Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Rav Dr, N. Lamm zt"l--and the "right-wing" Yeshiva world; & Chassidus-- two personal reminiscences

Guest Blogger: Rabbi Doniel Kramer
In the summer of 1976, right after Rav Dr. Lamm was selected as YU's new President and Rosh Hayeshiva, he had to immediately take responsibility for all of YU's schools and affiliates.

Some years beforehand, YU had established the West Coast Teaches College in Los Angeles, which was headed by Rav Dr. Leon Stitskin from his YU New York office. Since JTS and HUC had West Coast hubs, Rav Dr. Belkin thought it important that YU be there for the Orthodox community. This College basically was a good training ground for day school and afternoon school educators, but it really did not impact the broader Orthodox community. 

As I had just received my Ph.D. from YU's Bernard Revel Graduate School in Modern Jewish History and Education, Dr. Lamm and Rabbi Stitskin asked me to move to L.A. and become the full-time Director of this College while Rav Dr. Lamm could ponder its future.

In the Fall of 1976, Rabbi Marvin Hier of Vancouver presented a grandiose plan to YU and Dr. Lamm for a new Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, which would be a new affiliate of YU, with the stipulation that it would begin as a new school with no connection to the West Coast Teachers College.

By the Winter of 1976-7, YU had formalized this new arrangement with Rabbi Hier. Rav Dr. Lamm was to make his first trip to L.A. as YU'S President to present it to the local rabbonim and Orthodox communal leadership. Rav Lamm's brother, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, was the rav of Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, perhaps the largest Orthodox shul in the L.A. region.

[During this year, the Bais Medresh Gevoha of Lakewood, NJ, under the leadership of Rav Schneur Kotlar, opened a new Kollel, its first outpost in L.A..]

Rav and Mrs, Maurice Lamm hosted a breakfast so that his brother could meet significant Orthodox rabbonim in L.A. and share with them YU's projected new program. During this breakfast, the doorbell rang, and in walked Rav Schneur Kotler.
The breakfast attendees were given no clue that Rav Kotler would be coming.
Rav Kotlar was seated right next to Rav Lamm, and I had the good fortune of being seated right across the table from them so that I could hear parts of their conversation.

The two roshei yeshiva warmly greeted each other as though they were old friends, and each shared with the other the plans of development in L.A. for their respective yeshivot. They also discussed some of the philosophical perspectives of their yeshivot, and then they talked about philosophical differences and disagreements throughout modern Jewish times. They shared how some of these differences were managed respectfully within Klal Yisrael while other differences produced explosive results. They concluded that the "pulmus hamussar" was probably the only recent machlokes in Orthodoxy conducted with some degree of respect. Rav Lamm posited that it was hard to imagine mussar advocates NOT arguing respectfully, and Rav Kotler smilingly agreed. The roshei yeshiva then gave each other a brachah that each of their institutions' new programs and endeavors should have HaShem's blessings for success. Then Rav Kotler left, and Rav Lamm went on to describe the new plans for YU of L.A.

Unfortunately, cordial relationships between leaders of different hashkafot within Orthodoxy are not often portrayed or witnessed. Those attending this Lamm breakfast were truly privileged in this regard.


While sharing this story, I will also share one depicting a very cordial relationship between Rav Dr. Lamm and chassidus.
For many years, until his death, I had the zechut of sitting opposite R. Benzion Shenker, the famed Modzitzer Chassidic composer, singer and chazzan, during shaloshudis in the Modzitzer Shteible on Coney Island Ave. in Flatbush, and I was privileged to get to know R. BZ Shenker very well.

One time, he shared the following story with me.
BZ Shenker and N. Lamm were talmidim in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas at the same time, and they got to know each other there. Additionally, Rav Lamm's grandfather, Rav Yehoshua Baumol, was the local rav and posek in the neighborhood where BZ Shenker was raised,  and he sometimes would be sent by his mother or grandmother to Rav Baumol's house to ask a kashrus "shay'lo." He further cemented his friendship with N. Lamm, who was often at his grandfather's house.

When Norman Lamm transferred from Yeshiva Torah  Vodaas to Yeshiva University, he already had a reputation for being a talmid chochom and a secular scholar. BZ Shenker was privileged to help produce and sing on the first long-playing 33 1/3 RPM record featuring Modzitzer Chassidic musical compositions. In those [ancient] days, these records were packaged in cardboard jackets on which was printed informational notes about the songs, singers, groups, etc. BZ Shenker wanted the notes on this inaugural record to be written by someone who was both an English and Torah scholar--so he asked his friend, N. Lamm, if he would do so.
And so--the explanatory notes on the first record of Modzitzer Chassidic music were written by a young YU-RIETS musmach, Rav N. Lamm!


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