Among the many outstanding and venerable religious leaders the Jewish world lost in the past year was Rabbi Norman Lamm, a scholar and congregational rabbi as well as the long-time president of Yeshiva University. Zev Eleff relates yet another of Lamm’s many accomplishments: his role in founding Tradition, which has for decades been Orthodox Judaism’s most serious and ambitious English-language periodical.
Launched in 1958, Tradition benefited from Rabbi Lamm’s originality. More important, however, was his resolve. . . . Orthodox leaders started several journals during the 1950s. They were motivated by the earlier initiatives of other members of the American Jewish elite such as Rabbis Robert Gordis and Samuel Dresner of the Conservative movement. The Orthodox reckoned that such projects were useful to help jumpstart a renaissance amid allegations that their community was stuck in a rut, mired in what sociologist Marshall Sklare described as institutional and intellectual “decay.”
The most ambitious attempt to cultivate a class of Orthodox public intellectuals was the brainchild of Norman Lamm and Marvin Fox. The latter was an important Jewish philosopher, first at Ohio State University and then at Brandeis. He was a leading scholar of Moses Maimonides, long before Jewish studies was fashionable in academe. Both men shared a vision of elevating Jewish ideas through mentoring young scholars and writing in an accessible manner for general readers.
Soon Tradition was involved in lively and heated arguments with leading Conservative journals, demonstrating that Orthodoxy could hold its own. Indeed, Eleff credits Lamm and Fox most with their “uncanny” conviction, at a time when Sklare’s evaluation was that of many astute observers, that there could be “an unforecasted Orthodox comeback in American Jewish life.”