July 18, 2024
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Rabbi Norman Lamm Steps Down As YU Chancellor Lawsuit Filed Against YU

New York—Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, an icon of Modern Orthodoxy, has stepped down as Chancellor of Yeshiva University, amid a swirl of controversy. In an interview last December with Paul Berger of The Forward, the rabbi admitted that he had failed, more than 20 years previously, to respond adequately to students’ complaints of sexual abuse by rabbis at the school. According to YU officials, the resignations from his posts at RIETS were arranged three years ago, and he stepped down when his contract expired.

Lamm, in an interview last December that took place under what critics are calling unethical circumstances, admitted that he chose to deal with the allegations privately and never called the police. “My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job,” Lamm said.

In his letter of resignation, he notes: “Conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.”

Then he continues: “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. And when that happens, one must do teshuvah [repentance]. So, I too must do teshuvah. …

“We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities,” he wrote. “But we can and must do it. I must do it, and having done so, contribute to the creation of a future that is safer for innocents, and more ethically and halakhically correct. True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong. This is what I am modeh [acknowledge] as I reflect on my tenure.”

Now 85, the rabbi had suffered a series of strokes and his daughter was critically ill when Paul Berger came to his apartment to interview him about allegations of sexual misconduct made by YU students.  They named Rabbi Macy Gordon—who once headed Cong. Bnai Jeshurun in Teaneck—and MTA principal George Finkelstein. Both rabbis now live in Israel.

The students are suing YU for $380 million.

Berger’s harshest critic is Shmaryahu Rosenberg, aka Failed Messiah, who uses his popular blog to expose hypocrisy, sexual predators, thieves and other shandas to the world. In this case, one might have thought Rosenberg would side with Berger, but the opposite is true.

He asks, rhetorically: “Did the Jewish Daily Forward unethically (and, perhaps, illegally) trick and abuse an elderly impaired Modern Orthodox rabbi in order to get a scoop? It appears the answer to that question is, yes.” He then goes on to cite his reasons, not the least of which is that he believes Rabbi Lamm was impaired at the time of the interview.

Michael Berenbaum, the noted Holocaust scholar believes that Rabbi Lamm’s letter is an act of integrity, that it is characteristic of his entire career, where he has always put the needs of the institution first. It is, said Berenbaum, also “a model of Jewish integrity, fulfilling the basic elements of admitting the mistake, acknowledging it and apologizing for it.

“I trust that in the aftermath of this controversy, every Jewish leader must understand that there can be zero tolerance of such abuses, and that the abusers must be reported as mandated by law, and not shuffled off to other jobs. Every leader should know that such acts endanger their institutions. Unfortunately, this has sullied the reputation of a man who had the most vaunted of careers. They should worry lest it happens to them.”

By Jeanette Friedman

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