week. Directed by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s grandson-in-law Rabbi Tzvi Sinensky, the Archive builds upon the digitization of over 800 sermons by Rabbi Lamm during his years as rabbinical leader of numerous congregations, including The Jewish Center in Manhattan. The essays span the 1950s through 1976 when Lamm left the pulpit to assume the presidency of Yeshiva University.

More than 10 years ago, then Dean of Libraries Pearl Berger initiated and oversaw the enormous task of making these eloquent speeches available to the public in their original and pristine forms, often with corrections and added notes in the margins in Rabbi Lamm’s own handwriting. In conversation with Rabbi Sinensky, it was revealed that many of these sermons were transcribed on Motzei Shabbat after having been delivered in shul, during precious private time set aside by Rabbi Lamm.


Bringing the project into the new millennium, the archive offers a fresh, aesthetic look at the sermons. In the new website, Rabbi Lamm’s sermons are organized around three themes: parsha sermons, holiday sermons, and eulogies, tributes and addresses delivered on special occasions. Within the first week of its launch, tens of thousands of people have viewed its treasures through email subscriptions, Facebook and other social media, and via publicity from partnering Jewish organizations including the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America, Koren and Lehrhaus.

The Lamm Heritage Archives’ several divisions make it highly accessible and user-friendly. The parsha section lists Rabbi Lamm’s sermons on all of the parshiot in chronological order, from earliest to most recent. In the holidays section, sermons delivered by Rabbi Lamm ranging from Rosh Hashanah to Shavuot, the Three Weeks and Fast Days, as well as yizkor are recorded. In the section devoted to Rabbi Lamm’s eulogies, tributes and addresses, tributes to giants such as “A Rabbi’s Appraisal of Professor Albert Einstein” from 1954; ”Eulogy for Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik” 1993; “Eulogy for Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin” 1995; are offered alongside personal tributes to lesser-known individuals with whom Rabbi Lamm felt close, such as “Tribute to Mikey Butler” in 2004.

In addition to the manuscripts, the archive provides links to the purchase of the 18 works of collected sermons and Jewish thought authored by Rabbi Lamm throughout his illustrious career. In concluding his eloquent eulogy, originally published in The Lehrhaus, for his beloved teacher and mentor, Rabbi Dr. JJ Schacter, university professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at YU, creatively incorporated the titles of Rabbi Lamm’s body of works into a commentary upon the span of his topics. To quote a portion of the eulogy: “Like many admirers, I have appreciated how his ‘royal reach’ has embraced both ‘faith and doubt,’ and how the profundity of his teachings has illuminated many of the ‘70 faces’ of Judaism, especially ‘Torah Umadda.’ His many written works, as well as his first orally delivered ‘derashot le-dorot,’ have created ‘festivals of Jewish faith’ and serve as enduring testaments to the relevance and vitality of traditional Judaism.”

Rabbi Sinensky, director of the Lamm Heritage Archives, is married to Tova Warburg Sinensky, oldest granddaughter of Rabbi Lamm, and the yoetzet halacha serving Teaneck, Atlanta and Philadelphia. In addition to directing the newly launched Archives, Rabbi Sinensky is the rosh yeshiva of the Gur Aryeh program at the Main Line Classical Academy, editor of The Lehrhaus, and a research analyst at Burning Glass Technologies. He is pursuing his Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University.

In a tribute to Rabbi Lamm in Lehrhaus, Sinensky describes his and his wife’s unique privilege to study together b’chavruta with Rabbi Lamm in his later years: “The weekly chavruta demonstrated how a lifelong commitment can empower even the busiest of community leaders to continue developing as a Torah scholar. I saw firsthand how Dr. Lamm’s passion and erudition enabled him not only to envision but also to implement his vision of an integrated model of talmud Torah. For that inspiration, I am eternally grateful.”

What the Archives has achieved, according to Sinensky, is to aestheticize the articles, put them into a more modern website, and organize them in a user-friendly way according to topic, date and title. In addition to the website, a bulletin entitled “Timeless Torah” will distribute two articles each week to subscribers. One article will deal with the weekly parsha and the second will address a topic of contemporary relevance. “Even if the event being discussed was from years past, its relevance to today is poignant and meaningful,” Sinensky said. “We recently sent out Dr. Lamm’s eloquent message delivered during the ambivalent climate after the Yom Kippur War. In his sermon entitled ‘Can We be Happy on This Simchat Torah?’ Dr. Lamm anticipates many of the feelings we are currently experiencing during our shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In the recent issue of the OU’s Jewish Action magazine, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, current president of Yeshiva University, commented on his great predecessor. His closing thoughts truly convey why the Lamm Heritage Archives will serve as a tremendous resource not only for 20th century Torah thought, but timelessly.

”Rabbi Lamm was of his time but also beyond his time,” said Rabbi Berman. “He addressed the immediate challenges of Jewish life and thoughts bringing in our set of values—which don’t change—to contemporary issues. The issues change, the values do not. Rabbi Lamm was an outstanding representative of our 3,000-year-old tradition. He was of his time and beyond his time. The issues he addressed were of his time; the values he stood for were beyond his time.”

To subscribe for weekly emails, from the Lamm Heritage Archives, visit www.yu.edu/about/lamm-heritage. For questions, contact Rabbi Sinensky at [email protected].

By Pearl Markovitz