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“With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements,” said Lamm, head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism. They are closing schools and in general shrinking,” he said.
“The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK,” added Lamm, referring to the Reform Movement’s policy, starting in 1983, of recognizing patrilineal descent.
The National Jewish Population Survey of 2001 found that of the 46 percent of US Jewish households belonging to a synagogue, 33% were affiliated with a Conservative synagogue, a 10% fall from the 1990 survey. In contrast, the Reform Movement was up from 35% to 38% and Orthodox Jews rose from 16% to 22%. Two percent were affiliated with the Reconstructionist Movement and 5% with “other types” of synagogues.
Sociologists familiar with US Jewry believe that similar trends continue.
“Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture,” Lamm said.
“The future of American Jewry is in the hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox. We have to find ways of working together.”
He supports outreach to Reform and Conservative Jews, “but not by watering down what we believe and not by demonizing them either.”
Lamm, born in Brooklyn in 1927, was appointed president of YU in 1976 and managed to save the flagship institute of American Modern Orthodoxy from financial demise.
A disciple of Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik, Lamm is considered a representative of “centrist” Modern Orthodoxy, which positions itself between the more “left-wing” elements of Orthodoxy such as Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the more “right-wing” haredim voices of American Orthodoxy.
He is in Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University on Tuesday.
The same day, Lamm will take part in a panel at the university on “The Religious Experience of Social Action” with a Catholic priest and a Suffi religious leader.
Regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in Israel, Lamm said he doubted much would come out of it.
“The pope is an intellectual and as such there is a subtext to his behavior,” he said. “His interests are primarily theological. Nothing of great consequence could come of the visit. He is not that kind of person.”
Lamm said the pope’s emphasis on intellectual matters and his lack of interest in political issues led to an imbroglio with Jewish leadership.
Last January the pope reinstated several rebel bishops who had been banned from the Church for their conservative opinions. One of the bishops was Richard Williamson, a known Holocaust denier.
“That [his emphasis on intellectuality] is how he got in trouble lifting the herem on that bishop,” Lamm said.
He also said he opposed transferring control over Church properties in Israel to the Vatican.
“Does a shul in Rome have extraterritorial rights? Why should a church in Israel?” Lamm asked.
Based on principles that he says he learned from Soleveitchik, interfaith dialogue aimed at improving life and advancing peace is important, “as long as there is not an exchange of dogmas.”
Lamm expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that historically, Orthodox Jews have refrained from interfaith dialogue with the Church.
“The people who have normally been speaking on behalf of Jewry have been secular and are not concerned with the Jewish religious point of view. It was a mistake for religious Jews to shy away. As a result, the ADL and the American Jewish Committee, who don’t always have believing Jews on their staff, have dominated.
“It is important not to paint the pope as a demon. He has a great deal of power and influence, and it is important to have a friend. But he should know that we are not for sale.”
Regarding the ordination of female rabbis, Lamm said his opposition was “social, not religious.”
“Change has to come to religion when feasible, but it should not be rushed. Women have just come into their own from an educational perspective. I would prefer not to have this innovation right now. It is simply too early. What will happen later… I am not a prophet.”
Regarding homosexuality among Orthodox Jewish men, Lamm said he drew a distinction between those who “kept it to themselves” and those who “proselytized.”
“Everyone should be made to feel comfortable,” he said. “I would never exclude a person because his wife does not cover hair or because he does not adhere to the laws of Shabbat or because he is a homosexual.
“But I am opposed to saying publicly that homosexuals are welcome or accepting people who are openly gay and who campaign for a gay lifestyle, just as I would oppose someone who openly campaigns to desecrate Shabbat or to speak slanderously.