R. Lamm & Torah Umadda

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As our readers will have by now heard, during these dark days of COVID, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm zt”l has passed away at the age of 92. In 1987, when I entered Yeshiva University as a freshman, R. Lamm had already been president for over a decade, and – timed with YU’s centenary, he had embarked on conducting a conversation within the university and the larger American Modern Orthodox community, organized around the concept of Torah Umadda.

It was a conversation he very deliberately placed on the communal agenda in order to examine how we grapple with, make sense of, and organize our values around the confrontation and interaction of Judaism and Torah, on one hand, with secular studies and civilization writ large on the other. I cannot exaggerate the importance those ideas, that ongoing debate and discussion, has meant to me in shaping my life as a Jew, and as a rabbi and educator. In occupying the position he inaugurated as the founding editor of TRADITION, I am animated on a daily basis by his model of how ideas should influence and elevate our lives as thinking religious beings. I pray that our journal continues to live up to his aspirations and ideals.

In the coming days and weeks much will be said and written about his legacy, and we hope to bring you some of that on our pages. However, today I am thinking about a conversation I had with R. Lamm in 2011 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary edition of his book, Torah Umadda: The Encounter of Religious Learning and Worldly Knowledge in the Jewish Tradition (Maggid Books). I had a small role in bringing that volume about and had a chance to chat with him about the book for different program. We’re pleased to bring you that recording now courtesy of the ATID Jewish Educators podcast.

I opened our conversation by asking R. Lamm what compelled him to focus on Torah Umadda, and to place it at the center of the communal agenda – where it very much continues to resonate, or at least very much ought to resonate, in our world today…. 

—Jeffrey Saks

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