Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Norman Lamm Prize 2010: Presented to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

If you have the opportunity to listen to the recording or watch video of this speech and presentation, that would be far preferable to my poor attempt to transcribe it. I was not able to get down many of the words (every place you see ellipses in this document connotes skipped statements) and thus much of the beauty and eloquence is lost in the presentation I offer below. That is aside from all the great jokes! However, if for some reason you are unable to get ahold of the other forms of media, this, with all of its many mistakes, should at least give you the gist/ essence of what this historic evening was like.


President Joel: There are still three people that the Chief Rabbi has not greeted in this audience; we will allow him some time later to do that. Bruchim HaBaim; it is beyond wonderful to have this opportunity to be with you, students, rabbeim, members of our board of trustees, members of the Lamm family. A great special welcome to Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Mrs. Shirley Lamm who have taught here for many years who are both children of the yeshiva and guides of the yeshiva and should be here for many years.

Nearly 50 years ago Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm ascended the pulpit of the Jewish Center to deliver his drasha- his words remain vital today. Quote: “we can and will remain loyal Jews and progressive moderns at the same time …. We believe with fervent faith that it is possible to live in and combine both worlds…the one of satellites, the other of sugyot…” Dr. Lamm penned those words in 1962 as rabbi of the Jewish Center in Manhattan and has lived ever since by those words as president and now chancellor and rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University. For his lifetime dedication to Torah U’Madda, exceptional devotion to advancement of YU in the greater Jewish world, for his always modeling the dignity of a nuanced life, for his always doing that with his eishes chayil at his side as his strong power, for investing his years insuring that ____ study, hope and dream together it is fitting that we the YU community, the community he helped forge and ____ honor Dr. Lamm tonight at this inaugural ceremony. Tonight we recognize Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as first recipient of the prize …. Also good that the first time we present an award, we present it to the Lord. (laughter) Yeshiva University is honored to confer this award for the first time on such an extraordinary recipient. The Lamm Prize is the capstone of the Lamm Heritage; an endowment made possible by the many ____ it includes Yad Lamm, a site on our campus, the Norman Lamm ___ kollel where our scholars delve into the depths of Jewish law and the Norman Lamm Online Archives where a treasury of his writings are accessible to all. It is my pleasure to call upon one of the grandsons of Rabbi Lamm, Ari Lamm, to introduce his grandfather. As of this week he is the first student at YU to be awarded the Fullbright Scholarship, an extraordinary achievement.

Ari Lamm: As I began to prepare my remarks this past week I was reminded of an observation made by one of my favorite comedians. Most common fear amongst contemporary Americans is fear of public speaking. Second common is fear of death. So most Americans would prefer to be in the casket than speaking at a funeral. …Even more frightening than that is having to provide a proper introduction to mori v’rabbi Norman Lamm…what could I possibly say about my grandfather that hasn’t already been said by many others much better and more eloquently than myself? Spent more time with him in an informal setting.

Several years ago privileged to accompany my grandfather on a flight overseas and as we sat down began to talk about everything from a passage I learned in shiur to a passage in Josephus, etc and after a while they dimmed the cabin lights and my fellow passengers including my grandfather began to doze off. I began to doodle. I have to inform you all- reveal you all- a longheld jealously guarded secret about my grandfather and that is that he is a phenomenal, phenomenal cartoonist. One of my favorite memories of my grandfather was receiving mail from my grandfather with funny people making funny faces. I asked my grandfather: Zeide, what do you think? What do you think of my drawings? He replied, “Eh.” Crestfallen, I turned to him and said what do I do wrong. And he said, “Every single one of your faces looks exactly the same. If you want to be a good cartoonist, you have to give them something different- melancholy expression, eyepatch, etc. Don’t be lazy and give each one a distinctive set of features.”

My grandfather’s response had not only a tremendous positive impact on my skills of a cartoonist but it also resonated because it also epitomized his greatest quality as a leader of our community. His ability to perceive with penetrating ____ the precise nature of each and every individual with whom he comes into contact. Boundless tolerance for others; especially those who consider him an intellectual and ideological opponent. And as I sat there I really understood the secret of his insightful sensitivity- when he draws a picture of a face, he’s so keenly aware of what distinguishes one drawing from another, one face from another and it’s that sense of nuance that … without prejudice that makes him such a role model to his grandchildren, and all ofklal yisrael.

Norman Lamm: I will speak for no more than 2 or 3 minutes and my words of greeting are divided into three parts. Number One, my grandson. I suppose most of you know that he just this week two days ago received good news that he won a Fullbright Scholarship. If anyone deserved it, I know it is he. Very proud of him and we hope you are ___ (laughter) Even if you had not won the Fullbright, we still cherish you, but had you not won it, I would have referred t o the prize as the Half-Bright.

Number Two, My heartfelt thanks to President Richard Joel and the board of trustees for granting me this wonderful compliment, Lamm Prize, Lamm Archives, Yadin Yadin. Mr. President, you have consistently overwhelmed me- constantly- with your very creative kindness and it’s a sheer pleasure to work with you. To admire your – the fact that your indefatigable in your- consummate loyalty, your ingenuity, which make you a great president. And may you continue to lead us with your fabulous ___, profound wisdom and _____. (applause)

I’m not going to introduce our guest of honor because then I’d be __ that privilege belongs to the President whose idea of this evening, whole idea of a Lamm Prize, etc is his. He is the one who thought of you. I merely gave it my enthusiastic consent. Frankly, he was not the guest of honor- the guest of honor was not my main choice this evening. He was an only choice. For he is the only person whose name occurred to me as the very first recipient of the Lamm Prize. Mr. President, it is with ____ reluctance and envy that I yield the podium to you of making a formal introduction of a great man, great rabbinic leader and a great man, both personally and institutionally. (Applause)

Dr. Hillel Davis, Vice President for University Life: I’m not President Joel. Mr. President, it is my honor to present to you Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks for the conferral of the inaugural Norman Lamm Prize.

President Joel: Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Congregation of the Commonwealth since 1991 you have maximized your …went on to serve and educate British Jewry and Jewish people with dignity and distinction ,culminating with being united by ___. As Baron Sacks of Aldgate (are you Jewish?)- that’s your Lower East Side? (laughing)- as Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London you took a seat in the House of Lords in 2009 together with your wonderful and gracious life partner Lady Elaine and wonderful children. The Sacks family in so many ways …prolific writing career, produced many original works but are also adept at improving a classic. Your English translation and commentary on the siddur has made our historic liturgy …and heightened the experience of those who have been davening for years. Promote a message of both hope and optimism wherein both Jews and non-Jews can …shown an incredible willingness for sharing your message and teachings with a vast population. While you live in London and serve the world, a particular piece of Jonathan Sacks is here at Yeshiva University. In your newest book, ‘Future Tense’ you wrote “Judaism is a … of details but we miss the point if we do not…greater picture. Every element of Jewish law is a protest against escapism, resignation at the blind acceptance of fate….world that is in the name of the world that could be, should be but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation. Throughout …when human beings have sought hope, they have found it in the Jewish religion….” For spreading hope in a world desperately in need of it… for championing God and Torah with the whole world watching, it is my profound…to bestow upon you the Norman Lamm regard as a visible symbol of the high regard in which you are held.

(They take pictures of Chancellor Lamm, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and President Joel)

Jonathan Sacks: (Standing ovation before he can speak) President Joel, B’Kvod HaRav Rabbi Norman Lamm shlita, distinguished rabbanim, friends, thank you for this honor. President Joel, you did very well at ___, even better than Her Majesty, in case you are looking for a promotion. I am deeply touched and deeply moved by your words and have to remind myself of what great American Adlai Stevenson said that “Compliments are fine so long as you don’t inhale.” Friends, I want to say what a wonderful privilege it is to stand in this great hall in this great institution, yeshiva University, which is for me, and I say this carefully, the single most important educational institution in Chutz LaAretz and to do so in the presence of your President, President Joel, I want to say what a fine job you have done. The Yeshiva is lucky to have you and I wish you continued success. But tonight isn’t about me, President Joel, Yeshiva university but about the man who has won the affection of everyone in this room and thousands more. The real person we are here to honor is Rabbi Norman Lamm.

Friends, let me tell you a very simple story. It is said that 42 years ago in 1968 a young philosophy student came to America to search for Jewish faith …to alleviate his doubt. One of those thinkers was Rabbi Norman Lamm. The student, being a little farblungent, had not arranged a meeting in advance but instead, relying upon chutzpah and serendipity, asked to see him. No reason to see this student or spend time with him but that is what he did. He took this student into his office and spoke to him for more than an hour about Torah U’Madda, synthesis, Rav Kook, Yeshiva University where Torah was strong and Madda was strong but where in 1968 he wasn’t sure that the synthesis between them had actually happened. That was of course before Rabbi Lamm became president of Yeshiva University, before he launched the Orthodox Forum, etc. It explains why tonight has been so personally meaningful to me for that act of ...generosity ….friends, you don’t need me to tell you about the Norman Lamm who is the superlative writer, speaker, thinker, teacher, the man who unflinchingly carried the banner of Torah U’Madda sometimes in the face of attacks from light and right. As I said to … “If you are faithful to the principles you have learned in this institution, you will be attacked by the right and by the left and when that happens, that will be your honorary doctorate.” Friends, you know the public rabbi. I just want you to know the private rabbi whose kindness changed my life. Friends, please join me in standing and showing our appreciation to one of the great gedolei zemaneinu, Rabbi Norman Lamm.

In 1756, hero of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, published a virulently anti-Semitic essay about the Jews. They had, he said, attributed nothing significant to …no art, no philosophy, even their religion they had borrowed from others. Within the next ___ the Jewish people whom he condemned for having nothing new had produced an explosion of ____ the likes of which it is hard to find. (Here he gave an entire list- “except for the token gentile, Hume.” And then gave lots of statistics and percentages.) You name it, they did it. Even when it comes to apikorsim, let’s face it- they did well! Jews produced three of the four greatest apikorsim in the modern world: Marx, Freud, …. Except Darwin. Why Darwin wasn’t Jewish I have no idea; had the beard, the hat etc …it must have been a token genetic mutation.

Unspoken tragedy of the modern Jewish world. The Catholic historian Paul Johnson once called rabbinic Judaism an ancient and highly productive social machine for the production of ____ and yet for the past 200 years Judaism ahs lost its…Today, there are more Jews studying in university than ever before. There are more Jews studying in yeshiva than ever before- more than in the days of Mir, Ponevich, Sura U’Pumbadita, etc. There is a form of where the right and left hemispheres of the brain are both intact but they don’t connect. Today the Jewish people as a whole is suffering from a collective cerebral lesion. To say how wrong this situation is, how fundamentally wrong/ different from fundamental Jewish values, I want you to accompany me on an intellectual journey – structure shared neither by any figures in the mainstream of Western philosophical thought.

Let us begin at the beginning: Bereishit Bara Elokim. Assume that as we look and see something very odd instead. The theme of Chumash, the theme of Tanakh is clear- Bereishit says so. The Torah is about the Jewish people, in particular a unique people. But the Torah does not begin with the Jewish people. It begins instead with a series of archetypes about humanity as a whole: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Babel and its builders. And not till then does it focus on one man, Abraham, one woman, Sarah who become a tribe and a collection of tribes. It begins with a universal and only then does it become particular.

Birkat HaMazon begins with the universal- hazan es ha’kol and then goes to the particular. Berachot of Kerias Shema begins with the universal and only then moves to the particular and what makes this unusual is that it is precise opposite to the mainstream tradition in Western philosophical thought. _____ called the whole of Western philosophy a series of footnotes to Plato. For Plato, knowledge begins with particularity but it culminates with the universal. Thus, the Torah is the West’s supreme example of a counter-Platonic narrative.

So you see the dual focus of the narrative. Then see the structure of Bereishit built around two different covenants. One, Noach and through him all humanity and number two, Abraham, and through him all the ____. First one with Noah, universal, second with Abraham, particular. We add to this, the third. The Torah functions based on two primary names of God- Elohim and Chazal. Elokim: Midat HaDin, Hashem, Midat RAchamim. Analysis given by Halevi in book 4 of the Kuzari are words of different philological type. Elokim is a collective noun- totality of all forces collected in the universe. The ancients personified all the forces of the universe- God is the totality of them. Hashem, says Yehuda HaLevi is not a noun, but is a proper name, the way the President of yeshiva University is Richard, etc. Now, we only give proper names to persons or sometimes by extension, things for which we have some affection: the car, etc- whatever we have. But if you use a proper name, it’s only for things for which we have intimacy/ affection. You can call the Queen ‘her majesty’ or ‘elizabeth’a nd you’ll still end up in the Tower. Elokim implies distance; Hashem is attached, not detached. What Yehuda HaLevi called the God ofAristotle and the God of Abraham.

Throughout Bereishit and throughout the Torah, God appears not just to Jews but to non-Jews as well. He appears to Avimelech, but as Elokim. It is always as Elokim. And the Torah assumes that non-Jews will understand the concept of Elokim. Joseph says to Potiphar’s wife, how can I yield to you against the law of Elokim. The Torah assumes that non-Jews relate to Elokim; what they don’t relate to is Hashem. Pharoah says about Joseph, ‘Asher Ruach Elokim bo’- but Moses, Pharoah says- ‘Mi Hashem? Lo Yadati Et Hashen.’ Hashem does not appear to non-Jews; Elokim does. Elokim is universal, understood by anyone. But Hashem is particular to the Jewish community.

Let us now take this analysis one stage further. What is the primary arena in which we encounter Elokim? Bereishit Bara Elokim; Elookim is God as manifest in Creation. Prime Mover, Source of All Being, God of Creation. However, immediately in Chapter 2, we begin to encounter Hashem Elokim, in Chapter 4, just Hashem. And when? When God enters into a personal relationship with someone, when he discloses himself, speaks, listens, commands- Hashem is the God of Revelation. So we are beginning to see a picture building up, a duality between the universal and particular, Noah and Abraham, covenant with humanity vs. covenant with one nation, God as he appears to Jew and non-Jew alike and God as he appears to Jew. Dual metaphysic generates a dual epistemology- two different forms of knowledge and they belong to this total worldview. Most famous expression of this is in Midrash- if they say to you that there is wisdom amont the nations, believe it; if they say there is Torah among the nations, do not believe it.

Chachma is a biblical category- there are three books of Bible in which the incidences of Chachma are overwhelmingly concentrated- Mishlei, Kohelet, Iyov where the word appears far more than any other book. (Lists times) And t hose three books are known generically as the Wisdom Literature. And if you look at all the occurrences of the word chachmah in tanakh you will see that it is always a reference to something universal just as wisdom literature of Judaism is close to wisdom literature of period of Ancient Egypt. So in Bereishis, period of chachmah appears exclusively in relation to Egypt. So Pharoah says to Joseph, ‘ain navon u’c___ kamocha’ and in Shmos, ___ so chachmah is a universal. So if we ask in what context, does the word chachmah appear? The context, of course, is creation. Mah Rabu Maasecha Hashem; kUlam b’chachma asisa. Torah is never spoken of as universal; it is contrary specific to the people of the convenant. Moshe Rabbeinu says specifically- Torah was given to Jews, not to anyone else. So we see now that this duality of two ways of knowing things is built in to the very structure of the universe, built into the structure of reality is Torah and understanding, built into realtiy and our ___ of the world.

So two modes of knowledge :Chachmah and Torah and they completely differ. Chachmah is the truth we discover, Torah is the truth we inherit. Chachma is the universal, heritage of humankind. Torah is the specific heritage of Israel. Chachma comes from being individual, which we all are- naaseh adam l’havin u’lhaskil. Every human being has the ability to acquire chachma. Chachmah is acquired by seeing and reason. Toarh is acquired by listening and responding. Chachmah tells us what it is; Torah tells us what ought to be. Chachma yields facts, Torah tells us commands. Chachmah is about creation; Torah is about revelation.

And now we can understand what otherwise would seem a flat contradiction- the Rambam famously says, “Accept the truth, no matter who says it.” The Gemara says, “Accept the word in the name of he who said it.” The Gemara says no, it matters who says it! Appears to be a contradition but Rambam was talking about chachmah and Gemara is talking about Torah. When it comes to the truth of revelation, we have to be sure of the chain of transmission; otherwise we cannot be… so what we have very quickly seen is that throughout a whole series of …the duality of the heart of Judaism as it is translated into biblical narrative, covenant, names of God- now, let us simply put the final piece in. Let us locate this on the map of Jewish faith.

Rambam famously established the idea and presented 13 principles of Jewish faith. Tashbetz divided the all into 3 categories of creation, revelation, redemption. Creation: God and the world. Revelation: God and us. When you apply revelation to creation, the result is redemption.

Now we come to the spiritual question of our time: Redemption means apply revelation to creation. Torah to the world. How can we apply Torah to the world if we don’t understand the world? Here is a moment: March 199_ - year before they said would give me the Chief Rabbinate- and so we went to Yerushalayim for a year to find peace before taking up Chief Rabbinate. 1991 Iran launched attacks on Israel- by a series of miracles there was only one casualty but there was another casualty. It turned out to be family stress. Apparently Israelis are not used to being in one small room with their whole family. Towards the end of the war, received a phone call from the mayor of Yerushalayim- saying they were doing a ___ on family stress and could I please be the rabbi on the working party. I said you have no rabbi in Yerushalyaim? And he said, we have rabbanim but none that understand the psychology of family stress. And I said, Ribbono Shel Olam, when it ahppesn that rabbanim do not understand psychology, etc ____ is there a single greater humiliation of Torah than when it becomes irrelevant to the problems of society, especially a Jewish society? When Torah ceases to become the foundation of society but becomes instead the possession of a sect or series of sects which have to defend themselves by erecting high walls against the world outside, then that is a fractured- Judaism can’t align. Judaism is a code of life. Chas Veshalom the Torah should have nothing to say to us about the structure of an economy, breakdown of family, principles of government. When Jews appear to the world, how do they appear nowadays? They appear to the world as a series of religious sects who keep their distance on one hand and …HaYitachen? Is that the image we are supposed to present to the world? Whatever happened to ‘hi chachmaschem?’ Whatever happened to ‘v’rabu kol chachmei ha’aretz ki shem hashem nikra alecha?” Whatever happened to the religion that so valued chachma, science, that it coined a blessing more than 2000 years ago on ‘ha’roeh chachmei __ olam’ – someone who sees a non-Jewish, a non-believer- they weren’t’ monotheists when Chazal coined that bracha- the bracha that I made on James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA when he and I received the Mallory Doctorate. Are we supposed to treat science the way that the Vatican related to Galileo, etc- us? We are afraid of thse challenges? We lose a sesnse of the supreme principle of faith, so supreme that we recite it 7 times at the climax, end of Neilah- Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim. The God of Revelation is also the God of the world. Now I’m aware that not all chachma is …. The sages were very clear in their distinction between chachmas as such and chachma yevanit- the culture of the cynics and epicureans. And I have no doubt today that we have our own Chachma Yevanit- Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Danny Dennin- what I call the intellectual’s equivalent of “road rage.” They may count as your chachma yevanit which is not science but scientism, myth masquerading as science. But without a compelling defense of faith, without a literate, informed, articulation of faith, we will continue to lose our best friends for the next 250 years as we have done for the past 250 years and we will fail in God’s mandate to the Jewish people by being a transformative presence in the midst of humanity by applying revelation to ____ and ___ redemption. Friends, all that we have to do without comprising one ___ of halakha and ____ so that we can speak to the world. I have discovered that when you speak Torah to the world, it speaks not only to the Jews but to the world.

Is it possible in America where your Jewish community is 20 times as big as ours- friends, we know that not everyone will choose this route. It is hard; it is intellectually demanding but let me assure you that there is not one challenge out there in the world today that we cannot face with total confidence. Moshe Emes v’Toraso Emes- our faith speaks with undiminished power to the formidable dilemmas of f20th century etc. Friends, we have to mend that cerebral lesion, that dissociation of sensibilities that splits Torah from Chachma, God’s world from the world in which we live. That is __ hashav- the imperative of our time. And I say this to you knowing that you start with the greatest advantage anyone could have- Yeshiva University itself, led and inspired for so many years by the man we honor tonight, Rabbi Norman Lamm. Man of Chachma and Torah- he led the way. Now let us continue. Thank you.



Anonymous said...


Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Thanks for putting this up. I'd like to find an audio or video. If you're interested, this is a favorite theme of Rav Sacks. He gave a similar (not identical) talk which can be found on Rav Nathan Lopez-Cardozo's site.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing this.
It is a real shame that the great jewish institutions haven't embraced blogging and use of video. I'm sure Rabbi Sacks speaks on average once a week but it is rare for the transcripts and video to make it online. same with many of the great thinkers and speakers in the jewish world today.

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