5ba An Interview with President Norman Lamm 1000 President Norman Lamm
An
Interview
with
President
Norman Lamm
 

In 1976, the same year as the founding of Cardozo, Dr. Norman Lamm succeeded Dr. Samuel Belkin as president of Yeshiva University, becoming the first native-born American to head the institution. He is widely recognized for his writings and discourses on interpretation of Jewish philosophy and law, especially in relation to problems involving science, technology, and philosophy in the modern world. He graduated from Yeshiva College summa cum laude in 1949 and was class valedictorian. He was ordained as a rabbi by YU's affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1951, and earned a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy from the University's Bernard Revel Graduate School in 1966. Cardozo Life editor Susan Davis sat down with President Lamm to hear his views and recollections of Cardozo's history and growth.

DAVIS: I have often heard you speak eloquently about the relationship between Cardozo and Yeshiva University; I wanted to be able to share your thinking with our readers. First, however, I would like you to take a look back to what the Law School was like at the beginningˇhow it seemed to you, the vision that the University sought for it.

LAMM: I can't take credit for the vision. I was not the midwife of the Law School, but its fraternal twin. My tenure as president of the University is one month older than the Law School. As a faculty member, I was on the committee that chose Monrad Paulson to be the founding dean of the Law School. He was a marvelous choice. He had the stature and the personality to found the Law School for Yeshiva University.

He himself was an elder in the Lutheran Church and a man with very broad vision who understood the relation of a great law school to a great Jewish university. He had the respect and admiration of not only the entire legal community but of the entire University community. He put the School on the right footing from the very beginning.

I remember that at a Cardozo board meeting shortly after the Law School's founding, he issued a very strong statement to the effect that he did not become the founding dean of Yeshiva's Law School in order to create another trade school. He wanted Cardozo to emphasize the professional aspects of the law but also the law's cultural and intellectual worth, believing that a legal education should do more than just prepare people to make a living. He wanted Cardozo to be a place of culture and scholarship. That is why he was so delighted that it was a part of a university which reveres scholarship and learning.

This philosophy has remained with the School, and successive deans and faculty leaders have developed Cardozo with this in mind. I believe that it is responsible for Cardozo having won acclaim for such a productive facultyˇespecially for such a young school. It is why so many of the faculty have multiple degrees with expertise not only in the law but in literature, social science, political science, philosophy, economics, and other areas.

It also gives a certain breadth and commodious quality to the whole School.

President Norman Lamm
DAVIS: Is it fair to say that the vision was a good one right from the start?

LAMM: The vision was a very good one. You see, the vision of the University in founding the Law School was twofold. First, law is a significant element of Western culture a 1000 nd human culture in general, and a university should have a law school as a way of expressing that awareness. Second, Yeshiva is under Jewish auspices and the law is very much part of Jewish tradition.

In Judaism, the bible is called "Torah" and Torah means "the teaching." And what teaching is it? Primarily legal teaching. Law is very important to Judaism. The most revered personalities in Jewish history were jurists. And in the Jewish tradition, you cannot have law without spirit, nor can you have spirit without law. Because law without spirit becomes harsh and not very human, and spirit without law becomes anarchic, moody, formlessˇit is not fixed, it has no structure. So, law gives structure to the metaphysical quest that is fundamental to religion.

DAVIS: You have written that Dr. Belkin [former president of YU] convinced you to choose the rabbinate over a career in science. These two career choices do not seem to be similar. Can you elaborate on why you chose the rabbinate?

LAMM: They do not seem similar, but they are as far as Yeshiva's philosophy is concerned. Torah Umadda means Torah and culture. However, the word madda in modern Hebrew specifically means science.

I always loved science and I always loved learning, studying Talmud. I couldn't make up my mind which way I wanted to go. My mother, whose family was heavily rabbinic, said she wanted me to continue the family tradition in the rabbinate. My father said he wanted me to be a scholar of the Talmud, but he wanted me to make my living in science.

I had received a four-year scholarship to medical school in Israel tuition free, and I turned it down because I wasn't interested in medicine. So the school said, "Okay, we will give you the scholarship in chemistry." Then I was stuck with a dilemma. Should I stay in the US for the rabbinate, or go to Israel for chemistry?

My father said go to Israel for chemistry, and my mother said stay here. I decided that I would go to Dr. Belkin and say to him, "Tell me what I should do and I shall do it." I didn't want to hear a reason why because then I might refute it and I would be back in my dilemma. So, Dr. Belkin told me to stay here. I took Dr. Belkin so seriously that I eventually came into his office and I am still here.

President Norman Lamm
DAVIS: Would you take a minute to discuss the Jewish tradition of study for its own sake?

LAMM: I wrote a book called Torah Lishmah or Study for Its Own Sake that shows how the concept of study developed throughout the ages and turned into a major theme in the religious polemics of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and remains current to this day. It is primarily a work in intellectual history.

In Judaism, there are 613 biblical commandments, and the Talmud says that the chief commandment of all is study. Judaism is an intellectually based religion, and the single most important theme is that of study. As for the motivation for study, there are two traditions. One says it is imperative to study for its own sake. The other says, yes, it's good to study for its own sake, but study itself is so important that even if you do it for the wrong reasons, it will lead to good results, and eventually you will study for its own sake.

Then, there is the question, "What does Űfor its own sake' mean?" Basically, it means you study without any kind of ulterior motives. However, as I mentioned, the tradition comes down in favor of study for its own sake, even if you begin for self-serving reasons. So, if you take the concept of study of Torah for its own sake and refract it through the prism of American secular life, you get the study of law for its own sake, the study of science for its own sake, philosophy for its own sake, art for its own sake. It has a consequence in all areas of study.

I like to think that Cardozo represents a non-theological parallel to the study of Torah for its own sake, 1000 as do the other schools of the University. At Cardozo, study of law is part of a larger culture. You can get a law degree and make a good living, but it is best that you do that having studied the discipline for its own inherent merit, because you love studying.


I am very proud of the fact
      that there is a deep
                                        ethical
                                dimension to the program at Cardozo.

DAVIS: I understand that some of your articles about Jewish law have influenced American Constitutional law and were actually cited in two Supreme Court cases.

LAMM: The same article ["The Fifth Amendment and Its Equivalent in the Halakha"] was cited twice: once at some length by Justice William O. Douglas [on January 16, 1967] and once by Justice Earl Warren in the 1966 Miranda decision. I wrote on the fifth amendment and compared self-incrimination in Jewish law, Halakha, to self-incrimination under Constitutional law. I ended with a psychoanalytical exploration of self-incrimination and showed that Freud's reasoning for not accepting confessions was anticipated by 800 years by Maimonides, the great Jewish thinker in medieval Spain.

The second article ["The Fourth Amendment and Its Equivalent in the Halakha"] was on privacy law, which was just coming into being in America and was a fairly new construct. I showed that privacy was an implicit right in Jewish law, probably going back to the second or third century, when it was elaborated on in a legal way. I tried to give some of the philosophical background to privacy and show that it has some very interesting roots and parallels. Indeed, the issue goes back to the Bible itself, where a creditor cannot enter the premises of the debtor and must stand outside and ask permission to enter. In fact, you cannot invade an individual's privacy. As a result of this article, I was invited to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee on privacy law.

President Norman Lamm
DAVIS: At the March meeting of the Cardozo board, Prof. Suzanne Stone made a very persuasive argument for the establishment of a Jewish law program at Cardozo. Your articles and writings seem to be perfect examples of what can be accomplished with a venture like this.

LAMM: And, of course, its proper place is at Cardozo. I hope that we can find the backing for it. It would be a very good program to have in place.

DAVIS: The Wexner Program at RIETS may be a perfect model or even a microcosm, if you will, of the kind of collaborations that should be happening University-wide. I know that Leslie Newman, director of legal writing at Cardozo, taught a writing class at RIETS last semester and Adam Berner, who graduated from Cardozo and our Mediation Clinic in 1994, is teaching alternative dispute resolution there this semester. I wonder if you would tell us about this program, its goals, its successes.

LAMM: The Wexner Program is probably the best example of study for its own sake. It is for exceptional rabbinic students and for post-rabbinic students who have already spent at least four years learning without getting a degree or certification. In the Wexner Program they study in 937 a Kollel, an advanced institute of Talmud. They study day and night, learning in a program that prepares them to be teachers or pulpit rabbis and ensures that they are able to function in practical ways. The program offers courses in writing, communication, conflict resolution, and business ethicsˇan area of concern in many disciplines.

DAVIS: How have students responded?

LAMM: They are very pleased. It is a fascinating program and one where you have, at the highest level, a cooperation among our Theological Seminary and Cardozo and other schools at the University.

DAVIS: There has been a lot of growth and activity at Cardozo. We have expanded to another floor, and now there is talk of further expansion. Last year we opened the residence hall. I wonder whether you have a new vision for the Law School. In what ways would you like to see it change, or is it on track?

LAMM: I think our vision heretofore has been and should continue to be to have Cardozo be the kind of law school that we can be proud of. I would like to see it gain recognition as one of the three best law schools in New York City.

I would like Cardozo to continue emphasizing law as part of a broader community of intellect and culture while preparing people to go into the law with corporations or in private practice, and also in public service.

I am very proud of the fact that there is a deep ethical dimension to the program at Cardozo. Barry Scheck's Innocence Project is, to me, a source of great pride. Maimonides taught that it is better that 10 criminals go free than let one innocent man be executed. The Innocence Project represents that point of view. I am very pleased by this program and the Bet Tzedek Legal Services program. They express both a general human ethos and a Jewish moral conviction and represent the obligation of the legal community to the community at large. I think they speak well for Cardozo, for the faculty, the board, and the students.

I would also like to see the alumni become more active in the School, not only in their fund-raising activities, which are terribly important, but also for help in directing students and creating a network that is helpful in placement and in other areas. Most of all, I would like the alumni to come back and feel that this is their home. 0