Sunday, June 25, 2000

Report: Orthodox Union ignored youth leader's alleged abuse of teens

Report: Orthodox Union ignored youth leader's alleged abuse of teens
By Jerusalem Post - June 25, 2000

NEW YORK (June 25) - A veteran leader of an American Orthodox youth group allegedly sexually, physically, and emotionally harassed or abused scores of teens in the last three decades, and the Orthodox Union dismissed or ignored their complaints, according to Friday's edition of the New York Jewish Week.

More than a dozen alumni of programs of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth recounted incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior and physical assaults by Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who also ran a summer kollel program in Israel for up to 300 American boys.

A member of a New York religious court that permitted Lanner to keep his job now says that the rabbi is "unfit" to work in Jewish education.

"The pattern of protecting Baruch rather than his victims" goes back at least 25 years, said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a member of the religious court and the spiritual guidance counselor at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University.

The case reflects "a broader inability within the Orthodox community to acknowledge improper behavior by rabbis," Blau told the newspaper.

The allegations against Lanner include the routine kissing, fondling, and propositioning of teenage girls and kicking boys in the groin, according to the newspaper account, which was written by Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher.

In one account, the rabbi stabbed a 22-year-old man in the neck and the arm during a fight that began when the man asked Lanner not to interfere in his relationship with his fiancee. One woman told the newspaper that when she was 16 and rebuffed Lanner's advances, "he began to strangle me with all his strength, and it was only when he saw that I was losing consciousness that he
threw me down and walked away."

The people bringing the charges, who are now adults, complained that the Orthodox Union did not take action against Lanner, or remove him from contact with vulnerable teens.

Lanner was apparently a charismatic and brilliant teacher who paradoxically inspired youth toward observance, despite his allegedly menacing and inappropriate behavior.

He did not respond to requests for comment from the Jewish Week. The OU's director, Rabbi Raphael Butler, told the newspaper that Lanner would no longer be working with teenagers, but would direct adult education.

Butler told the newspaper that he heard rumors about Lanner for years, but had not heard any specific allegations. "It's like chasing shadows," he told the paper.

Rosenblatt also reported that his newspaper was asked not to publish the story, saying the publicity would hurt the OU and its youth group.

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