Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rabbi Maurice Lamm, z”l

Cross-Currents by Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein

We note with great sadness the petirah of one of the deans of the American rabbinate, Rabbi Maurice Lamm.

My most vivid recollection of Rabbi Lamm is of the person who firmly put a smug young man – me! – in his place. It was during one of my earlier years in Los Angeles, when I still saw things as sharply divided between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness. The latter, of course, included Modern Orthodoxy, something that I had turned off to growing up in Kew Gardens Hills and watching what happened to my friends. So when I was invited to a community event at Cong. Beth Jacob, the flagship Modern Orthodox shul in Beverly Hills, I had no problem accepting the honor. It essentially meant debating Rabbi Lamm on the merits of large synagogues (we used to call them synagogues with Edifice Complexes) versus the increasingly popular (and much frummer shteibels.

I made my case, and didn’t think I had done so badly. I had walked into a trap, however. Rabbi Lamm rose up to cream me. He made a number of good points that I had not considered, and he was entirely correct. I don’t think he touched my arguments for why people enjoyed the smaller shuls where each person meant more, but his counter-argument was impressive. If you splinter a community into small devotional cells, entire aspects of community life disappeared. Some important activities required a critical mass of people to sustain them. Only larger shuls could deliver them.

To Rabbi Lamm, this was not a question. He understood what fewer and fewer of us today understand: HKBH expects us to give up parts of our individual comfort for the good of the tzibbur.

His challenge to me resonated, and changed me for life. We subsequently became friends. When he published a book introducing Judaism to non-religious teenagers (writing for a vastly different audience showed his great agility as a writer), he asked me to review it for Jewish Action. Years later, his brother Rabbi Norman Lamm יב”ל, then President of Yeshiva University, turned to him to figure out who this Adlerstein guy was. Was he so black as to hate YU and everyone in it?  Rabbi Maurice assured his brother that Adlerstein’s bark was worse than his bite.

The commitment to tzibbur was something that he lived. He was the consummate old-school shul rov. Anything that was important to his flock was important to him – and he did not delegate. He did it all himself.

His sefer on aveilus became and remains a classic. While in circles further to the right halachic detail became the only concern, Rabbi Lamm understood the need for many people to engage the whys and wherefores of what they were living through in their times of tragedy. The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning is still the book you want to give to people who want the comfort of context and explanation.

 יהי זכרו ברוך


  1. Why z"l, and not zt"l?

  2. You need to ask Rav Adlerstein. That was at one time what was used for everyone

  3. One difference, it seems , between MO and Hareidi world view is that hareidim will not generally eulogize a secular or non-frum person, whereas MO will. So, Elie Wiesel who passed away this weekend will not be give honor in some communities. Is this because he was less frum or that he was once frum? Not sure. I think he was someone who was influenced by Lubavitcher Rebbe.

  4. Eddie - if you want to write a article on Elie Wiesel - I will publish it. I haven't found anything that captures who he was

  5. Aye, but now the magical "t" seems to be reserved for Gedolim from only one community. Funny that.

  6. Thank you - my point was that it is hard sometimes to eulogize someone who is less frum than he was raised or at all. Even Rav Kook had to give an official eulogy for Herzl, (because of his job as Chief Rabbi) and his message i think did not say anything about Herzl himself but about Moshiach ben Yosef.
    It is also more than coincidence, but in Norman Lamm's book (Faith and doubt) , he writes in praise of Elie Wiesel, whereas one of the Hareidi journals of the time had blasted Wiesel (sometime in the 70s).

  7. Elie weisel grew up in sighet, and after the war, was chavrusa with rav menashe klien, the ungvar rav in a postwar yeshiva in paris..

    He would come every year to boro park for the ungvar yeshiva dinner, and gave the rebbe an appropriate 'kvittel', was honored by the rebbe as a personal friend.

  8. Yerovam II was an idol worshipper. He still got to be a king in Israel and got help from God in his wars. There have been many Jews over the centuries who, while not mitzvah observant, contributed to the well-being and welfare of the Jewish nation. Their positive contributions should be valued and remembered.

  9. Herzl died 3 july 1904 (roman calendar yesterday). Rav kook arrived in yafo 1905 (before tel aviv was first 'settled') and buried in vienna. A second levayah was held in 1948 when his bones were brought to har herzel where he was reburied (by which time rav kook was dead for over a decade.)

    Summary: no hesped.

  10. The source for this epitaph, is the verse in Mishlei (10:7)
    זכר צדיק לברכה, ושם רשעים ירקב

    Based on this verse, I posit that the debate of z"l vs. zt"l is moot.

    Z"l = זכרונו לברכה. If he was truly a צדיק, then his memory will be לברכה, because that is what the verse says: זכר צדיק לברכה. If he wasn't, then all the z"ls or ztls written after his name won't change the fact.

    I take this a bit further. Based on the above, I suggest that z"l is actually a greater honorific. That is because saying zt"l just references the verse, but doesn't necessarily confirm that the person is actually deserving of the reference. On the other hand, z"l, implies that the reference applies to him.

  11. Can you point to any precedent for the religious community praising someone who was not religious - aside for at fundraisers?

  12. I suppose the rebbe was not aware of the woman Weisel carried on an affair with in Paris. He writes about her in his memoir.

  13. Again, here is the difference between the Hareidi world view and that of the MO. For example, Einstein, who was completely secular, was of course a giant intellect and was praised by YU or yeshiva college, and their medical school named after him. But the Hareidi approach -as far as I know, was that he didn't use his giant intelligent for Talmud Torah.
    There is the interesting question of what brocho if any to make on seeing a chacham in secular studies.

  14. If I remember the nusach correctly, none other than Artscroll brings it as "...shenasan chokhmaso lebasser vedam." So is it really such a question?

  15. What point are you trying to convey by citing that history?

  16. Was Mr. Wiesel Shomer Shabbos?


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