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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
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Norman Lamm Quits Yeshiva University

Rabbi Norman Lamm became president of Yeshiva U. in 1976 , helped save it from bankruptcy and raised its academic standing, At 85, he admits he must do tshvuah over a sex abuse scandal and is retiring.
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Rabbi Norman Lamm's mental health will be examined to determine if he can be questioned in a sexual abuse lawsuit against Yeshiva University

Rabbi Norman Lamm's mental health will be examined to determine if he can be questioned in a sexual abuse lawsuit against Yeshiva University

In a letter announcing he is stepping down as Yeshiva University’s chancellor and rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Norman Lamm acknowledged his failure to respond adequately to allegations of sexual abuse against the university’s rabbis in the 1980s.

Lamm, now 85, became the school’s third president and head of its rabbinic school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in 1976. He stepped down as president in 2003, becoming chancellor, but stayed on as RIETS’s head.

His resignation Monday from his two posts at the school were attributed to an agreement reached three years ago and come several months after a report in the Forward newspaper that detailed allegations of abuse dating back to the 1970s and ‘80s against two rabbis at Y.U.’s high school for boys, principal George Finkelstein and Talmud teacher Macy Gordon.

“Rabbi Lamm’s decision to retire is based on an agreement that was reached three years ago,” the university said in a statement. “His contract expired June 30.”

Last December, Lamm acknowledged to the Forward that he knew about some of the allegations but chose to deal with them privately; law enforcement authorities were never informed.

“My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job,” Lamm said.

On Monday, Lamm issued a mea culpa for failing to pursue the allegations.

“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,” Lamm wrote in a letter emailed to faculty, students and alumni in which he discussed his retirement. “And when that happens — one must do tshuvah. So, I too must do tshuvah [repentance].

“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,” Lamm wrote. “This is what I am modeh [acknowledge] as I reflect on my tenure.”

Finkelstein was forced out of the school in 1995 after being accused of inappropriate contact with students by wrestling with them. He then went to work as a dean at the Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, Fla.

Gordon was placed on a leave of absence in 1984, according to the Forward. Both of the rabbis now live in Israel.

Lamm’s comments about the sexual abuse allegations represented four paragraphs of a six-page resignation letter that otherwise was a reflection on his tenure at Y.U. Lamm also made an oblique reference to his failing health, noting, “Conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.”

Richard Joel, the president of Y.U., declined to discuss Lamm’s remarks on the sexual allegations or be interviewed for this story. He released a statement to JTA through a spokesman.

“I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm for his half-century of service to Yeshiva University. During his tenure he helped guide the University with steadfastness and vision,” Joel said in the statement. “Dr. Lamm’s contributions to the Jewish world as a distinguished rabbi, philosopher and scholar are unparalleled.”

In its report last fall, the Forward cited three former students who said Finkelstein invited students into his home or office to wrestle with them, that they could feel his erect penis against them during the tussling, and that Finkelstein told the students he loved them and tried to kiss some of them. Everybody at the school knew of Finkelstein’s penchant for wrestling with boys, the former students said.

Finkelstein denied to the Forward that there was anything sexual about his contact with students, though he said the wrestling, in retrospect, was wrong.

Gordon was accused of sodomizing a former student with a toothbrush when the student was 16. The former student and his father both told the Forward that they reported the incident to Y.U.’s leadership but did not report it to the police because they did not want to damage the school’s reputation or further harm the boy.

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10 Responses to “Norman Lamm Quits Yeshiva University”

  1. A heroic admission from Rabbi Lamm. He has set the standard for others.

  2. Don’t know what to say. I hope changes can be made and that people especially Jewish leaders will step up and not let abuse happen! I hope Rabbi Lamm can work with people who have been abused and begin healing for them and himself.

  3. I agree with previous comments, but I wish he had come to his conclusion a little closer to the time of the incidents. I hope it inspires teshuva in a timely fashion for us all when needed.

  4. Anonymous says:

    After reading Dr. Norman Lamm's statement, I want all the people who were allegedly sexually abused at YU to know that in late December I was posting on other sites that I supported their right to take the issue to court. I wrote that after reading up on sexual abuse cases and speaking to many who contacted him, he understood why neither the victims nor their parents spoke up. He wanted this known after seeing today's article by Dr. Lamm. You are welcome to investigate his comments published on other sites six months ago. Rabbi Rosenberg encourages YU, its leadership to offer a sincere apology for what happened to these victims. RABBI ROSENBERG also encourages the RCA to make a similar statement regarding their members who either looked away or shook off complaints. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  5. Anonymous says:

    CORRECTION: After reading Dr. Norman Lamm's statement, I want all the people who were allegedly sexually abused at YU to know that in late December I was posting on other sites that I supported their right to take the issue to court. I wrote that after reading up on sexual abuse cases and speaking to many who contacted him, I understood why neither the victims nor their parents spoke up.I encourages YU, its leadership to offer a sincere apology for what happened to these victims. I also encourages the RCA to make a similar statement regarding their members who either looked away or shook off complaints. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  6. It is time for healing. Wish this statement would have been made earlier. Sexual abuse of any kind must not be allowed and we can not blame the victim. I TOO had to learn this truth and apologize for not understanding earlier. It was the victims who taught me. Apologies should be made and mechila asked. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  7. It is time for healing. Wish this statement would have been made earlier. Sexual abuse of any kind must not be allowed and we can not blame the victim. I TOO had to learn this truth and apologize for not understanding earlier. It was the victims who taught me. Apologies should be made and mechila asked. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  8. I believe Rabbi Lamm is the kapurah hin, THE SACRIFICIAL CHICKEN OF YOM Kippur. He is sacrificing everything for the sake of YESHIVA UNIVERSITY. THAT WAS MY INITIAL REACTION WHEN I DEFENDED Y.U. I was wrong. Those molested deserve there day in court. However there are many who need to be punished and dismissed from the board. Rabbi lamm is a brilliant scholar and leader and has sacrificed for the Y.U. He is frail and just lost his daughter. The family should be left alone. To me Rabbi Lamm will also remain Y.u's savior. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  9. Driving to teach Public Speaking at Yeshiva College last year, I received a call stating that the speech department is closing at YU. I was the first speech major at Yeshiva College in 1969 and together with Dr. Abraham Tauber of Blessed memory created the first speech department at Yeshiva College. I have taught at Yeshiva College in the 70's, 80's and in the last 4 years. What is not working at Yeshiva College? Why is enrollment down? Why are students unhappy and leaving? According to my observations, shiurim are too large and Rebbes are unable to develop close relationships with students. How much do the administrators and officers make? You would be astonished. Why fire talented adjuncts while keeping full teachers who are not evaluated and cannot teach? Consider the YU nepotism which gives untalented people jobs. There seem to be a lot of people running around doing nothing and getting paid. The cafeteria food is terrible and costs too much. Students are overworked with religious requirements which make it impossible to devote enough time to secular work. This has to be reevaluated. Finally, where is the YU spirit of Torah Umada? Where is our pride?
    We are not Harvard, Yale, or Columbia. Let us be YU. A college without art, music, speech, drama, is not even an advanced high school.
    Rabbi DR. Bernhard Rosenberg 5 FAIRHILL RD. EDISON NJ. 732 572 2766.
    #AOLMsgPart_1_2b914347-e8d3-4037-8f85-e66bd9bf037c td{color: black;}.aolReplacedBody#AOLMsgPart_1_d7d3b8a0-01db-48be-8258-2523a44f1129 td{color: black;}.aolReplacedBody#AOLMsgPart_1_d7d3b8a0-01db-48be-8258-2523a44f1129 #AOLMsgPart_1_3a093c68-7356-41ab-8fbd-6a159a113d2c td{color: black;}.aolReplacedBody#AOLMsgPart_1_d7d3b8a0-01db-48be-8258-2523a44f1129 #AOLMsgPart_1_3a093c68-7356-41ab-8fbd-6a159a113d2c.AOLWebSuite.AOLPicturesFullSizeLink{ height: 1px; width: 1px; overflow: hidden; }.aolReplacedBody#AOLMsgPart_1_d7d3b8a0-01db-48be-8258-2523a44f1129 #AOLMsgPart_1_3a093c68-7356-41ab-8fbd-6a159a113d2c.AOLWebSuitea {color:blue; text-decoration: underline; cursor: pointer}.aolReplacedBody#AOLMsgPart_1_d7d3b8a0-01db-48be-8258-2523a44f1129 #AOLMsgPart_1_3a093c68-7356-41ab-8fbd-6a159a113d2c.AOLWebSuitea.hsSig{cursor: default}.

  10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F8BZHn8De8 SAVE YESHIVA UNIVERSITY, RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

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