Rabbi Norman Lamm (2007 by folksonomy)
As of two years ago Rabbi Norman Lamm was already suffering from a progressive dementia so severe that he sometimes went for hours without recognizing anyone. On his better days he was able to conduct conversations but his colleagues could tell he was a shadow of his former self. His current state is a far cry from his days as the brilliant President of YU from 1976 to 2002.
In 1993 Lamm also became the Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Head) of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) after the death of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. When Lamm retired as president, his replacement, Richard Joel, a lay lawyer, was not considered as Rosh Yeshiva. The YU board rejected Rabbi Hershel Schachter, an extraordinary rabbinical scholar who was prone to gaffes (e.g., inflammatory statements about race). Instead the board extended Lamm’s appointment as Rosh Yeshiva. Because finding an acceptable replacement was a political minefield they continued Lamm’s appointment even after they knew about his deteriorating mental status.
On December 13, the Forward’s Paul Berger, Jane Eisner, and Larry Cohler-Esses reported, “Lamm says he let alleged high school abuser leave quietly.” The reference to Lamm drew on a December 7th interview in which he is reported to have said:
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…… My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job…… When [the wrestling] came up, [Finkelstein] had decided to leave because he knew we were going to ask him to leave…… The responsibility of a school in hiring someone is to check with the previous job. No one checked with me about George.
The quotes by Lamm instantly turned a story about abuse at YU into a narrative about a callous hierarchy shuffling molesters from one job to another like the Catholic Church.
YU insiders were furious at the Forward for “ambushing” Lamm. They believed the Forward knew Lamm’s condition because it was common knowledge in modern orthodox circles. They may have been mistaken.
I believe the Forward is poorly informed about most of the orthodox world. Their coverage of the sex abuse trial of Nechemaya Weberman trial was the worst of any secular publication. They got snookered by a cub freelancer, Batya Ungar-Sargon, who uncritically parroted the Satmar line about a trial and sentencing being biased against Hasidim.
When the story about Lamm was published, people reached out to the Forward and told them about his condition. Having been advised, the Forward should have conducted its own inquiry and admitted they erred in interviewing and quoting Lamm, a man no longer capable of informed consent. They could have done all that while still standing by the rest of their story.
Since the Forward never acknowledged Lamm’s diminished mental status, YU was now free to extend the deception that Lamm was mentally fit. They proceeded to use his resignation at the end of his three year contract to blunt the damage to their image inflicted by a regular series of articles in the Forward about abuse at YU.
On June 30,, 2013, six months after the story appeared, YU released a twenty-one-paragraph resignation letter purportedly written by Rabbi Lamm which had four paragraphs devoted to the abuse scandal. There was a disclaimer early in the letter: “Conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.” The paragraphs pertaining to the abuse scandal were written by his family and the rest had been written by Lamm about five years ago, but this was not disclosed to the public. Continue reading