Rabbi Norman Lamm, one of the great Jewish leaders of the 20th century, has resigned his post [as chancellor and rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University], and the public silence from the thousands who benefited from his leadership is deafening (“Norman Lamm Cites Mistakes As He Retires From YU,” July 5).
His letter of resignation, to paraphrase the medieval commentator Rashi, requires explication. It is really two letters — one, a magisterial overview of his vision of YU and Modern Orthodoxy, the other a painful mea culpa for hurtful events of the past whose full import only became apparent in the ensuing decades. That the significance of the first letter has been overshadowed by the horrible events alluded to in the second is most unfortunate; but it says more about the audience than the author. Scandal titillates. When it involves an individual or an institution (in this case both) that has been the target of envy, jealousy and ideological controversy, it affords erstwhile opponents an opportunity to gloat and wag self-righteous fingers.
I do not know why Rabbi Lamm chose to fall on his sword in his valedictory. The timing, just days before an announced lawsuit against YU by the victims of abuse, may offer a partial answer. Perhaps he had one more sacrifice to make for the institution he saved from oblivion. Personally, I wish he had chosen another venue for that “second” letter. But this I do know: Rabbi Norman Lamm stands head and shoulders above his critics. His scholarship, leadership and humanity entitle him to the abiding respect and gratitude of the Jewish community.
Professor Emeritus Brooklyn College – City University of New York