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.

Friday, June 23, 2000

Case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner

 Case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner
Rabbi Baruch Lanner - Convicted sex offender
(AKA: Bernard S. Lanner, Baruch S. Lanner, Bernard Lanner, Charlie Lanner)

National Conference of Synagouge Youth (NCSY)
Currently Resides - Elizabeth, NJ
South Woods State Prison - Bridgeton, NJ
Principal, Hillel Yeshiva - Deal, N.J.
Etz Chaim NCSY Leader -
Teaneck, NJ 

Convicted sex offender.  Baruch Lanner was released from prison on either January 8th or 12th 2008.Convicted sex offender.  Baruch Lanner was released from prison on either January 8th or 12th 2008.

Some of the teens called Rabbi Lanner "Charlie" among themselves, referring to convicted cultist killer Charles Manson, and spoke of the female teens the rabbi favored as "Baruch's girls."

The Awareness Center - Octoer 19, 2008

The goal of this warning is to protect any more children from becoming the next victim of a convicted sex offender. If you spot any children or teenagers near Baruch Lanner call 911 immediately!

Rabbi Baruch Lanner was released from prison back in January of this year. He is currently residing in Boca Raton, FL. Please warn your children to stay away from this man (see photograph below). If you spot any children or teenagers near him call 911 immediately!

Allegations surrounded Rabbi Baruch Lanner for years. The allegations include kissing and fondling scores of teenage girls in the 1970s and '80s, repeatedly kicking boys in the groin, and reports of taking a knife to a young man in 1987, and propositioning girls in 1997 at the yeshiva high school where he was principal for 15 years. He was convicted back in 2002.


Allegations surrounded Rabbi Baruch Lanner for years.  The allegations include kissing and fondling scores of teenage girls in the 1970s and '80s, repeatedly kicking boys in the groin, and reports of taking a knife to a young man in 1987, and propositioning girls in 1997 at the yeshiva high school where he was principal for 15 years.  

Rabbi Raphael Butler, who was the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union who supervised Baruch Lanner for 19 years, was accused by many of covering up for Lanner. When questioned about the allegations Butler responded to the New York Jewish Week as saying: "he has never heard any specific allegations against Rabbi Lanner, though he has heard the rumors for many years. "It's like chasing shadows," he said with frustration.". . . "our method of dealing with the rumors has been to have a bet din, as an independent entity, evaluate the charges, and we abide by all its decisions."

Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, founding director of NCSY, was also aware of the allegations and did nothing.  Rabbi Stolper acknowledges there were several complaints from young women many years ago about improper behavior by Rabbi Lanner. Rabbi Stolper says he sought to deal with the allegations but found no real substance to the charges. Stopler also said he heard reports of Rabbi Lanner's improper behavior with girls or, in at least one case, kicking a boy in the groin, Rabbi Lanner has remained in a leadership role and in regular contact with young people through NCSY.  "He has had such a magnificent impact" on so many young people, Rabbi Stolper says in defense of Rabbi Lanner, "despite some obvious sickness that is not sexual but has to do with needing to be in control."

1970's - First allegations of kissing and fondling teenage girls

1987 - Allegations were made of Baruch Lanner taking a knife to a young man

1989 - Bet din, or religious tribunal was created to evaluate allegations made against Baruch Lanner. The Bet din was made up of three Yeshiva University-affiliated rabbis.  The three highly respected members of the bet din include: Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (or spiritual guidance counselor) at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva; Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshiva at the school; and Rabbi Aaron Levine, a professor of economics..

June 23, 2000 - Jewish Week reports that as principal and on his duties with the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, Rabbi Baruch Lanner allegedly sexually, physically, and emotionally harassed or abused several teens in the last three decades.

June 27, 2000 - The Orthodox Union accepts Lanner's resignation From the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. (NCSY)

July 12, 2000 - Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye says his office is conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation based on the allegations against Lanner.

July 18, 2000 - Statement of New Jersey Orthodox Synagogues Youth Chairs and Concerned Parents

Dec. 26, 2000 - The Orthodox Union Releases a report accusing Lanner of sexually abusing women and girls and physically abusing boys and girls. The report concludes some personnel of the union and NCSY failed to respond properly to "red flags" raised during decades of complaints against Lanner.

March 21, 2000 - A Monmouth County grand jury indicts Lanner on charges that he had sexual contact with female students at Hillel Yeshiva. Lanner is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, and endangering the welfare of a child.

April 30, 2000 - Lanner surrenders to authorities and pleads not guilty. He surrenders his passport and is freed without bail. Lanner faces up to 40 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of molesting the girls.

Oct. 19, 2001 - A state Superior Court judge rejects Lanner's request to dismiss the charges. Lanner denies the allegations, and his lawyers say there is reason to question the credibility and mental stability of his two accusers.

June 12, 2002 - Trial opens. During opening arguments, prosecutors say they will prove that Lanner used his power "to isolate, intimidate them, and abuse" the female students when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva. Defense lawyers counter that Lanner did not have privacy in his office to commit such offenses.

June 27, 2002 - A jury convicts Lanner of fondling one student. He is acquitted of fondling another of his accusers.

January 8, 2008 - Baruch Lanner is scheduled to be released from prison and placed on probation.


Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:


  1. Stolen Innocence  (06/23/2000)
  2. Youth groups react to sex-abuse report  (07/06/2000)
  3. Paper Seen as Villain in Abuse Accusations Against Rabbi  (07/10/2000)
  4. Letters - The Lanner Episode  (07/14/2000)
  5. Students accuse New Jersey rabbi of abuse over 20 years (07/14/2000)
  6. Journalistic Integrity: Jewish journalists grapple with 'doing the write thing'  (07/14/2000)
  7. Best & Worst of Times (07/14/2000)
  8. Statement of New Jersey Orthodox Synagogues Youth Chairs and Concerned Parents  (07/18/2000)
  9. Rabbis accused of coverup in sex case  (07/19/2000)
  10. Lessons From The Lanner Case  (07/20/2000)
  11. LETTERS - On Rabbi Lanner And The OU (07/21/2000)
  12. Message from Rabbi David Kaminetsky - National Director of NCSY (07/31/2000)
  13. Kashrus Deserves Praise Not "Guilt by Association" (08/2000)
  14. Summer of Shame (08/18/2000)
  15. Rabbi Lanner Article Wins National Award  (09/29/2000)
  16. NCSY Special Commission Cites Rabbi Lanner's "Abusive" Behavior Toward Teens & Calls For Change In OU Governance And Operations  (12/26/2000)
  17. Report Slams O.U.'s 'Failure' in Lanner Abuse Scandal  (12/29/2000)


  1. Lanner Indicted On Sex Abuse Charges (03/16/2001)
  2. Jewish Week Follow-Up  (07/05/2001)
  3. Grappling with Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community - No Longer Taboo  (2001)


  1. Preventing Future Lanner Cases  (03/01/2002)
  2. CNN - Rome: Cardinals Meet to Remedy Sex Scandal in U.S. Catholic Church  (04/23/2002)
  3. Pressure Builds on O.U. Ahead of Rabbi's Sex Abuse Trial  (04/26/2002)
  4. Orthodox Rabbi Issues Warning on Sexual Abuse  (05/03/2002)
  5. OU Standing By Lanner Report (05/31/2002)
  6. Rabbi Baruch Lanner trial update - Jury selection under way in rabbi sex trial (06/11/2002)
  7. Rabbi Baruch Lanner trial update - Day 1 (Wednesday) (06/13/2002)
  8. Responding to sexual abuse: Catholic problems are public, but Jews can't be complacent (06/13/2002)
  9. Ex-student tells jurors rabbi punished her for refusing sexual advances  (06/14/2002)
  10. Ex-student of rabbi testifies about abuse; Intimidation, fondling cited  (06/14/2002)
  11. Sex abuse case goes to defense  (06/19/2002)
  12. Mother's rage was pointed at rabbi (06/19/2002)
  13. Secretary defends rabbi (06/20/2002)
  14. Women Detail Abuse By Lanner - Former students testify rabbi molested them in school  (06/21/2002)
  15. Surprise witness in rabbi sex case - Additional testimony may aid prosecution  (06/21/2002)
  16. Accused rabbi's attorney calls charges 'fiction'  (06/26/2002)
  17. Jury deliberating fate of rabbi in sex abuse case (06/26/2002)
  18. Jury weighing fate of rabbi accused of molestation (06/27/2002)
  19. Jury weighs groping case against rabbi  (06/27/2002)
  20. Lanner Protégé Under Scrutiny (06/28/2002)
  21. Critics Call for Firing of Lanner Protégé - Orthodox Union Official Testified for Defense in Sex Abuse Trial  (06/28/2002)
  22. Vigorous Defense In Lanner Case  (06/28/2002)
  23. Rabbi Lanner Guilty  (06/28/2002)
  24. N.J. Rabbi Convicted of Sexual Abuse (06/28/2002)
  25. Monmouth rabbi guilty in school sex case - Principal endangered welfare of two girls  (06/28/2002)
  26. Sexual Abuse Scandal Hits Orthodox Jews  (06/29/2002)
  27. Rabbis Trial Begins (07/12/2002)
  28. Looking for Lanner  (2002)
  29. Judge is told: Rabbi's not safe in jail  (10/09/2002)
  30. Lanner Gets 7-Year Prison Term  (10/11/2002)
  31. Lanner Out On Bail Pending Appeal (10/11/2002)


  1. Willig talk draws protests because of Lanner link (01/30/2003)
  2. Critics Charge Rabbinic Court Covered Up Lanner Abuse  (01/30/2003)
  3. An Injustice That Still Lingers  (01/30/2003)
  4. Group opposes lecture by rabbi  (01/31/2003)
  5. Victims: Rabbi failed to protect children - They criticize his handling of sex scandal  (01/31/2003)
  6. Still Waiting For Answers  (02/05/2003)
  7. Lanner controversy surfaces at childrearing talk - Rabbi Mordechai Willig spoke to a packed room at Cong. Beth Abraham here on Sunday night  (02/07/2003)
  8. Lanner Attorney Deplores `Guilt By Innuendo'  (02/14/2003)
  9. Letters to the Editor - Rabbi Lanner's Attorney  (02/14/2003)
  10. Rabbi Mordechai Willig - Statement and Sichas Mussar (02/19/2003)
  11. Statement and Sichas Mussar (Apology)  (02/19/2003)
  12. Lanner Bet Din Rabbi Apologizes (02/26/2003)
  13. Top Rabbi Admits Errors In Handling Lanner Case (02/26/2003)
  14. Learning From Rabbi Willig (02/26/2003)
  15. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi Efrat, Israel - Letters:  Sexual Abuse  (04/311/2003)
  16. New NCSY Chief: Lanner `Behind Us' - Critics of youth group call Zale Newman `naive (07/11/2003)


  1. Reliving The Lanner Affair (01/30/2004)
  2. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN  (01/30/2004)
  3. New Jersey Department of Corrections
  4. Lanner Appeal Decision - By Murray L. Sragow  (02/10/2004)
  5. Opinion Notices Released For February 2005  (02/10/2004)
  6. Appeals panel dismisses 1 charge against rabbi (02/11/2004)
  7. Convicted rabbi gets one count dropped (02/14/2004)
  8. Split Ruling On Lanner Appeal  (02/18/2004)
  9. Lanner Back In Prison  (02/23/2004)

  1. Rabbis who go off the rails  (07/06/2006)

  1. Inside the eruv: Are some Orthodox discreet or closing their eyes?  (01/11/2007)
  2. New Jersey Department of Corrections  (12/31/2007)


  1. Lanner To Be Released From Jail Next Week   (01/03/2007)
  2. New Jersey Sex Offender Registry  (01/15/2007)
  3. National Sex Offender Registry (02/13/2008)
  4. WARNING TO PARENTS IN ELIZABETH, NJ - Rabbi Baruch Lanner  (06/15/2008)
  5. Florida Sex Offender Registry (06/15/2008)
  6. WARNING TO PARENTS IN BOCA RATON, FL - Rabbi Baruch Lanner  (10/19/2008)


Also See:

  • Case of Rabbi Mordechai Wilig - Enabler of Baruch Lanner

Stolen Innocence
by Gary Rosenblatt

New York Jewish Week - June 23, 2000
 Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the charismatic magnet of NCSY, was revered in the Orthodox Union youth group, despite longtime reports of abuse of teens.

Baruch Lanner is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant, dynamic and charismatic educators in Jewish life today. As director of regions of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an arm of the Orthodox Union, the 50-year-old rabbi has been working with and supervising teenagers for more than three decades. He has also been a principal and teacher in yeshiva high schools in New Jersey, and for many years has led a highly successful six-week NCSY summer kollel program in Israel offering Torah study to up to 300 American boys.

But even while he is credited with bringing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of youngsters closer to Judaism, reports have continued to circulate that he has harassed, if not abused, many scores of teens sexually, physically and/or emotionally, from the early 1970s to the present.Though Rabbi Lanner's erratic behavior has long been an open secret in some Orthodox circles, for the first time more than a dozen former NCSYers and others have come forward publicly over a three-month period, telling their stories to The Jewish Week. They described in detail firsthand experiences, including Rabbi Lanner's alleged kissing and fondling scores of teenage girls in the 1970s and '80s, repeatedly kicking boys in the groin, and reports of taking a knife to a young man in 1987, and propositioning girls in 1997 at the yeshiva high school where he was principal for 15 years.

Those who have elected to tell their stories say they are motivated by anger and frustration over the refusal of the OU, the national central body of Orthodox synagogues, to act decisively on repeated complaints about Rabbi Lanner's behavior. These critics are particularly upset that he has continued to work with young people, having led a group of students on the Birthright Israel trip last winter and participating regularly in NCSY Shabbat retreats, or Shabbatons, across the country.

They are speaking out now, they say, because Rabbi Lanner's divorce from his wife of 23 years recently was finalized. There had been concern that any negative publicity before the divorce proceedings were complete may have jeopardized its resolution.

"It's long overdue that this whole story be told," said Judy Klitsner, 42, of Jerusalem, who asserted that when she was a 16-year-old active in NCSY in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Rabbi Lanner, who was director of the Etz Chaim (N.J.) region, tried to caress and kiss her one evening during a Shabbaton in New Jersey. When she rebuffed him, she recalled recently, "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."

Klitsner said she was afraid to tell anyone of the incident because the rabbi had a volatile temper and she feared reprisals. When she later told Rabbi Lanner that she would inform his supervisor, she said the rabbi laughed and told her his supervisor already knew of his behavior.

"It's immoral," she said, "that this cover-up has gone on for decades and that Baruch Lanner is still working with kids."

Klitsner and several other critics of the rabbi were adamant about going on the record publicly, insisting they did not believe the OU would take action unless forced to do so by communal pressure. They also asserted that relieving Rabbi Lanner of his current duties quietly would leave his public record unblemished and allow him to take another job in the future working closely with and supervising young people.

Pressed Not To Publish
At stake, critics and defenders of Rabbi Lanner agree, is not only his own future but the credibility of the Orthodox Union and its youth arm, NCSY, which with its hundreds of chapters and 12 regions throughout the U.S. and Canada is considered the jewel of the OU. The parent organization has described NCSY in its literature as "the most effective and respected educational youth movement in the world."

But several weeks ago, at least two influential lay leaders of the OU met personally with Rabbi Raphael Butler, its executive vice president, and urged the organization to remove Rabbi Lanner from working with youngsters. The lay leaders are torn between their belief that Rabbi Lanner is a negative role model for young people and their loyalty to NCSY. These leaders say they want Rabbi Lanner removed from his present work, but do not want to cause any negative publicity for the organization. They chose not to speak on the record for this article.

By contrast, some of the alleged victims interviewed, particularly those who say their complaints about Rabbi Lanner's treatment of them were rebuffed by OU and NCSY leaders, want the facts to come out so that the organization's response, or lack of response, over more than three decades will be widely known.

"Sometimes you have to use fire to clean out impurities," said Marcie Lenk, a Judaics teacher at the Pardes and Hartman Institutes in Jerusalem and an alleged victim of Rabbi Lanner. "That's how we kasher things in Judaism."

Some point out that according to Jewish law, one is not only permitted but obligated to publicize what would otherwise be considered lashon hara, or malicious gossip, for the protection of those who would be in danger. And they believe that Rabbi Lanner working with young people poses such a danger.

Rabbi Lanner has not responded to several requests for an interview, but in recent days, a number of OU leaders and friends and colleagues of Rabbi Lanner, having learned of the preparation of this article, called on his behalf. They urged that the article be withdrawn, claiming it would be harmful to Rabbi Lanner and his family, NCSY, the OU and the Jewish community.

One rabbi, saying he was calling at Rabbi Lanner's suggestion, proposed a deal that would call for the article to be withheld in return for Rabbi Lanner's agreeing to cease working with youngsters and move into adult education work for the OU.

Others said the determination had already been made in recent days for Rabbi Lanner to end his three-decade association with NCSY, but there were conflicting reports as to whether the decision was Rabbi Lanner's or the OU's.

When pressed, Rabbi Butler said there was some truth to each of the reports regarding Rabbi Lanner's status (though the reports were inconsistent). He added that Rabbi Lanner would not take part in the NCSY kollel this summer, calling it "a devastating loss" for the program. Rabbi Butler said that after the summer, Rabbi Lanner would move into adult education, noting that his duties would include working with college students.

Rabbi Butler said he has never heard any specific allegations against Rabbi Lanner, though he has heard the rumors for many years. "It's like chasing shadows," he said with frustration.

Rabbi Butler, who has supervised Rabbi Lanner for 19 years, said "our method of dealing with the rumors has been to have a bet din, as an independent entity, evaluate the charges, and we abide by all its decisions."

When asked if he would care to examine the research gathered for this article, including allegations from more than a dozen former NCSYers, Rabbi Butler declined, saying a bet din, or religious tribunal, was the proper venue. He asserted that a specific bet din of three Yeshiva University-affiliated rabbis, which was first convened in 1989 over a dispute centering on Rabbi Lanner, subsequently has been consulted periodically and has permitted his youth work to continue.

The three highly respected members of the bet din in question are Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (or spiritual guidance counselor) at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva; Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshiva at the school; and Rabbi Aaron Levine, a professor of economics.

Rabbi Levine, who is the least involved in this matter, declined to speak on the record, though he indicated that Rabbi Blau was most knowledgeable on the subject and said the bet din had met only once regarding Rabbi Lanner since 1989. That was in 1997, when the bet din gave its approval for Rabbi Lanner to work full-time for NCSY after leaving his position as principal at Hillel yeshiva in Deal, N.J.

Rabbi Willig, a staunch defender of Rabbi Lanner over the years, is believed to agree with Rabbi Butler's assertion that the OU has followed the guidance of the bet din regarding Rabbi Lanner.

Rabbi Blau believes that while that may be technically correct, it does not address many missteps along the way. Bottom line, he says bluntly, Rabbi Lanner is "unfit to work in Jewish education," and Rabbi Blau has taken a leading role in seeking his dismissal.

"The pattern of protecting Baruch rather than his victims" goes back at least 25 years, Rabbi Blau says, and reflects "a broader inability within the Orthodox community to acknowledge improper behavior by rabbis."

He notes that "an unanticipated consequence of covering [Rabbi Lanner's] improprieties was to make into accomplices all those who knew" of his actions, making it more difficult to act against him.

"The number of men and women who have been hurt is incalculable," said Rabbi Blau. "The lack of action by the OU until now is a statement to the many victims that the Orthodox community condoned Baruch's actions, and that they were the problem."

Loyalty Was Everything

Some see the re-emergence of the bet din as a last-minute ploy by the OU to shift the blame for lack of action over Rabbi Lanner. Certainly none of the more than three dozen former NCSYers and others interviewed for this article seemed to know that the place for complaints was the bet din. Many said they lodged complaints with various rabbis and OU officials over the years but were rebuffed or dismissed, and they were never told to speak to a bet din.

Marcie Lenk, the Judaics teacher in Israel, said she has told her story to a number of influential rabbis, including Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, founding director of NCSY, but they either ignored her or made excuses for Rabbi Lanner as a brilliantly effective, if erratic man whose good works outweigh his problematic behavior.

Lenk and other women who complained to rabbis about Rabbi Lanner over the years said the implicit message was clear: leave it alone. In time, youngsters stopped reporting his actions.

Rabbis Butler and Stolper say they never heard specific allegations, but Rabbi Stolper acknowledges there were several complaints from young women many years ago about improper behavior by Rabbi Lanner. Rabbi Stolper says he sought to deal with the allegations but found no real substance to the charges.

At the time, he says he warned Rabbi Lanner in no uncertain terms that if he ever heard such accusations again, even if they could not be proved, he would have to dismiss him because "NCSY lives on the reputation of the community, the parents and the synagogues."

But decades after Rabbi Stolper says he heard reports of Rabbi Lanner's improper behavior with girls or, in at least one case, kicking a boy in the groin, Rabbi Lanner has remained in a leadership role and in regular contact with young people through NCSY.

"He has had such a magnificent impact" on so many young people, Rabbi Stolper says in defense of Rabbi Lanner, "despite some obvious sickness that is not sexual but has to do with needing to be in control."

Powerful Role Model

Rabbi Lanner's need for control was a dominant theme in numerous interviews and conversations. What emerges is a pattern of an extremely bright, talented and troubled man who created his own universe of adoring teens — a universe in which loyalty to him was paramount.

"Do you love me?" Rabbi Lanner would repeatedly ask teen officers of NCSY during required daily phone calls to him, either early in the morning or late at night. "Tell me you love me," he would demand. "Tell me you love me." And they did.

Dealing with boys, Rabbi Lanner reportedly would use four-letter words and tell crude jokes freely in his private conversations with them, disparage those not in his inner circle, and often greet them with a swift, hard kick in the groin. When they sometimes would crumple to the ground in pain, he would laugh, insisting he was just showing he was one of the guys.

With girls, he allegedly tended to focus his attentions on attractive, well-developed teens from nonobservant and often troubled families, showering them with praise but demanding complete devotion and secrecy. He would constantly tease them about their bodies, make lewd and suggestive comments, and sometimes try to kiss and fondle them when they were alone with him, warning them never to tell anyone.

The emotional power Rabbi Lanner had over these impressionable youngsters was formidable. "He was like a god to us," several men and women said. They basked in his praise, but if he turned on them, and he could easily, they were bereft. The price he demanded was loyalty.

"I was not allowed to criticize or question him," recalled one former NCSYer, now a rabbi. "I had to trade in my dignity and honesty for the feeling of power he gave me. And I had to give up control of my life to him."

Some of the teens called Rabbi Lanner "Charlie" among themselves, referring to convicted cultist killer Charles Manson, and spoke of the female teens the rabbi favored as "Baruch's girls."

Even today, a number of these former proteges, men and women with children of their own and successful careers — many in Orthodox Jewish education — say they still fear Rabbi Lanner, however irrational that fear may be. "When I hear his name my stomach clutches in tension," one woman wrote. "I feel flushed and cold at the same time."

Controversial Figure

One thing Rabbi Lanner's critics and defenders agree on: he is a controversial figure.

One of his self-described defenders, Dr. John Krug, a psychologist who was hired by Rabbi Lanner when he was principal of the Hillel yeshiva high school in Deal, N.J., and worked with him there for more than a dozen years, says the rabbi 'generates extremely strong feelings - you either hate his guts or love him to bits.'

'He's a combination genius and Talmud chochem [scholar]. He's very charismatic, flamboyant, given to histrionics. He's the master of the double entendre and he marches to a different drummer,' Krug said.

Krug said the rabbi was known to 'take an active interest in some kids - he always had his favorites' - and could be heavy-handed in seeking to persuade students to follow his advice, including convincing some to go on NCSY summer programs.

Krug says he heard allegations over the years of Rabbi Lanner committing acts of violence against students but noted that he was not 'personally aware of any improprieties' and 'never saw him' commit such acts. He did note, though, that Rabbi Lanner was disciplined by school authorities in the 1980s at least one time after a complaint that he had kicked a male student in the groin.

'That's the one incident I am aware of where the board sat him [Rabbi Lanner] down and intervened,' he said.

Krug also heard rumors that the rabbi had made sexual advances to two female students, whom he questioned directly and who denied to him any wrongdoing on the part of the rabbi.

'The perception was that he was cruising close to the boundary' of acceptable behavior, the psychologist said, but there was no proof that he stepped over.

Still, Krug offers: 'I believe a person in a leadership position in the Jewish community, and especially Jewish education, should be squeaky clean. Is Baruch? The answer is no.'

He adds that if asked 'to intervene' for Rabbi Lanner on a moral or ethical matter, he would decline, citing conflict of interest since he had been an employee of the rabbi's.

Others are less circumspect in describing Rabbi Lanner's behavior.

Etan Tokayer, a 31-year-old rabbi and former Judaics teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, an Orthodox boys high school, says Rabbi Lanner was psychologically abusive to him from the time he was a seventh-grader in NCSY through high school.

'He was a very important role model to me during my formative years,' Rabbi Tokayer said. 'But while Baruch was so deep and spiritual in his public performances, he was cruel and crude in his private encounters. There seemed to be two Lanners, the destructive and the good, and that caused great tension in me. I wanted and needed his friendship and approval, yet he inspired great fear as well.'

He tells of times when as a youngster, he was berated by Rabbi Lanner, accused by him of lying, and hit in the groin. 'He preyed on the insecurities of young people and fostered a cult of personality,' Rabbi Tokayer said, 'using his power to manipulate and control us when we were vulnerable.'

Erica Schoonmaker Brown, 33, a Jewish educator in Boston, boarded at Rabbi Lanner's home in Paramus, N.J., when she attended the Frisch yeshiva high school, where he was her teacher. She recalled that she once drew a portrait of Rabbi Lanner's rebbe, the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and presented it to Rabbi Lanner for his birthday. 'He ripped it up in front of me, threw it in the garbage and slammed the door,' she recalls.

'A few minutes later I was in my room, talking to a friend on the phone, when Baruch came in, slammed the phone down, threw me on the bed and screamed at me for telling someone else.'

She said Rabbi Lanner created a 'constant sense of fear and terror, and to this day I've never met anyone with the kind of hostile, volatile temper he has.'

Yet she and others expressed more anger with NCSY and OU officials for allowing young people to fall prey to abuse than with Rabbi Lanner himself, who they feel is unable to control his behavior. And not all NCSY leaders are supportive of the rabbi. Several adult leaders of regions in the New York area said Rabbi Lanner is not permitted to appear at any of their events or programs because of his track record.

Taking Advantage

Some of those interviewed noted with irony that despite the emotional trauma they have endured, Rabbi Lanner remains a major positive figure in their lives in terms of Jewish inspiration and education. But some of these same people assert that their loss of self-esteem was profound, and they said there is no way of knowing how many young people in NCSY, on the cusp of religious observance, gave it all up after witnessing or experiencing Rabbi Lanner's allegedly abusive behavior.

Lisa Rabinowitz Dunn, 32, of Hastings, N.Y., said when she was 13 and active in NCSY, Rabbi Lanner insisted on driving her home from a Shabbaton on a Saturday night. She alleges that he pulled over in a deserted parking lot, asked her to take off her shirt and roughly sought to kiss her.

'I didn't tell anyone at the time,' she said. 'I loved NCSY and I had become more religious because of Rabbi Lanner. I understand the love people have for him. At the time he gave me attention I didn't get at home. But his behavior was so hypocritical, singing about the wonders of Hashem and then chasing young girls. For me it closed the door for religion, and while I have no sense of revenge, I feel that he took advantage of an innocent soul, and you can never get that innocence back.'

Now the mother of two small children, Dunn has a renewed interested in Judaism and may send her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to a Conservative day school. But she looks back on her experience with Rabbi Lanner as 'only negative.'

Allegations Spill Out

Many of those interviewed said they felt a need for validation, after having their stories dismissed over the years. Invariably, by conversation's end, they would offer the names of at least three or four contemporaries with similar experiences and encourage a reporter to speak with them.

'I feel that speaking out is the right thing to do now,' said Dena Greenspan Lehrman, 34, an occupational therapist in Efrat, Israel. 'There is a sense of closure at this stage of my life, and I want to keep others from having to go through' the experiences she had with Rabbi Lanner as a teenager in the mid-'80s. His need for control was amazing. He destroys your sense of self.'

She recalls, as a high-schooler, mentioning to Rabbi Lanner a scheduling conflict between an NCSY activity and family obligation. 'He said, 'listen to me before you listen to your father,' and when I think back on that, it blows me away.'

Rosie Shyker, now a dental assistant in Ranana, Israel, says that when she was in high school and active in NCSY, she was subjected to 'verbal and physical abuse' from Rabbi Lanner, who would call her names and embarrass her in front of her friends. 'And I would come home with bruises. He would hit me or pinch me on my arms, legs and thighs,' she said.

One night, while driving her home from a Shabbaton at about 3 a.m., Rabbi Lanner allegedly became enraged with something she said. 'He stopped at a corner, and pushed me out of the car,' she recalled. 'There I was alone, in the middle of the night. I just stood there for about 20 minutes, until finally he came back for me, but he screamed and yelled at me the whole car ride.'

Still, Shyker says she has only positive memories of her NCSY experience. 'It was only good for me - the subject of Baruch is separate.'

Leah Silber, who lives in Israel, says that in the summer of 1973, when she was 19 and on an NCSY tour of Israel, Rabbi Lanner, four years her senior, told her he wanted to marry her. 'I was very drawn to religion and the Torah, and he would use his learning, citing rabbinic sources as a technique to work on me,' she said.

When Silber rebuffed him, she said, 'he smacked me in the face' and nearly broke her jaw. 'It was swollen and out of place, and I was really in pain.' She says she went to one of the rabbis affiliated with the tour to tell him what happened, but nothing came of it.

'Baruch is repulsive, and yet he has so much charisma, so much brilliance,' she said. 'I can't even explain it to myself.'

Perhaps Dr. Samuel Klagsbrun can. Although he does not know Rabbi Lanner, and was not given his name when told of some of the episodes, the well-known New York psychiatrist said the behavior described - manipulation and abuse of teens - was classic among people with severe character disorders. Klagsbrun said there was little or no chance of correcting such behavior through therapy.

He also said it was typical for victims, especially young women, to come forward and discuss their experiences only many years later, if at all, 'when they are healed from major trauma and have created their own lives.'

The larger, communal problem, Klagsbrun says, is that 'our community's concept of concern over a shanda [embarrassment] operates in such a destructive way. Regardless of how uncomfortable we are with confronting these situations, or how damaging it may be to an individual organization, if we don't uproot these problems we are damning young people to lifelong damage.'

A Disputed Letter
The only time Rabbi Lanner's disturbing behavior surfaced on a public level until now was in the summer of 1989, shortly after he was hired to become the rabbi of a fledgling Orthodox congregation in Teaneck, N.J.

That was too much for Elie Hiller, who was 24 at the time and attended the synagogue, then known as the Roemer (Avenue) shul. He had worked for seven years for NCSY as an assistant regional director, and says that at various times Rabbi Lanner had hit him in the groin and in the head, called him names and threatened to withhold pay.

But what upset Hiller most was an incident that had taken place two summers earlier, Aug. 7, 1987, after Rabbi Lanner sought to dissuade Adina Baum, a young woman who had boarded at the rabbi's house while in high school from marrying Hiller's younger brother, Jonah, because he had Hodgkin's disease.

Jonah, who was 22 at the time, drove up to Rabbi Lanner's summer bungalow to ask him not to interfere in his relationship with his fiancée. According to Elie Hiller, Jonah and Rabbi Lanner exchanged words and then the rabbi, in a rage, grabbed a kitchen knife, lunged at Jonah, and cut him in the neck and arm, and tried to choke him.

Hiller, who worked for Rabbi Lanner at the time, says that after the incident, the rabbi called to tell him that he and Jonah had just had an argument and that he had tried to calm Jonah down. 'Then he laughed and talked to me about getting me a raise,' Elie said.

Elie wasn't amused. He quit his NCSY job, and he and his family, after contacting an attorney, sought to have the OU remove Rabbi Lanner from his job, threatening to go to the police otherwise.

Eventually they reached a compromise with the organization that would have Rabbi Lanner save face by easing him from his job as director of the New Jersey region, have no contact with staff or members of the region, and have no active participation in Shabbatonim.

But the Hillers say that though Rabbi Lanner was given a new title (seemingly a promotion, director of regions), the OU soon reneged on the agreement, denying the knifing incident had taken place and allowing the rabbi to take part in several Shabbatonim.

The last straw for the Hillers was the appointment of Rabbi Lanner at the new Teaneck congregation, despite their personal appeals to local rabbis and leaders of the congregation.

Frustrated, Elie Hiller wrote a letter graphically detailing Rabbi Lanner's alleged abusive behavior to him, his brother and others, and sent it to the entire Orthodox community of Teaneck, urging that Rabbi Lanner not be allowed to lead the new congregation.

Rabbi Lanner responded by calling for a bet din, asserting that Hiller had unfairly maligned him. The three-man tribunal consisted of Rabbis Blau, Willig and Levine.

In August 1989, the bet din met in marathon session for 18 hours, with witnesses for both sides testifying as to the specific charges made in the letter and the character of Rabbi Lanner, who sought to undermine the qualities and veracity of those who spoke against him, according to witnesses.

Several witnesses say Krug, the psychologist, characterized young witnesses against the rabbi as troubled. Though he is now more cautious in defending Rabbi Lanner, Krug says he has no regrets about his testimony at the time.

The result of the hearing was never made public, but the bet din concluded that most of the charges were not proven, though some of the rabbi's actions were deemed inappropriate. Elie Hiller was told to make a public apology to Rabbi Lanner, which he did.

Rabbi Lanner did not become the rabbi of the synagogue.

Jonah Hiller and Baum were married a few months later, early in 1988. Jonah died of cancer three years later.

Self-Appointed Monitor

Though the case was closed, Rabbi Blau was troubled. After the formal proceedings ended, he received a number of letters and phone calls from individuals unwilling to testify publicly or detailing events outside the purview of the particular case.

'They described a pattern of totally unacceptable behavior that reflected a troubled individual who should not be allowed to deal with teenagers,' he says now.

In time Rabbi Blau came to regret the bet din's decision, and took it upon himself to monitor Rabbi Lanner's behavior. For more than a decade, and particularly in the last year in working toward a divorce settlement for the Lanners, he has been the point person for those with complaints about Rabbi Lanner, often counseling those with feelings of bitterness or remorse.

One of the more disturbing calls Rabbi Blau says he received came a few years after the bet din from a woman who was one of Rabbi Lanner's character witnesses. 'She admitted that she had not told the truth when testifying, and wondered how one repents for this act.

'Most shocking,' Rabbi Blau says, 'was the orchestrated campaign' used by Rabbi Lanner and his defenders 'to convince this young woman not to describe what had really transpired between Baruch and herself. She was reminded of her debt to him for his role in her becoming observant, and it became apparent that she was not the only one pressured either not to testify or to testify falsely. Those who did testify against him were ostracized in NCSY.'

One woman who testified against Rabbi Lanner at the bet din was Marcie Lenk. She said that as a teenager active in NCSY, she endured constant remarks from Rabbi Lanner about her figure, often in front of her friends.

'He would invite kids to his house for Shabbos, and say to me, 'so, are you going to sleep with me this Shabbos?' I'd say, 'I'm sleeping at your house this Shabbos.' It was a game of manipulation to him, a test to see how far he could go. He'd look at me innocently and say, 'right.' That kind of behavior was constant.'

Rabbi Lanner was also her teacher at Frisch, and sometimes, she says, he would squeeze through a classroom doorway at the moment she was walking through, rubbing against her. 'He'd say, 'ooh, that felt good,' ' she said.

But she didn't tell any adults of this behavior. 'Baruch created this situation where we needed him,' she says now. 'We were kids looking for friendship and community. But to be 'in,' this was the price we had to pay. I guess I felt it was worth it at the time.'

At the bet din, Rabbi Lanner 'made up reasons why those of us who testified against him were supposedly out to get him,' Lenk said. 'He said I wasn't religious, and that I resented that he wasn't close to me.'

Deaf Ears
The night before the bet din, Lenk, who was 23 at the time, says she received a call from Rabbi Lanner's wife, clearly at his request, tearfully urging Lenk not to testify. 'When she said, 'how could you do this to me?' I said, 'I'm not doing this to you, he did this to you.' 
The most disappointing part of the experience, she says, were rabbis who knew her since childhood testifying on Rabbi Lanner's behalf, asserting that he could never have done the things she alleged were done to her.

'The kids who had no one else to protect them were not being protected,' she says. 'I'm still very angry at the rabbis. They turned away from us. We thought of going to the authorities but trusted the system to take care of it. The system failed us, and it still is.'

Naomi Freistat, 41, of New York, says when she was a 15-year-old NCSYer on a summer program in Israel, Rabbi Lanner would kiss and fondle her until one evening when she insisted he stop. 'He punched me in the stomach,' she says, 'and I told him, 'you just punched the wrong girl.' But when I complained to several rabbis, no one wanted to hear of it and nothing happened.'

Shelly, 41, who now lives in Israel, and asked that her last name not be published, says that when she was a 14-year-old NCSYer, Rabbi Lanner made sexual advances to her, and she told several rabbis at the time. One, who was Rabbi Lanner's superior, told her that he had 'inherited the monster, not created him,' she recalls, and said there was nothing he could do. Others ignored her complaints. 'We've learned that it's a given that he always gets away with it,' she says.

'It bothers me that the OU has protected him all these years. What if it was one of their daughters who was treated this way? People don't realize how much damage he's done to kids,' Shelley says.

This complaint was heard from virtually every critic interviewed. Several said they believed that as a result of the 1989 bet din, the OU had agreed to remove Rabbi Lanner from direct contact with young people. While the OU did change the rabbi's title from regional director of NCSY to director of regions, its officials now dispute whether or not Rabbi Lanner was indeed banned from contact with young people.

In any event, he has continued to take an active part in Shabbatons around the country at least a few times a year, delivering divrei Torah, or sermons, as well as mingling with individual teens, according to numerous observers.

Jordan Hirsch, 37, a professional musician and teacher in Teaneck, N.J., who has known Rabbi Lanner since he was an NCSYer 25 years ago, and considers him a friend, says the rabbi has been attending NCSY Shabbatons 'all through the years,' where he is 'lauded and lionized.'

Hirsch, whose band often performs at these functions on Saturday nights, says the rabbi 'was never monitored. He had contact with the kids all along.'

At one of these events three or four years ago, he says he was sitting with Rabbi Lanner when the rabbi, in speaking to a girl who was a senior in high school, began making sexual references to her in a lighthearted way, or as Hirsch puts it, 'getting into that sexual stuff.'

Hirsch says he interrupted, warning the rabbi about his behavior, and Rabbi Lanner responded, 'I know, Hirsch, I've got to be careful.'
Quiet Deal
But Rabbi Lanner's alleged inappropriate behavior apparently has not been confined to his NCSY experiences. He has been accused of harassing or abusing youngsters, physically and emotionally, in schools where he has served as teacher and/or principal.

The situation at Hillel high school in Deal came to a head in 1997. The official version is that Rabbi Lanner, who had been principal for 15 years, chose to leave at the end of the academic year, but several sources say he was forced out quietly after an internal investigation regarding his behavior with students, which reportedly included harassment, kicking boys and propositioning several female students. At least two girls are said to have confided in a faculty member, which led to the school inquiry.

Still, a number of faculty members he hired have remained loyal, crediting Rabbi Lanner with raising the pay scale for teachers at Hillel, a wealthy school, and indirectly in other area yeshivas as well. In addition, they say he was extremely supportive of his teachers and went out of his way to praise them and accommodate their schedules, and set high academic standards for the school.

Last year, Rabbi Lanner taught a Judaic class on Friday mornings at Bas Torah, a girls' yeshiva high school in Monsey, N.Y. Several students complained that he humiliated them in class and called them names disparaging their intellect, and a few refused to attend his class, saying he made inappropriate sexual comments, according to one teacher. They were excused from attendance.

The teacher, who asked not to be identified because 'I love my job,' says she feels strongly that Rabbi Lanner 'should not be in contact with kids.'

Critics of Rabbi Lanner cite these and other relatively recent examples to rebut those who say that any improper behavior on his part, if it existed at all, was a product of the distant past.

Communal Lessons

How could Rabbi Lanner remain in influential positions dealing with impressionable teens as a rabbi, educator and role model after all the allegations against him?

And if, as some OU and NCSY officials insist, they never heard complaints, was it because they didn't want to hear them, or did alleged victims get the message it did little good to speak out?

Some rabbinical leaders seem so dazzled by Rabbi Lanner's intellect and charisma that they are willing to ignore or overlook his faults, attributing them to youthful indiscretions rather than any continuing pattern of troubled behavior. They suggest that if these disturbing incidents did indeed happen - and teens are known for exaggeration, they note - then it was a long time ago, and besides, the rabbi's good works outweigh the bad.

Marcie Lenk, the Israeli educator, cites Orthodoxy's emphasis on scholarship, suggesting that the community puts less weight on other values. She says Rabbi Lanner's colleagues are so taken with his Talmudic abilities that they resist any criticism of him.

'But I was always taught Torah knowledge was a means to an end, of good behavior,' she says, 'not an end in itself.'

Others may have little training in the seriousness and long-term effect of emotional abuse. As one yeshiva principal told a critic in defending Rabbi Lanner, 'It's not as if he raped anyone.'

There is also the fact that a number of his rabbinical defenders were beholden to him in some way. Rabbi Lanner hired many of them in his capacity as yeshiva principal or through NCSY, and there was a combination of fear of retribution and an old-boys network of protecting one's own.

Clearly a number of rabbis, OU professionals and lay leaders sought to downplay Rabbi Lanner's behavior over the years because they believed he was indispensable to the organization and out of concern for its reputation, and their own. The longer this went on, the more difficult it was to act against him, no doubt.

Most disturbing to some of the men and women interviewed was that while his colleagues and others have gone to great lengths to apologize or make excuses for Rabbi Lanner's actions over the years, he himself has shown no sense of remorse or willingness to take responsibility, at least publicly.

Rabbi Stolper says he cannot think of anyone 'who has suffered as much' as Rabbi Lanner, but the alleged victims may well be asking, what about us?


Youth groups react to sex-abuse reportBy JULIE WIENER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - July 6, 2000  Tammuz 3, 5760

NEW YORK - A newspaper recently reported on allegations that a high-ranking Orthodox youth professional sexually molested and harassed scores of teenagers.

This was instrumental in the largest synagogue-sponsored chapter of National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) seceding from the youth arm of the Orthodox Union (OU).

This was a powerful message to the national leadership about how the situation was handled over the years, and indicating the crisis is not over.

In a June 23 article, the New York Jewish Week quoted sources saying that, for almost three decades, the Orthodox Union had ignored complaints of Rabbi Baruch Lanner's misconduct as a professional with the OU's National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Rabbi Glenn Black, regional director of NCSY in Toronto, said that he was "shocked by the allegations. I found out the same time as the rest of the world, and was very saddened.

"The bottom line is that we have to stay focused and try to develop protocol should any child have concerns. They are welcome to contact us, or Jewish Family and Child Services."

The day after the newspaper article appeared, the OU announced that Rabbi Lanner had resigned, but despite his resignation, congregants at Beth Aaron Congregation in New Jersey voted to immediately withhold all monies to be paid to the OU and to national and regional NCSY.

One congregant said members were deeply concerned over what they observed to be a lack of proper adult supervision in NCSY programs in other regions and chapters.

Rabbi Lanner was known as a charismatic, talented educator who drew many teens closer to Judaism.

A widespread complaint is that Rabbi Lanner has moulded and trained a number of rabbis and youth leaders who emulate his charismatic style and sometimes eccentric behaviour, encouraging advisers to do whatever is necessary to make youngsters more observant.

Rabbi Chaim Fraser, chair of the NCSY youth committee, said that Rabbi Lanner had been unwelcome at its NCSY programs for years, and that he had been unwelcome as well in up to half of the 12 regions in the country because of his behaviour and style.

He did, however, lead a group of students on the Birthright Israel trip last winter, and participated regularly in NCSY Shabbat retreats and Shabbatons across the United States.

For the first time, more than a dozen former NCSYers and others have come forward to publicly tell their stories.

Judy Klitsner, 42, of Jerusalem, said that when she was 16, and active in NCSY in Pennsylvania, Rabbi Lanner tried to caress and kiss her. "When I rebuffed him, he tried to strangle me· I was afraid to tell anyone because he had a volatile temper and I was afraid of reprisal."

When she later told Rabbi Lanner that she would inform his supervisor, he laughed and said his supervisor already knew of his behaviour. "It is immoral, that this coverup has gone on for decades," she said.

Klitsner, and several other critics of the rabbi said they were adamant about going on the record publicly, insisting they did not believe the OU would take action unless forced to do so by communal pressure.

They also spoke publicly, they said, because relieving Rabbi Lanner of his duties quietly allowed his record to be unblemished and he could, therefore, still work with youngsters.

An NCSY statement released last week, said that Mandell Ganchrow, president of OU was forming a commission of seven to 10 men and women from inside and outside OU who will review procedures monitoring personnel, and "immediately make changes as the study may indicate."

Lay and professional leaders of OU are split, with some insisting that only the resignation of top personnel will address what many say is a crisis of credibility.

Others believe, that the issue, no matter how painful it is now, will soon abate, and they are calling for limited actions.

Convicted sex offender - Rabbi Baurch Lanner

Paper Seen as Villain in Abuse Accusations Against Rabbi
By Felicity Barringer
New York Times Company - July 10, 2000

Most of a recent front page of The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in the country, had a distinctly uplifting tone: ''Racing to Rescue the Sephardic Past.'' ''Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Reaches New Heights.'' ''The Jewish Family in 2000.''

All in all, it seemed to fit a newspaper whose subscribers are mostly regular contributors to the United Jewish Appeal philanthropy. But one headline in the June 23 issue was not like the others.

Under the words ''Stolen Innocence,'' the newspaper's editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt, wrote 4,000 words extensively documenting accusations that a ''brilliant, charismatic and dynamic'' rabbi in Paramus, N.J., had abused teenagers in his charge, emotionally, sexually and physically. The article also quoted his accusers' contentions that the rabbi, Baruch Lanner, had been shielded for decades by his superiors in the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, commonly known as the Orthodox Union, the most visible national organization in the Orthodox branch of Judaism.

Although Rabbi Lanner disputes many of the charges, either denying them or saying that he has no recollection of specific encounters dating back 20 or more years, his superiors announced, on the day the article appeared, that they had accepted Rabbi Lanner's resignation as director of regions of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. The Orthodox Union, which operates the youth group, has since appointed an independent commission to investigate the assertions.

But for some of the 90,000 subscribers of The Jewish Week, most of whom live in or near New York City, the newspaper and its editors were the villains. One letter to the editor said, ''You are giving the families of teens from nonobservant homes the opportunity to completely remove their children from anything that has to do with Torah.''

Like reporters and editors at other publications devoted to religious groups or secular causes, observant Jewish journalists like Mr. Rosenblatt are dual citizens of sometimes conflicting worlds. They pledge allegiance to the imperatives of an aggressive press. They also believe in a mission -- in this case, celebrating Jewish life and abiding by Jewish law, one of whose tenets discourages ''lashon hara,'' or malicious gossip, even if the gossip is true.

''The first commandment of a journalist is to probe, uncover, explore,'' Mr. Rosenblatt said. ''The first commandment in the Jewish organizational world is pretty much the opposite: to present the united front. 'We are one.' That crystallizes the dilemma.''

Phil Jacobs, the editor of The Baltimore Jewish Times and a former protege of Mr. Rosenblatt, said: ''When I started working with Gary in 1982 we used to kid each other that there was an 11th commandment. No. 11 was Thou Shalt Not Air Thy Dirty Laundry. What we found then was that if you read the Jewish press, Jews were perfect people. They never got AIDS; they never did drugs; they never beat their wives.''

Gradually, however, Jewish newspapers became comfortable with uncomfortable information. ''I did a cover on these Orthodox teens -- how they were heavily into Ecstasy and all kinds of drugs,'' Mr. Jacobs said, recalling an article from last fall. ''I was told that if that story runs in The Baltimore Jewish Times, you will become persona non grata in the Orthodox community.'' After publication, he recalled: ''Some people canceled their subscriptions. Some people said it was sensationalist. It was lashon hara, they said.''

Mr. Jacobs's experience is not unusual. For The Detroit Jewish News, a recent flashpoint was a report on declining enrollment at a local religious day school. For The Jewish Journal, in Los Angeles, it was a mid-1990's report on the heavy staffing and overhead costs of a leading charity. For The Chicago Jewish News, there were accusations of money laundering at a kosher restaurant.

In 1996, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service to which nearly 100 Jewish newspapers subscribe, ran a five-part series on sexual misconduct entitled ''When Rabbis Go Astray.''

''It ran during the High Holidays,'' Lisa Hostein, the editor of the news service, said last week. And she recalled the typical response: ''How could you, at this time, be writing about such a terrible thing?''

Such a sense of possession of the Jewish press perhaps reflects many of the newspapers' financial ties to Jewish philanthropy. Though Jewish papers in cities like Baltimore, Detroit and Atlanta are independently owned, others, including those in Los Angeles and New York, have direct ties to various regional federations of the United Jewish Appeal.

The Jewish Week charges its 30,000 direct subscribers $36 to $41 annually, depending on where they live; 60,000 more get subscriptions by giving $36 or more to the United Jewish Appeal. Still, Mr. Rosenblatt emphasizes the pledge of The Jewish Times that it is ''an independent community newspaper.''

His lean face creased with a worried frown, Mr. Rosenblatt sorted through sheaves of mail last week in his office in Times Square. Almost all dealt with the issues posed by the article about Rabbi Lanner.

Even the rabbi's detractors agree that his magnetic, eclectic intelligence drew teenagers to him, and sometimes to a closer sense of their Jewishness. Some accusers acknowledge his charisma but told Mr. Rosenblatt that the rabbi's actions had driven them from Judaism.

Mr. Rosenblatt did not succeed in persuading the rabbi to comment for the investigative article. Both Mr. Rosenblatt and Rabbi Lanner said last week that Mr. Rosenblatt called the rabbi about six days before the publication of the article and offered three dates for an interview. Rabbi Lanner, declining to be interviewed alone, said he sought to postpone the interview until a chosen witness could accompany him. Although Mr. Rosenblatt said he had explained there was a deadline, the rabbi said he had not known that by postponing the meeting he would lose his chance to comment before publication.

The article went to press quoting, by name, 10 people, most in their 30's and 40's. They said that, as teenagers, they had experienced either violence by the rabbi or sexually aggressive behavior by him.

In his interview with The New York Times, Rabbi Lanner went over each of the assertions, mostly from the 1970's and 80's. Asked about specifics of seven cases in which he was said to have propositioned or threatened young girls, including two who said he had struck them, he said: ''I have no recollection of that'' or ''I don't remember that.''

As for another incident referred to in the article, Rabbi Lanner did acknowledge that, as a high school principal, he had kneed a male student in the groin. But he said it was an inadvertent result of ''horseplay.''

The absence of action against Rabbi Lanner over the years by leaders of the Orthodox Union was perhaps the most inflammatory part of the Jewish Week article. ''What upsets me the most,'' Dr. Mel Isaacs of the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County said in a letter to the editor, ''is the lack of response by those in charge.''

Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, a retired surgeon who is president of the Orthodox Union, said last week that he could not discuss specifics until the newly appointed commission had finished its investigation.

The Jewish Week and New York's other two Jewish newspapers, The Forward and The Jewish Press, ''have a function and for the most part they perform well,'' Dr. Ganchrow said. ''Sometimes they sensationalize.'' But, he said, ''The author and editor -- they really have to weigh the harm versus the benefits.''

The Lanner article reported that as the publication date neared, Mr. Rosenblatt was approached by various community leaders arguing against printing it. Mr. Rosenblatt, who is an Orthodox Jew, said that before publishing he had consulted an expert in Jewish law to help decide if the piece would constitute lashon hara. He said he was told that sometimes the need to protect individuals can outweigh the prohibition on malicious gossip.

Though the response to the article has been largely supportive, he said, some high-profile figures have been openly critical.

Rabbi Basil Herring of the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach, on Long Island, contends that the 100-year-old Orthodox Union -- which, aside from its other programs, officially certifies packaged and canned commercial foods as kosher -- could be damaged by the accusations, as could its active youth division.

In an interview last week, Rabbi Herring said he believed ''there are already voices being raised in synagogues to withhold support, to consider withdrawal'' from the Orthodox Union. ''I've even heard this go so far as to talk about their kosher standards,'' the rabbi added.

The proper course, Rabbi Herring suggested, would have been for Mr. Rosenblatt to present his reporting to Orthodox Union leaders and say that unless they removed Rabbi Lanner from work with young people, the article would be published. ''The fact that they did fire the man'' as the article was being printed ''indicates that they would have done so if the facts had been known beforehand,'' Rabbi Herring said.

Mr. Rosenblatt responded that the approach sounded like extortion, not journalism. ''It's part of our job to deal with real issues that are out there, even if others aren't willing to confront them,'' he said. ''We're urging the community to confront the real issues.''

Letters - The Lanner Episode
The Jewish Week - Thursday, January 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat 5763 

Your story about Rabbi Lanner's alleged misdeeds in working with children ("Stolen Innocence," June 23) important and courageous. It is also discouraging. How many times will this story have to be told before those in positions of authority in Jewish institutions start to take responsibility for stopping religious leaders who violate ethical and legal boundaries and who hurt their followers?

In our reporting in Lilith magazine on decades of alleged sexual misconduct by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the same pattern emerged as in the Lanner case: widespread rumors, accusations and a complete refusal on the part of communities around the world to protect youth and women against a charismatic leader. In the deluge of requests pleading with us not to print the story two years ago, callers reminded us of all the good Rabbi Carlebach did, as if somehow his stature would lessen the pain he was accused of causing. On the contrary, his greatness may have worsened the pain. Their power and charisma make it that much more difficult — and that much more important — to bring such allegations to light.

In all the worry about "malicious gossip" and the hand-wringing about not making trouble for the rabbi, defensive members of these religious communities are missing the real point: If the allegations against Rabbi Lanner are proven true, he is not only in violation of ethics, he is in violation of the law.

Susan Weidman Schneider, Editor in Chief
Sarah Blustain, Associate Editor - Lilith Magazine, New York, N.Y.


I went to high school in New Jersey, and while I was there, I was in NCSY, Etz Chaim region. I got to know Rabbi Lanner, not very well, but I observed a lot at Shabbatonim. Rabbi Lanner is a highly charismatic man, with a very forceful nature. He does have a wicked sense of humor, and it has endeared him to a lot of the kids. That doesn't make him abusive.

A joke that's taken too far is not the same as assault. There seem to be certain personalities that are simply easier to misrepresent. Rabbi Lanner is a funny and inspirational speaker. He can be crude — but not nearly as crude as the NCSYers themselves. He's someone the kids can relate to, and feel comfortable talking to.

As I read your article, all I could think of was that someone who has never met Rabbi Lanner would have a horrid perception of him. The man you described in your article is not the man I heard divrei Torah from on Shabbatonim, the man who could keep us in stitches for hours.

If you've ever seen guys talk to each other and rough each other up casually, you'd have an idea of how Rabbi Lanner interacts with kids. I can't picture what he and his family are going through right now. How can a Jewish newspaper publish an article like this and destroy a man's reputation? I know how many kids he's helped. Will we all lose out on Rabbi Lanner and what he has to give? Is it fair that we should?

Daniela Weiss

Gary Rosenblatt's stories on Rabbi Baruch Lanner bring to readers' attention a problem that needed to be aired. I am confident that these stories will make a difference far beyond the individuals and institutions directly involved. They will alert many in the American Jewish community that we must pay careful attention to how we are raising our children religiously and communally, and that we must question and speak out when we believe our teachers and other leaders are not serving us well.

Florence Eckstein, Editor and Publisher - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, Phoenix, Ariz


Students accuse New Jersey rabbi of abuse over 20 years
By AMY WESTFELDT, Associated Press Writer

The Detroit News  - Friday, July 14, 2000

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- For 30 years, Rabbi Baruch Lanner was known in the Orthodox Jewish community as a charismatic, dynamic educator, a founding principal of a religious school in New Jersey.

Colleagues and students say Lanner would call parents to persuade them to let their children travel to Israel with him, board students at his Paramus home so they could attend yeshiva and inspire them to become better Jews. To some, he was a substitute father.

But in recent months, more than 25 former students have come forward to say that Lanner, a leader in the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth, sexually, physically and verbally abused them for decades.

The students, now in their 30s and 40s, said Lanner kissed, fondled and hit teen-age girls and kneed some boys in the groin. His accusers also say he attacked a man with a knife.

Lanner, 50, has denied breaking the law and has never faced criminal charges.

But he resigned as director of regions for the New York-based youth group last month after The Jewish Week published many of the allegations. Two New Jersey prosecutors also have begun criminal investigations and the Orthodox Union has begun a probe to determine whether it was responsible for covering up complaints about its former employee.

Rabbi Yosef Blau, a Yeshiva University counselor and one of Lanner's strongest critics, said the rabbi was largely protected by the Orthodox Union, a venerable institution with a membership of nearly 1,000 synagogues that also puts the seal of approval on kosher food.

"I think that they were so enamored with his success and accomplishments that they didn't want to hear problems," Blau said.

"There was a code of loyalty here at the same time, and also he was very scary," said Naomi Freistat, a 41-year-old doctor who said Lanner kissed and fondled her a dozen times and punched her in the stomach when she was 15. "This was a man where you didn't know what was coming next."

Lanner, who recently separated from his wife, said he has violated Orthodox Jewish law by having physical relationships with former students -- none of them teen-agers -- but hasn't broken any other laws.

"I did many things I shouldn't have done, but none of them were illegal. None of them were perverted. None of them were threatening," said Lanner, who was cleared by a religious tribunal that investigated whether he attacked a man suffering from cancer with a knife in an argument over who the man should marry.

He denied the allegations of Freistat and others printed in The Jewish Week and said he couldn't recall others.

The author of The Jewish Week's article, editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt, said he spoke to 15 to 18 people who complained about Lanner, and has received letters from a dozen more.

"Some of them didn't know there were any others," Rosenblatt said.

Prosecutors in Bergen and Monmouth counties are investigating allegations in the article. One woman said Lanner suggestively brushed up against her while she was a student at the Frisch School in Paramus.

Lanner has said the woman, Marcie Lenk, could have misinterpreted his actions. He said Lenk was living at his home at the time and never spoke to him about feeling uncomfortable.

"If you felt threatened, idiot, why did you come?" Lanner said. "Why did your parents let you come?"

Freistat, a podiatrist in New York, said she met Lanner when she traveled from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to retreats in New Jersey. Freistat said Lanner persuaded her mother to let her go on his six-week trip to Israel in 1974.

Lanner asked Freistat to kiss him on the cheek the first week of the trip, and on the second week summoned her outside -- "it was always outside," she said -- and kissed and fondled her. She endured the contact a dozen times, she said, fearing she would be sent home.

She said she tried to pull away the last time he approached her in a Jerusalem courtyard near her hostel.

"He said 'Don't walk away from me,"' Freistat said. "He punched me in the stomach. All I remember is just looking up at him and saying 'You just punched the wrong girl."'

Freistat said she and another girl on the youth group spoke to two rabbis about Lanner's conduct, but that he went unpunished. After the article was published, the Orthodox Union set up a commission to find out "who knew what and when did they know it," said president Mandell I. Ganchrow.

Freistat called the Union "a boys' club," while other students said the organization let Lanner's conduct go unchecked because he made a lot of money for it.

Said Freistat: "He was smart enough to pick on little kids."


Journalistic Integrity - Jewish journalists grapple with 'doing the write thing'
By Hadas Ragolsky
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - April 17, 2000 | Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, consulted a high-profile rabbi before publishing his investigative report about Rabbi Baruch Lanner's abuse of teenagers last year. His concern was whether the publicity of it would be considered lashon harah, slander according to Hebrew law.

"Jews are like everyone else but more so," said Rosenblatt, quoting an old Jewish saying.

Do Jewish journalists have more obligations than others? Are they responsible first to their communities, and do they need to represent Israel in their newspapers?

These questions and others were raised by the 50 participants of "Do the Write Thing," a special program for student journalists sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities in Washington.

"There are different kinds of Jewish journalists," said Rosenblatt. "Some advocate about cause. It's difficult to say I'm objective and to show two sides, and on the other hand to be passionate about the cause."

Rosenblatt said the "role is to be as objective as possible but also understand you are part of the community."

"The truth is our most powerful tool, and we must engage young people with facts before expecting them to take up the cause," he wrote in his weekly editorial.

Rosenblatt's readers are his community, but other speakers asked for the loyalty of Jewish writers in the regular media. "In order to come to a very wide public we need a medium, a mediator," said Ephraim Lapid, the Jewish Agency spokesperson. "It's the most effective way we have to bring information to many."

Lapid was convinced of the duty of young journalists. "We need presence in the media, either by interviews or by initiative covers or letters to the editor," he said.

"... I am Zionist, but it doesn't mean you can't be critical of what happens in Israel ..."  -- Deborah Meyers

He urged the audience to use Israeli consulates and Jewish Agency for Israel representatives to help the Israeli hasbarah, or public relations.

Some young journalists didn't see any problem with Lapid's offers. "On campus there is already so much anti-Israeli sentiment that we have to be careful about any additional criticism against Israel," said Marita Gringaus, who used to write for Arizona State University's newspaper. "This is our responsibility as Jews, which obviously contradicts our responsibilities as journalists." Gringaus explained her position by saying that in the campus media, "groups are set against each other rather than as objective views."

Uzi Safanov, a writer at the Seawanhaka newspaper of Long Island University in New York, agreed. "I'm a Jew before being a journalist, before someone pays me to write," he said. "If I find a negative thing about Israel, I will not print it and I will sink into why did it happen and what can I do to change it." Safanov said that even if he eventually wrote about negative incidents that happen in Israel, he would try to find the way "to shift the blame."

Others among the participants felt uncomfortable with these suggestions. "I personally don't agree with him [Lapid]," said Daniel Treiman, editor of New Voices magazine. "There is a mixture here between journalism and propaganda. Journalists have to realize the importance of unbiased reporting, the fairness of portraying both sides. They are not supposed to be agencies."

Deborah Meyers, who used to work for the Jerusalem Report, agreed. "They reinforce that, as Jews in the media, you have responsibly to help Israel. This is not reporting; this is PR," she said. "I am Zionist, but it doesn't mean you can't be critical of what happens in Israel."

Still, Meyers feels a loyalty to Jewish values. "It doesn't matter if you are a journalist or in another profession," she said. "Our Jewish values influence every aspect of our lives. Nobody can be totally objective because we all come with our own perspective, our own biases, and that is going to come through in the writing."

Leni Reiss, the American Jewish Press Association liaison to the conference, said one can never be 100 percent objective, "but (as a Jew) you can bring your unique knowledge, your unique sensitivity to the job that you do, and it's not necessarily a bad thing."

"A journalist's duty is getting the story right and meeting the deadline," said Warren Bass, director of special projects/terrorism program and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He formerly wrote for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and others.

"Try to be a journalist and not a propagandist," he said.

{ Hadas Ragolsky is a correspondent for the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. }


Best & Worst of Times
As national OU officials react to abuse charges, local branch opens new center.

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor
JEWISH JOURNAL of Greater Los Angeles - July 14, 2000 (11 Tammuz, 5760)

It's been a month of extremes for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) on the West Coast. As the Orthodox youth group basks in the joy of moving into its own building, it is also reeling from the shock of a scandal involving an East Coast regional director allegedly abusing teens.

Last month Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, published an article exposing 25 years of possible sexual harassment, assault and emotional abuse by Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who immediately resigned from his position as director of regions for the NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union (OU). The OU - the same organization that grants kosher certification to 20,000 food products - has set up a counseling hotline and an independent commission to investigate the OU's role in the Lanner situation.

According to Rosenblatt's article, in which alleged victims from the past three decades revealed their identity to expose Lanner, the OU was long aware of the accusations but did not remove him from the organization, and only after many years did they prevent him from working directly with teens. Even according to the alleged victims - many of whom became Jewish educators - Lanner was a dynamic and magnetic leader in the movement. For years he served as regional director in New Jersey, where he was also a yeshiva high school principal.

"Our goal is to restore the public's confidence in the Orthodox Union and NCSY, and to preserve and improve the programs that have benefited tens of thousands of young men and women involved in NCSY since its inception in 1959," said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, national president of the OU.

Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the West Coast region of the OU, says the incident has dealt a blow to the faith and goodwill the community has toward the organization.

But, he says, the incident has already led regions around the country to compare notes on how they ensure the safety and well-being of the NCSYers.

"The organization is being upgraded and modernized, all of the systems and procedures and policies. NCSY is an institution that has been around for a long time, and sometimes you run a certain way based on how you've been doing it for decades," Eisenberg says. "When a problem comes up, you realize you have to set things up based on the realities of today."

For businesses as well as organizations, that means policies and training regarding harassment, he says. What has always been practiced as proper decorum and sensitivity now needs to be formalized. Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the OU, says the region, with its joint professional and lay leadership, parent involvement, and ongoing staff training and oversight, is a safe and inspiring environment for the roughly 3,000 teens it serves from Vancouver to El Paso.

"I am very confident that the necessary safeguards are in place," he said. "My office is always open to the kids." Eisenberg cautions that despite the sense of betrayal, the community should withhold judgment until the commission issues its final report. According to The Jewish Week, NCSY's largest synagogue-affiliated chapter pulled out of the group last week, and the sponsoring synagogue, Congregation Beth Aaron in New Jersey, voted to withhold all fees paid to the OU.

Several OU-affiliated Los Angeles synagogues said their boards would discuss the incident, but none expected any actions would be taken. "I think the process should be given a chance to run its course before we disconnect from an organization that has done a lot of good," said Marc Rohatiner, president of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, where he said a handful of people have brought up the notion of withholding fees form the OU.

Eva Yelloz of North Hollywood, whose three older children were enriched by their involvement as teens and later as advisors with NCSY, says her trust in the group has been shaken, but she will not keep her youngest son, 14, from getting involved if he wants to.

"I believe it was one person like this, and the administration who let it go on surely has learned its lesson," says Yelloz. "After this has come out, they will clean up their act in every way possible and do their utmost to keep a clean record and do better than their best."

Kalinsky says none of the kids withdrew from local summer programs, including a boys' camp for 60 kids. In fact, according to Sharyn Perlman, director of public relations for OU, not one of the approximately 1,000 teenagers signed up for NCSY's Israel trips or local summer programs pulled out.

NCSY, working with volunteers from Nefesh, the association of Orthodox mental health professionals, has set up a toll-free hotline (877-905-9576) for present and former NCSYers to call for counseling on religious or psychological issues.

The investigative commission is headed by Richard Joel, international director of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and includes professor of psychiatry Rabbi Abraham Twerski, several lawyers, business people and philanthro-pists, and the former consumer affairs commissioner of New York City. "The Commission will explore past actions of Orthodox Union employees and lay leaders to determine what remedial action should be taken and will formulate new guidelines for our personnel to ensure that these circumstances will never be repeated," Ganchrow said.


Statement of New Jersey Orthodox Synagogues Youth Chairs and Concerned Parents
July 18, 2000

We, chairpersons of youth committees of New Jersey Orthodox synagogues and concerned parents, have assembled at Congregation Israel in Springfield, New Jersey, on Tuesday July 18, 2000. Our purpose is to recommend a course of action following reports of abuse and other improprieties by Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Lanner, a former Regional Director of the Etz Chaim New Jersey region of the National Council of Synagogue Youth and thereafter an administrator of National NCSY, has been reported to have victimized a large but unknown number of children from our communities over the span of more than twenty years.

While the reports of the incidents themselves are horrifying to any parent, what is even more frightening to us is that apparently the Orthodox Union and NCSY exposed our children to Lanner despite their prior knowledge of Lanner's behavior. Specifically, despite reports of his misbehavior, Lanner was allowed to remain as Regional Director in New Jersey until 1988. Even after the finding of a Beit Din that he should not be exposed to children, the OU and NCSY continued to invite him to events and allow him to run its programs at both Regional and National levels.

We all appreciate the work done by NCSY in our communities and for our children. But based on the OU's and NCSY's lack of action during the last twenty-plus years it is also evident to us that the administration and system failed to adequately safeguard children placed in NCSY's care and failed to provide an appropriate forum in which complaints regarding abuse can be aired and addressed. It is our obligation to protect the safety and welfare of our children. In order for this to happen within the context of NCSY, we feel that at a minimum the steps outlined below should be implemented as soon as possible:

1. Standards must be put in place and published governing:

a. Permitted and restricted interactions between staff and NCSYers, including adequate, mandatory annual staff training therein

b. Required staff and lay adult supervision of NCSY programs

c. Encouragement of child development in the context of respect for parents, and prohibiting NCSY staff actions when they promote disrespect

2. Procedures must be established and published to handle:

a. NCSYer complaints against staff

b. Discipline of offending NCSYers and staff


3. Parental oversight of NCSY is needed on issues regarding child safety. A parental review board should be established to govern the handling of NCSYer complaints and disciplining of offenders. Its members should be appointed by and responsible to the chairpersons of the local synagogue youth committees.

4. The Special Commission appointed by the OU must provide the community and youth leaders with a full accounting – including the assignment of direct responsibility and effectuation of appropriate punishment for those who knowingly failed to take action or use reasonable care to prevent harm from coming to the children hurt in the Lanner affair. The OU and NCSY must then take the appropriate actions recommended by the Commission. The lay leadership and youth chairpersons will convene to review the Commission findings and decide on further action.

We believe that our children's safety will be improved if these steps are taken, and we therefore expect no less from NCSY or from any organization entrusted with the safety of our children.

Rabbis accused of coverup in sex case
Bergen Record - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

After interviewing a half-dozen teenage boys in 1989 who said they had been physically abused by a local rabbi, weekly newspaper editor Susan Rosenbluth said she contacted members of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, expecting that the Orthodox organization would intervene.

But instead of showing concern about the alleged misdeeds of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, Rosenbluth claimed, three of the council members tried to protect him.

"One called me and said, 'If this gets into print, we will see to it that no stores under the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County can advertise in your newspaper,' " Rosenbluth charged in an interview.

"It was made clear to me by the rabbis who spoke to me that this was an RCBC decision," she said, declining to name the rabbis. "I said, 'You're kidding me. Is this real?' "

A spokesman for the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County vehemently rejected Rosenbluth's charges Tuesday. "We categorically deny that the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County made such threats to Ms. Rosenbluth. We simply do not operate in this fashion," said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a council member and rabbi of the Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood.

Over the last month, some of Lanner's former students have accused leaders of the 1,000-synagogue Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox organization in the nation, of ignoring allegations that he had fondled and kissed a number of teenage girls and had kneed boys in the groin in the 1970s and 1980s. The Orthodox Union, where Lanner was an officer of its educational youth arm, has empaneled a tribunal to investigate the charges.

Rosenbluth's claims, however, represent the first accusations that local religious leaders engaged in an active cover-up.

Goldin declined to comment Tuesday on whether council members had spoken directly with Rosenbluth about Lanner. Rosenbluth ultimately did not publish any article about the accusations against Lanner in 1989.

"There were discussions at the time with various people concerning one specific allegation, and the matter was referred in responsible fashion to the Bet Din," Goldin said, referring to a Yeshiva University investigative tribunal that heard a dispute involving Lanner in 1989.

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders from throughout the state met behind closed doors in Springfield on Tuesday night to express their concern.

More than 10 people have accused Lanner in published reports of inappropriate behavior, including alleged incidents of fondling, making sexual remarks to teenage girls, and kneeing some boys. Most of the allegations involve Lanner's tenure as an officer of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, a respected Orthodox Union educational group.

In addition, prosecutors in Monmouth County are investigating a new complaint that Lanner behaved inappropriately with a female student when he was principal at the Hillel School in Ocean Township. Prosecutors in Bergen County have said they will review the allegations against Lanner with an eye toward a possible criminal investigation. Lanner also taught at The Frisch School in Paramus, and one former student there has told The Record that the rabbi improperly rubbed up against her on several occasions.

Lanner, who is currently living in Fair Lawn but is not working as a rabbi, has denied mistreating the teenagers, although he said he may have made inappropriate jokes when he was much younger.

"I've made plenty of errors and poor judgment in my early years, when I was in my 20s," Lanner, who is now 50, said in an interview last week. "In my younger years, I must have permitted some errors of judgment, and I must have somehow hurt people. But I never hurt anybody intentionally. And I did not fondle anyone, even before I was a rabbi."

Rosenbluth began writing and publishing The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a small weekly newspaper, in 1986 in the Englewood home she shares with her husband, Richard, who is the chief of oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center. She called herself a watchdog who occasionally clashed on issues with some members of the Bergen County Rabbinical Council.

But in 1989, she said, the issue went beyond ideological differences.

"Kids were being hurt," said Rosenbluth, 53. "There was inappropriate stuff going on, and it should have been stopped by the rabbis in charge."

"It was clear that they were not going to allow this story to come out. I think they shortchanged their congregations, and I think they shortchanged our children."

In addition to offering educational programs, the Rabbinical Council -- on which all of the county's Orthodox pulpit rabbis sit -- is responsible for certifying products in Bergen County as kosher.

Because Rosenbluth's 15,000-circulation newspaper receives roughly 90 percent of its operating revenue from advertising by Bergen County firms selling kosher products, Rosenbluth said she took the alleged threat seriously.

Rosenbluth said she believed the council could have killed her paper by cutting off its principal source of revenue. So she opted not to write the article she was preparing, which she said had been based on interviews with six teenage boys who told her they had been kneed in the groin.

She said she feels guilty about that.

"If there have been children hurt in the past 11 years, you can bring them to my doorstep, because I didn't print what I should have," Rosenbluth said.

Rosenbluth said she was also threatened with a loss of business by two high-ranking officers of the Orthodox Union. She declined to identify the two rabbis.

Mandell I. Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union, declined Tuesday to comment on Rosenbluth's accusations.

"All matters and allegations that are being brought to our attention will be referred to the NCSY special commission for full review," he said. "I urge all those who have information that has bearing on these issues to contact the commission as soon as possible."

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, a New York-based international association of 850 synagogues in North America, has written that a society that silently tolerated Lanner's alleged misconduct is responsible for the current crisis. His comments were published in The New York Jewish Week, which first reported the allegations last month.

But if religious leaders actually engaged in a cover-up, as Rosenbluth claims, it would be "unconscionable," he said in an interview.

"Society cannot permit this type of behavior to go unchecked. And that doesn't mean every allegation is true. But it certainly deserves careful checking," he said.

Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, an Orthodox rabbi from Edison and a former officer of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, said he has recently received more than 30 calls from young people with some type of complaint against Lanner.

Rosenberg said he is concerned that there may have been a concerted effort by religious leaders to paper over the Lanner problem.

"It seems as if there was knowledge of his actions -- and that's what I'm concerned [about] -- he should have been stopped and should not have worked with teenagers."

Goldin, who served on the Rabbinical Council in 1989, insisted the Lanner issue was of great concern to the Orthodox community.

"It goes without saying that we are deeply saddened and pained by the whole series of events surrounding the allegations raised against Rabbi Lanner," Goldin said. "In retrospect, it seems clear that national and local Jewish leadership must learn to be more vigilant and responsive. We can all certainly learn from our mistakes."

Lessons from Lanner
Gary Rosenblatt - Staff Writer
The Jewish Week - July 20, 2000

Rabbi Baruch Lanner
The response to the recent news reports I've written, with a sense of sadness, about Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) and the Orthodox Union (OU) has been overwhelming — hundreds of letters, e-mails and phone calls from all over the United States and from Israel. In light of the unprecedented interest in this issue, I'll offer a bit of background and a few observations.

The story came about when several individuals who described themselves as former victims of Rabbi Lanner approached me months ago. They told me their stories, encouraged me to talk to others, and asserted that if NCSY did not take decisive action, the entire matter should be brought to public attention. Their goal was to ensure maximum pressure be brought to bear in the hopes of removing Rabbi Lanner from working with young people.

Since publication, the letters and calls have been almost evenly divided between those who expressed complete shock at the allegations that Rabbi Lanner abused teens over the last three decades and those who said, in effect, what else is new?

More than 90 percent of the mail and calls has been extremely supportive of The Jewish Week's role in exposing this situation. In recent days, communal anger has shifted from Rabbi Lanner, who immediately was forced to resign, to NCSY and the OU for allowing the situation to go on for so long. Most of the critical responses have been anonymous. None have refuted the charges, but focus on the alleged violation of lashon hara, the Jewish law prohibiting spreading embarrassing information.

At least two Orthodox rabbis in New Jersey's Bergen County delivered sermons on this theme, castigating Jewish newspapers for violating lashon hara, though both rabbis announced from the pulpit they had not read the article in question.

Prior to publication, I consulted a prominent Orthodox rabbi, having heard him give a cogent analysis of the issue — lashon hara and the parameters of Jewish journalism — several years ago at a program sponsored by the Institute for Public Affairs, a branch of the Orthodox Union. After outlining my dilemma to him, withholding the names of the individuals and organizations involved, I marveled at how quickly he honed in on the crux of the matter.

He said in the end mine was a judgment call. If there was anything I could do to resolve the existing danger to the community and not publish the story, I should do so. On the other hand, he continued, if I believed that unless the story was published, the danger would continue, I was not only permitted but obligated to publish.

That is the conclusion I reached, and subsequent events have only deepened my conviction.

Jewish amnesia, on an institutional level, appears to be rampant these days, with lay and professional leaders passing the buck about responsibility for what transpired. Some of the excuses and dissembling I've heard from Jewish leaders reminds me of a Jackie Mason routine: "I didn't know about it. I mean, I knew about it, but I didn't believe it. And if it happened, it didn't happen recently. And even if it happened recently, I never actually saw it," etc.

A number of people have called or written to confirm the events and behavior described in the article, particularly former NCSYers and high school students where Rabbi Lanner was principal. Several people have said the article changed their lives, including women who said they were victims who had never told their families and who never knew there were others.

Perhaps most disturbing has been the number of people urging me to investigate specific rabbis and Jewish educators in the Orthodox community, naming names and offering me details. One is said to be a pedophile with a history of arrests who is a principal in a Brooklyn yeshiva; another pedophile reportedly now works with Jewish youth in Florida; a womanizing rabbi has changed his name and moved to Israel, I was told; and a local rabbi is said to have an unhealthy interest in teenage boys.

The professional dilemma this poses for me, and this newspaper, which already has a reputation — I believe undeserved — for Orthodox bashing, is whether we are now to become the central communal clearinghouse for dealing with and outing Orthodox Jewish officials with various sexual deviancies. I don't think that's our role.

But someone or some institution of authority should be looking into these and other serious charges that have surfaced in the last several weeks. Clearly there are problems out there, and our community, and particularly the Orthodox community, with its deep concern about shandas, needs to do a far better job of policing itself.

Unfortunately, in this case going to one's rabbi was not enough, nor was the bet din system, both of which are prone to an old-boy network where rabbis tend to cover for colleagues. We need a kind of bill of rights for the protection of our young people. A new monitoring system is required, and based on suggestions from several readers, perhaps the Board of Jewish Education and/or the various boards of rabbis should create and maintain a personnel data bank, including confidential lists of problematic potential employees. This information could be shared with schools, camps and youth groups in screening applicants. In addition, personnel codes should be drawn up describing acceptable and unacceptable behavior for interacting with young people. Anyone found to transgress the rules should be dismissed, and his or her name kept on the database.

All too few youth workers today, from camp counselors to organizational advisers, are professionally trained in any meaningful way for their important work. Many of our finest summer camps and youth organizations have only the briefest of preparations for staff in these sensitive areas of interpersonal relationships.

This is not to say that they don't do good, important, and even wonderful work, but the potential for serious problems in the future must be averted now.

The OU, with its long and proud list of accomplishments, from kosher food certification to Torah education to inspirational youth work through NCSY, should not be forever tainted by this episode. The charges of a long-term cover-up by top leadership, lay and professional, are serious, and must be addressed. But an investigation is already under way and hopefully it will be thorough and objective, recognizing the critical imperative of restoring confidence in the OU.

In the meantime, it is clear the instinct to ignore, dismiss or cover up potentially embarrassing problems in our community must be sublimated to the need to address and confront them. They won't go away on their own, and by pretending they don't exist, we only erode our values and endanger our children.

LETTERS - On Rabbi Lanner And The OU
The Jewish Week - July 21, 2000

We commend Gary Rosenblatt for his research and the time he took to hear our stories and publish them in his article "Stolen Innocence" (June 23) about Baruch Lanner.

It is unfortunate that these incidents and so many others have been circulating for years and that the Orthodox Union and administration of NCSY chose to ignore them for so long. Rather than conduct their own investigation of the "allegations," they denied the pain and anguish of numerous victims and protected the perpetrator.

Far from "chasing shadows," the upper echelons of the organization were aware of Lanner's misdemeanors. They dismissed them, denied them or defended him on so many occasions that victims soon realized that there was little point in bringing individual cases to their attention.

Although Lanner himself has resigned, it is also the responsibility of the Orthodox Union to reconsider the leadership of national NCSY who protected him and failed to protect innocent teenagers. NCSY is an organization that has helped thousands of Jewish youngsters to experience Judaism in a meaningful way. To continue its important work as a religious organization, OU cannot defend the malfeasance of its leadership but should strive to be free of all suspicion. The onus is now on Lanner's defenders to explain themselves.

Erica (Schoonmaker) Brown and Marcie Lenk

Three emotions dominate after reading your groundbreaking special report, "Stolen Innocence."

Guilt. Like most of Teaneck, we were aware of Rabbi Lanner's reputation. As a veteran clinician, I should have discussed it with the principal at Frisch, and my husband and I considered it. But in the end, we just made sure our children would have no contact with him, and did nothing more.

Sadness. I can feel for the many young people victimized by Rabbi Lanner, so many of whom came forward through your investigative work. Again as a clinician, I am saddened by the others too fearful or ashamed to speak out. My hope is that more will speak out now that it's a matter of public record.

Outrage. Our greatest ire is directed at the organized Jewish establishment, the rabbis and institutions that knew the facts (or at least some of them) and chose to cover them up. They even broke a promise that Rabbi Lanner would no longer be handling Shabbatonim. Even at this late date, some appear to be continuing to minimize or make excuses for the abuse. Can it be that Rabbi Lanner's mind control extended beyond his students to his superiors?

Shirley Feldstein - Teaneck, N.J.

Your article on Rabbi Lanner is horrific. There is nothing positive that can or will result from what you have done.

You stated, "Some point out that according to Jewish law, one is not only permitted but obligated to publicize what would otherwise be considered lashon hara, or malicious gossip, for the protection of those who would be in danger. And they believe that Rabbi Lanner working with young people poses such a danger."

Apparently you were not overly concerned about lashon hara, or protecting anyone for that matter. Did you consider the ramifications that can now, God forbid, result? Did you stop and think for a second of what you are doing to the Lanner children?

Do you know how many teenagers you are damaging? In addition, you are giving the families of teens from nonobservant homes the opportunity to completely remove their children from anything that has to do with Torah. Do you realize how many decades and future generations you are affecting?

No matter what the truth may be, this was certainly not the way to handle it. I pray that Hashem will have mercy on us.

M. Horowitz

Gary Rosenblatt is a hero: It took real courage and integrity to write and publish "Stolen Innocence." We are appalled and upset that Rabbi Lanner has continued to work with young people for so many years and that the Orthodox Union did nothing about it. Our hearts go out to the women and men who endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse and were brave enough to go on the record with their stories. Several of these women were our children's teachers in Israel. They taught with distinction, warmth and excellence.

Not only has Rabbi Lanner stolen the innocence of those people but he has stolen the innocence of all of us who have been in NCSY; have had our children in NCSY; and have been strong supporters of NCSY and the OU. In fact, he has stolen the innocence of everyone who has put their trust in Jewish organizations to do good.

Even graver is the role of the Orthodox Union and the rabbis who heard the stories of these women and chose to dismiss them. How is it that reputable rabbis to this day can say they feel for the suffering of Rabbi Lanner but have nothing to say about the incalculable harm that he caused these young people? How is it that an organization that prides itself on Torah Judaism can turn a blind eye to the suffering of its own children?

This goes beyond the abuse by one rabbi. This story causes the whole union to be suspect. It opens doors to question the sometimes less than forthright approaches of many NCSY leaders to kiruv and the attitude that the end justifies the means. It is so hard to look the painful truth in the eye. Sometimes it is the only way to be redeemed.

Lynnie and David Mirvis - Memphis, Tenn.

It is painfully apparent from your childlike article that this is part of a personal vendetta against Rabbi Lanner, the Orthodox Union and NCSY. It is deplorable to think that a Jew would slander wonderful organizations that have done more for Jewry than your paper ever will. How can you write such an article, one that obviously was written in such haste? It is an embarrassment to publishers and journalists alike.

As chairman and member of the board of many companies that advertise in your paper, I will only say this once: If the article on your Web site is not removed, you will lose at least 15 ads per week, forever. Not only that, I will rally all the advertisers to discontinue advertising in your trashy tabloid. I will personally subsidize their ads in other publications.

A man must suffer for his actions, but you are also not guilt-free. How can you cause young, innocent children to lose their ability to learn about their heritage because of your innate hatred for Jews and Judaism? You are now guilty of a worse crime than Rabbi Lanner, as you will be denying many thousands of youth from the heritage they so crave. All because of your ego and lack of sensitivity.

Robert A. Safra

I commend you for having the courage to write the article about Baruch Lanner. As an educator for the past 42 years, in work that included sleepaway camp, public school and Talmud Torah, and presently as the general studies principal of a day school, I am well aware of the profound influence adults have on the lives of impressionable young children and teenagers.

What upsets me the most about the article is the lack of response by those in charge at the OU and within NCSY itself. Why is it that we often want to look the other way or sweep the issue under the carpet? The problem will still remain unless rectified.

Dr. Mel Isaacs - Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, Plainview Campus

OU, Rabbi Lanner And Trust

Gary Rosenblatt's careful and explicit expose of Rabbi Baruch Lanner ("Stolen Innocence," June 23) makes us realize that it is crucial not to dismiss this case as an aberration. This behavior was only possible because of a community colluding in the cover-up of the repeated acts. We believe this behavior is an exaggerated version of ordinary, everyday patterns of domination.

Rabbi Lanner clearly exhibits grandiose-paranoid behavior, but more than that, what of the behavior of those who received the information from terrified teenagers and dismissed it as hysteria? Indirectly, a community of evil was created.

Rabbi Lanner is described in the article as having a "classic severe character disorder." What are the diagnoses of those who suppress incriminating information, who look away from the bruises and say, "He hasn't raped anyone"?

This is journalism at its most ethical and probing. Will the community take responsibility?

Barbara S. Kane, Psychoanalyst; Profs. E.M. Broner and Robert Broner - New York, N.Y

I was most impressed with your courageous article about Rabbi Lanner. I am sure his victims are pleased that you have finally given them a voice and the credibility that as a group they evidently deserve. I hope our future leaders take heed by the messages in this article — protecting our children comes first in the eyes of our community, not protecting reputations by hiding allegations. The candor of the article made me all the more grateful that we live in a country where freedom of the press, and eventually truth, prevails.

Michele Reisner - Plainview, N.Y.

It's unimaginable that rabbis would permit an emotionally unpredictable, unstable Ish HaTorah (man of Torah) to remain in a leadership role for even a day, let alone years and years. As a mother of two daughters and a son, I ask, Where were the parents? Where were the teachers? Where were the rabbis?

Keep up your investigative reporting for the sake of klal Yisrael.

Ruth Riemer - School Psychologist, New York, N.Y.

Observant Jews and Jewish leaders too often hide behind the concept of lashon hara, instead of considering the effects on the victims or the potential harm to future victims or the community. I wonder how Rabbi Butler or Rabbi Stolper would react if it was their daughter that Rabbi Lanner fondled, or their son who he kicked in the groin.

I admire your courage in publishing this article and the thoroughness of your investigation. I would be surprised if additional corroboration in the form of other testimonies does not surface in the near future now that you have brought this situation to the entire community's attention. In speaking to my friends, we all are outraged not only at Rabbi Lanner, but also at those whose silence in effect condoned his conduct and allowed him to continue to harm other teenagers long after they became aware of his problem conduct. They, too, have a lot to answer for.

Kalman Feinberg - Teaneck, N.J.

I am writing to express dismay, shock and outrage in regard to the Rabbi Lanner expose. At what point did The Jewish Week assume the role of criminal investigator, district attorney, judge and jury? Why and how is it appropriate to report unsupported allegations that serve not only to damage irreparably the reputation of a devoted servant to the Jewish cause but at the same time cause unnecessary public embarrassment to the family members of the accused. They of course no longer have the opportunity to respond because the general public has predetermined the guilt of the target of the smear campaign carried out by The Jewish Week.

The allegations could certainly have justified a report by the alleged victims to one or more law enforcement agencies. The issue is not why was the alleged lengthy course of conduct either overlooked or not acted upon by the parent organization but rather, if the victims' complaints did not receive appropriate action, why were the alleged crimes not reported to the civil authorities? Does The Jewish Week feel that public ostracism, slander and communal disgrace is a more appropriate type of unilateral sentencing? If so, the mission has certainly been accomplished.

I fear for the future of our community if our rabbinic leaders do not condemn The Jewish Week and its editor for this type of unbridled slander, which at its core exceeds in gravity the very worst allegation ascribed to the target of the extraordinarily lengthy diatribe.

Justin Wright - White Plains, N.Y.

I was thrilled to see the Lanner issue exposed. I graduated from Hillel High School in 1997, and after seeing his atrocious actions consistently and willfully ignored, I had lost hope in Modern Orthodoxy and then in any contemporary understanding of justice. Your article restores some of my faith. I as well as many of my classmates and friends are greatly indebted to you.

Joanna Slusky

Several aspects of the Lanner case are shocking:

That this could happen inside of Modern Orthodoxy, a community sufficiently infused with Torah values of sexual restraint and modesty, a community not so insular as to be uninformed that sexual abuse leaves long-lasting scars and that sexual harassment is a crime;

That respected rabbis and leaders — and so many of them — were involved in a cover-up;

That as the story has broken there are still some who ask whether Gary Rosenblatt should have exposed the OU, and the victims should have spoken so candidly, as if the messenger is to blame and the victims at fault;

And perhaps most of all, that there was simply no compassion for the girls and boys, young men and women, who suffered at Rabbi Lanner's hands.

This time for breast beating is long since past. This is what should be done:

Those involved in the cover-up should resign from any position in which they make decisions about the lives of young men and women, and should recuse themselves from any work that directly involves Jewish youth.

An explicit list of rules and regulations regarding these matters should be circulated among the charismatic leaders and others who work closely with Jewish youth.

Women should be added to the process over oversight, in the upper echelons of the OU, the NCSY and the batei din. Regrettably, rabbis of the batei din in America will not permit toanot, female advisers, to serve as they are so permitted in Israel, but at the very least there should be a female ombudsman sitting on the bet din.

We should collectively affirm the courage of Gary Rosenblatt, who will come under increasing censure, as whistle blowers inevitably do. He chose justice — the highest Torah ethic — over protective cover-up.

We should express our collective gratitude to the men and women who spoke out. It was an act of bravery on their part, and they did this for all of our children.

Blu Greenberg, President - Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance - New York, N.Y.

The Lanner Episode

Your story about Rabbi Lanner's alleged misdeeds in working with children ("Stolen Innocence," June 23) important and courageous. It is also discouraging. How many times will this story have to be told before those in positions of authority in Jewish institutions start to take responsibility for stopping religious leaders who violate ethical and legal boundaries and who hurt their followers?

In our reporting in Lilith magazine on decades of alleged sexual misconduct by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the same pattern emerged as in the Lanner case: widespread rumors, accusations and a complete refusal on the part of communities around the world to protect youth and women against a charismatic leader. In the deluge of requests pleading with us not to print the story two years ago, callers reminded us of all the good Rabbi Carlebach did, as if somehow his stature would lessen the pain he was accused of causing. On the contrary, his greatness may have worsened the pain. Their power and charisma make it that much more difficult — and that much more important — to bring such allegations to light.

In all the worry about "malicious gossip" and the hand-wringing about not making trouble for the rabbi, defensive members of these religious communities are missing the real point: If the allegations against Rabbi Lanner are proven true, he is not only in violation of ethics, he is in violation of the law.

Susan Weidman Schneider, Editor in Chief

Sarah Blustain, Associate Editor

Lilith Magazine - New York, N.Y.

I went to high school in New Jersey, and while I was there, I was in NCSY, Etz Chaim region. I got to know Rabbi Lanner, not very well, but I observed a lot at Shabbatonim. Rabbi Lanner is a highly charismatic man, with a very forceful nature. He does have a wicked sense of humor, and it has endeared him to a lot of the kids. That doesn't make him abusive.

A joke that's taken too far is not the same as assault. There seem to be certain personalities that are simply easier to misrepresent. Rabbi Lanner is a funny and inspirational speaker. He can be crude — but not nearly as crude as the NCSYers themselves. He's someone the kids can relate to, and feel comfortable talking to.

As I read your article, all I could think of was that someone who has never met Rabbi Lanner would have a horrid perception of him. The man you described in your article is not the man I heard divrei Torah from on Shabbatonim, the man who could keep us in stitches for hours.

If you've ever seen guys talk to each other and rough each other up casually, you'd have an idea of how Rabbi Lanner interacts with kids. I can't picture what he and his family are going through right now. How can a Jewish newspaper publish an article like this and destroy a man's reputation? I know how many kids he's helped. Will we all lose out on Rabbi Lanner and what he has to give? Is it fair that we should?

Daniela Weiss

Gary Rosenblatt's stories on Rabbi Baruch Lanner bring to readers' attention a problem that needed to be aired. I am confident that these stories will make a difference far beyond the individuals and institutions directly involved. They will alert many in the American Jewish community that we must pay careful attention to how we are raising our children religiously and communally, and that we must question and speak out when we believe our teachers and other leaders are not serving us well.

Florence Eckstein, Editor and Publisher - Jewish News of Greater Phoenix - Phoenix, Ariz.

The Lanner Case

As a 32-year-old former New Jersey NCSY-er and Frisch School student, I want to thank Gary Rosenblatt and everyone at the paper for having the courage to report this story and the integrity to research it as well as it so obviously has been.

In the wake of the article, I've been talking to friends from that era in my life and comparing notes. While our experiences with Baruch Lanner fall along a spectrum of his inappropriate behavior — and I feel very lucky to have experienced only the mildest version — it is outrageous that the OU has been willing to sacrifice the lives and futures of its young people for the sake of protecting one of its brethren.

I've read most of the coverage on-line in your paper, and in the Jerusalem Post, and was struck by a comment from a woman interviewed for one of the Post articles. "For everyone he made frum [religiously observant]," she said, "he may have driven away another two people." Having had several conversations about this, I can confirm at least two instances of people turning away from Orthodoxy in large part because of such behavior.

I am hopeful that this whole experience will lead to positive changes in the institutions that serve young Jews, and an increased awareness within the community of the costs of ignoring and covering up this kind of behavior. I also hope that those who are critical of the decision to publicize this will acknowledge that they are essentially saying that it is better to let the abuse of children continue rather than risk embarrassment for the perpetrators and those who failed to stop it.

Diane Purvin

I strongly disagree with Rabbi Basil Herring's criticism of Gary Rosenblatt, suggesting Rosenblatt did needless harm to the Orthodox Union ("OU Names 8 to Probe Lanner Case" July 7).

The rabbi suggested in his sermon that The Jewish Week should have shown the OU its findings and insisted it "clean house." I believe the public expose was important and necessary. The expose not only achieved a desired outcome of threatening the responsible authorities who ignored the many pleas for help, it also was essential in reaching others who may have been hurt by Baruch Lanner or other educators. Without the knowledge of consequences and an acknowledgement of these complaints, other victims of such abuse may never feel comfortable discussing their pain.

In addition to reaching possible victims of such abuse, your article may also influence other educators to think twice before ignoring someone's call for help in the future, and to consider who they are really working for.

Barbara Sopher - Riverdale, N.Y.

All people of good will within the Jewish community will surely support the highly respected men and women of the commission set up by the OU to investigate the scandal and tragedy of the Lanner affair and NCSY, as they undertake their very difficult task.

At the same time, it is disappointing that representatives of three critical constituencies that should be part of the investigative, evaluative and recommendation phase are absent from the eight-member body: formal Jewish educators, pulpit rabbis, and young and future community leaders.

They would add another important dimension to the investigation, the deliberations and the perspectives that need to be brought to bear to deal with systemic change in an organization that is, has been and will, with God's help, continue to be so important for the dissemination of Torah and well being of the Jewish people throughout the world.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot - New York, N.Y.

As a 20-year-old girl who grew up in the New York area, I have never met Rabbi Baruch Lanner, nor was I ever involved in NCSY, but the problem extends beyond these instances. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of adolescents is something that deserves punishment. Simply having Rabbi Lanner resign from his position and hoping (though certainly not ensuring) that he'll stay away from children, is not enough.

The title "rabbi" connotes and demands many things — knowledge, leadership, respect, support of community. Those who do not live up to the standards and expectations of a rabbi should not bear that title. In Orthodoxy, a man who transgresses halacha as well as moral law does not deserve the respect associated with being a rabbi and should have his smicha (ordination) revoked.

If a lawyer can be disbarred and a doctor can have his license revoked, surely there is something the Jewish community can do.

Amanda Sussman - New York, N.Y.

Gary Rosenblatt writes that it's not the role of The Jewish Week to be the "central communal clearinghouse for dealing with and outing Orthodox Jewish officials with various sexual deviancies" ("Lessons From The Lanner Case," July 7), but I have no confidence in his solutions: bill of rights, monitoring system, database, personnel codes, training. No way, no how, will any Jewish organization share this type of confidential information with strangers (and I don't blame them), and the perpetrators don't need codes and training to tell them they are doing wrong.

The job can be done only by the organization itself. Administrators on every level must observe and listen, and put the welfare of their charges ahead of the reputation of their organization. But the natural instincts of Jewish schools, camps, synagogues, etc., are not to conduct serious investigations but to judge l'kaf zchus (benefit of the doubt) for as long as possible. After all, in many cases it is their friend or neighbor who has been accused.

If the evidence does indeed become overwhelming, they try to cover up the problem by giving the accused numerous warnings or dismissing him without prejudice. That in effect keeps the problem where it is or transfers it to another organization. After all, there are funds, livelihoods and reputations at stake; forget about the kids.

So how are we going to get the organizations to whom we entrust our children to behave responsibly? As much as I respect Mr. Rosenblatt, I disagree with him about the role of The Jewish Week or any other Jewish newspaper. Just as the general press reports on secular corruption in City Hall and the Board of Education, the Jewish newspaper must report on Jewish corruption wherever it might be found — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular, wherever.

Failing to act because of fear that you may be labeled anti-Orthodox is a capitulation unbecoming of the great newspaper you have become. If the Orthodox are indeed overly represented, so be it. That's also news, and not acknowledging it won't make the problem go away. On the contrary, exposing them publicly yet sensitively, and backing up the allegations with the same type of evidence you had in the Lanner article, is the only way this scourge can be eliminated.

Stanley Kaplan - Brooklyn, N.Y.

Maybe you should change the name of your newspaper to The Anti-Orthodox Jewish Week. It seems you take every opportunity to bash them. Maybe, God forbid, you can find some good that they do. And by the way, what's the intermarriage rate among the Reform lately?

Jack Cohen - Brooklyn, N.Y.

Last Shabbat was the longest of the year for me, not because of when it ended, but in how it started: reading your expose on Rabbi Baruch Lanner.

As a former New Jersey NCSYer, I attended countless Shabbatons with Rabbi Lanner, went to Israel with this group and listened to quite a few of his speeches on Torah values. Today, I am both saddened and shocked by his outrageous behavior. However, my true anger is toward those in the Orthodox Union who knew what was going on but had the unmitigated temerity to look the other way, year after year.

These rabbis who purport to be religious leaders ought to maintain the same standard for moral conduct that they do for food. I find their responsiveness to the situation totally treif and hardly worthy of an OU stamp. Unfortunately we are reminded, once again, that you can't judge a religion by the people who practice it.

Jeffrey Korbman - Highland Park, N.J.

I commend you on having the courage to publish the expose on Rabbi Baruch Lanner. While neither I nor my children ever had any personal involvement with him, we heard reports for many years of incidents involving him. As reprehensible as his personal behavior appears to have been, the members of the Orthodox establishment who swept such incidents under the rug for years are, in my opinion, equally as culpable.

Their "sha still" attitude, even assuming it was motivated by a good-faith desire to help Rabbi Lanner, wound up causing incalculable, lasting pain to numerous young people. Hopefully, the lesson that will have been learned from this saga is that we, like every other ethnic group, have members who engage in antisocial behavior. Our rabbis and lay leaders must be especially vigilant in actively identifying, and permanently removing, its sources.

Aaron Shmulewitz

Gary Rosenblatt deserves much credit and the support of the entire Jewish community. As a parent of two children who have participated in NCSY events, the lack of oversight and decisive action is very disturbing.

I am not surprised that The Jewish Week and the victims are again being made to feel responsible for this outrage while your critics urge tolerance and patience for the OU.

This issue may never have seen the light of day without your paper. The relief it has given the victims is immeasurable but, more important, it has prevented many more of our children from being victimized.

Michael Harris

Bravo to The Jewish Week for exposing Rabbi Lanner's abuse of young people. Shame on the NCSY leaders and Orthodox rabbis who looked the other way, had their heads in the sand and refused to deal with a horrendous situation.

It appears that ethical behavior, concern for and value of the health of young people, and derech eretz are not as important to some as ritual observance. It is time for the self-righteous among us to look into themselves and clean house.

Marion and Paul Silberman - Somers, N.Y.

I feel it is my responsibility as a Jew, and as a young man who has had the privilege of meeting with and learning from Rabbi Baruch Lanner, to relate to you what a special person you have defamed in your publication. I believe with all my heart that you have no idea what a chacham (learned man) you have defamed.

I first met this charismatic man at the Kotel, along with all the participants on an NCSY trip he led two years ago. Rabbi Lanner knew how to reach every individual on his level, and would make us all feel as if we belonged to a very special family — his family. It is because of his care and understanding that many of the participants were elevated in Torah and spirituality in Israel. It is this kind of leadership and guidance that klal Yisrael needs.

What angers me, and I know I am not alone, is that Rabbi Lanner is a man who brought thousands of lost Jewish souls back to Judaism and Yiddishkeit. His method is not traditional, and that's what makes him so unique and special to all who really know him. It is a sad fact but a truism that newspapers won't emphasize the good because it doesn't sell. I thought that The Jewish Week was above the average newspaper, but after reading your article, I became very disappointed and horrified at how you dragged Rabbi Lanner through the mud.

We cannot defame those who keep the light of Judaism burning brightly. People make mistakes; even the great King David sinned the unthinkable. Rabbi Lanner made it his life to educate and teach the values of Torah to children all over the world. I hope that you further consider your actions no matter how justified you think you are. Destroying a person as you have is not merely distasteful but against Torah teachings.

Abe Kopolovich - Student, Long Island University


Message from Rabbi David Kaminetsky - National Director of NCSY
National Conference of Synagogue Youth
Orthodox Union - July 31, 2000

As I am sure you all know, NCSY is going through a period of soul searching at this time. The circumstances and the publicity surrounding the resignation of Rabbi Baruch Lanner from his position of Director of Regions have been the topic of conversations on everybody's tongue, in newspapers and on Internet chat rooms, etc. While I will not go into any of the details of this matter, I do want to address the issue.

In Sefer VaYikra, Chapter 22 Verse 32, Hashem tells us, "Thou shall not profane My Holy Name and I shall become Holy among the children of Israel; I am your G-d Who sanctifies you." What is clear from this verse is that when the name of G-d is profaned publicly, the antidote is to sanctify His name publicly. No matter what one's thoughts are on the situation surrounding the resignation of Rabbi Lanner, we can all agree that there has been a public desecration of the name of G-d. I would like to share with you some thoughts that I presented to the participants of the NCSY Summer Kollel in Efrat on the first Friday night of the program. Hopefully this will inspire all of us to engage in activities that will result in the public sanctification of the name of G-d.

The Torah uses the word "VeNikdashti," I will become Holy. The implication of this form of the word is that the name of G-d will become sanctified almost automatically if we act in a manner that brings glory to His name. We must act in a way that will result in a public sanctification of His name. One of the ways to do this is for individual people to create spirituality and holiness in their lives. I recently came across three ideas in the writings of Rav Eliyahu Dessler in his sefer Michtav M'Eliyahu as to how one can create spirituality in one's life.

The first way, writes Rav Dessler, is to engage in "Emet – Truth":  to conduct one's life and to act on the highest level of integrity at all times; to train oneself to be truthful in one's actions and to set a standard of always acting in a truthful manner and to refuse to accept anything which is false. This, says Rav Dessler was one of the attributes of Avraham Avinu. By pursuing the path of truthfulness, one will create spirituality.

The second way is to train oneself to avoid that which is forbidden. The commentary given by Rashi on the words, "Kedoshim Tiheyu" is "to separate oneself from that which is forbidden." This is something which is perhaps easier said than done, but which is very important and will clearly result in greater spirituality.

The final point made by Rav Dessler is to engage in the performance of mizvot and the study of Torah with excitement and deep emotion. Here is a translation of a section of Rav Dessler's words: "Even matters which are in reality holy will penetrate a person's heart only if he engages in them with excitement and deep emotion. Therefore, we must always strive to sense the newness of such experiences, since only when a person happens suddenly upon something new does he truly react with such excitement and feeling."

The implications for our daily lives are quite clear.  There is nothing that stands in the way of Emet.  If one is truthful and honest in everything that one does, this leads to success. The three Hebrew letters for the word "Emet"are Aleph, Mem and Taf.  If you look at the way these letters are written in the Torah you will see that each of the letters rest on two legs. Each stands strong and firm. The letters of "Sheker – Falsehood" on the other hand, the Shin, Kuf and Reish all rest on one leg and are thus not on very solid footing. If you follow "Emet" you are always on solid footing and you can be secure in everything you do. If you follow "Sheker" you must be very careful, because falsehood has a very insecure foundation.

The Medrash tells us that one whose dealings with his fellow man are proper and respectful sanctifies the name of G-d. About such a person it will be said "Praised is the one who bore him."  However, when someone is dishonest and deceitful, the opposite is true. It is truly a beautiful sanctification of HaShem's name when young men wearing kippot or young women act in a way that will cause people to say, "Look at how respectful those young people are in the way that they are acting." Unfortunately we hear about the opposite situation all too often. We all must learn to be honest with one another at all times and follow a path of integrity in our lives.

To avoid that which is forbidden is rather self-explanatory. In the book of Psalms we are told, "Sur M'Ra Va'asei Tov - Avoid that which is bad and do good." Some interpret this to mean that the way to avoid wrongdoing is to engage is doing the right thing at all times. So often in life we are faced with decisions about what direction to take. David HaMelech's words ring loud and clear: "Stay away from that which is forbidden" – choose the Derech HaYashar – the right path – this will help you create spirituality in your life.

Rav Dessler's final point is perhaps the main goal of NCSY. Let us do mitzvot with deep emotion and excitement.  So often we fall in the trap of just going through the motions. We put ourselves on autopilot and do things, even good things, without emotion or feeling. We are told that one of the positive attributes of Aharon HaKohein was that he did not deviate from the path, "Lo Shinah – He didn't change." Everyone wonders why was it so special that he didn't deviate. Would we anticipate that someone as great as Aharon would make changes in the way things are done? The answer is that the verse "Lo Shinah" does not only mean he didn't change. It also means that he didn't lose his enthusiasm.

Let us commit ourselves to publicly sanctifying the name of G-d. Let us conduct our lives with the highest level of integrity at all times. Let us be honest with our parents, teachers and our peers. Let us always be honest with ourselves. Let us stay away from doing those things that will not make us proud of ourselves and let us do mitzvot and study Torah with deep emotion and excitement. Let us always act with kindness, gentleness, considerateness, helpfulness and understanding. Let us demonstrate to the world that one who follows in the ways of Torah will make the world a better place for us all. Following the suggestions of Rav Eliyahu Dessler will help us all move forward and will help us turn a Chillul HaShem into a Kiddush HaShem.

Kashrus Deserves Praise Not "Guilt by Association"
By Menachem Lubinsky - President

Kosher Today Newspaper Archives - Integrated Marketing Communications

The case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner is a good illustration of just how far sensational journalism can go. This was the story of a rabbi who headed a key youth program for the Orthodox Union and is alleged to have been involved in the abuse of his charges including sexual abuse. The story first broke in an unprecedented front-page story in The Jewish Week in late June and was subsequently picked up by major media throughout the country including two stories in The New York Times, one on the front page of the Business Section.

Even if the allegations that the leadership of the Orthodox Union was aware of the alleged actions of the rabbi and did nothing about it were true, the sheer size of the story (I and others cannot remember when The Jewish Week gave such coverage to one front-page story) would make it appear to a journalist that this was the biggest Jewish story of the year, even bigger than the incarcerated Iranian Jews or Mideast peace. That explains the broad coverage in the media that might otherwise not have carried allegations against a rabbi, most of which is alleged to have taken place more than two decades ago.

But the story doesn't end there. Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, the OU president immediately appointed an independent commission to get at the truth and seemingly the century-old organization had handled a clear aberration in its ranks properly. The fact is that the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, known as NCSY, is one of the most effective Jewish youth organizations in the world. It is also true that Rabbi Lanner was a charismatic and effective leader.

But to even remotely attempt to throw in the mix questions about the OU's standards on kosher is the ultimate absurdity of a story that got out of hand. As the nation's largest kosher certifying organization, it has set the standards for the entire industry. It is responsible for certifying more than 70% of kosher products. Any quality control person, plant manager, or marketing executive responsible for kosher knows just how tough the OU's standards are.

There is no question that the Lanner incident was painful to the OU as an organization, but fair-minded and levelheaded people should be able to put such stories in their proper perspective. They should understand that organizations are made up humans, that man is far from perfect and that entire organizations should not be tainted because of the failures of one individual.

Those of us who are familiar with the OU's accomplishments in kashrus can only use this opportunity to congratulate them on a job extremely well done. The biggest proof is the overwhelming confidence of the consumer in their symbol. KAT

Summer of Shame
The Orthodox Union pledges to find out how a rabbi working with youth could mistreat boys and girls for three decades.
By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor
JEWISH JOURNAL of Greater Los Angeles - August 18, 2000  (17 Av, 5760)

A lot of people have a lot of questions about the scandal involving the Orthodox Union and Rabbi Baruch Lanner.

Who knew what when, what did they do with the information, and how did the whole thing go on for so long? How is it possible that it took three decades and the public embarrassment of a newspaper article to out Lanner, who allegedly manhandled boys and sexually harassed and molested girls who were in his charge at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), the OU's hugely successful youth movement?

No one wants these questions answered more than OU president Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, who has set up a commission to investigate the charges and come up with recommendations. "I don't know what the answers are," says Ganchrow, now in the final six months of a six-year run as president. "People are entitled to know. I'm entitled to know."

Ganchrow says he was as shocked as anybody by the allegations published in a June 23 article by Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week.

"I didn't know anything about this," says Ganchrow, a retired colon and rectal surgeon. "I like to believe that had I known, I would have acted. I'm not afraid to act. It's just sad that I didn't know." In fact, Ganchrow admits that just a few years ago he had recommended Lanner - widely acclaimed even by his victims as a powerful and charismatic leader - for the job of national director of NCSY. "Now I know why I was talked out of it," Ganchrow says.

Rosenblatt's report and several weeks of follow-up articles detail victims' accounts of being emotionally, sexually and physically abused by Lanner over a period from the 1970s to today. Lanner, 50, was director of the New Jersey region for many years, then was made NCSY's director of regions. In addition, he was principal of Hillel, a yeshiva in Deal, N.J., for 15 years.

Named victims accuse Lanner of kicking boys in the groin and fondling and kissing girls, and in one case he is accused of having pulled a knife on a teenaged boy.

His emotional manipulation extended further, and to more people. He is said to have demanded declarations of love and loyalty from his teens, and in one case, where the victim has filed charges in a New Jersey court, he is said to have proposed marriage to a Hillel student.

In his three decades of NCSY leadership, Lanner has trained dozens of advisors and regional directors. Many of the rumors about Lanner have been circulating for years; it was an open secret among many NCSYers to steer clear of Lanner. Several New Jersey chapters had banned him from coming to events. Rosenblatt traced several instances where reports to highers-up in OU and NCSY went nowhere, seemingly halted by a wall of protection around Lanner.

Ganchrow says all of these allegations are being investigated by the commission he appointed just after the article came out. The report is expected to come out in September, before the start of the High Holidays. "The charge that I gave to the commission is when did the OU know, what did it know, who knew it, what did they do with the information, how did it go up the chain of leadership, what did they do with the information?" Ganchrow says.

The OU has retained the Manhattan law firm Debevoise and Plimpton to conduct the hundreds of interviews - from employees to lay leaders to current and former NCSYers - and to produce thousands of pages of documentation.

"The bottom line is I'm determined to let the chips fall as they may," Ganchrow says. "There is no one - not a lay person, not a senior employee - who is going to be protected."

The 10-member commission, made up of traditional and observant Jews, four of whom are OU board members, is headed by Richard Joel, an attorney who is president and international director of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. It includes several lawyers, philanthropists and politicians, a pediatrician who specializes in victims of molestation, psychiatrist Rabbi Abraham Twerski, and Jacob Yellin, a lawyer who is in charge of Disney's worldwide ethics compliance program.

Ganchrow bristles at accusations that the commission's report will be anything less than honest and thorough.

The commission members, all of them volunteers, all of them putting in hundreds of hours into a thankless task, "are people of stature," Ganchrow says. "They are not going to allow their reputations to be sullied by the OU, me or anyone else," he says.

Ganchrow says he expects the OU to act swiftly on the recommendations, or he and the chairman of the board have publicly stated that they will resign.

Plus, he adds, "the light of the publicity is not going to allow anyone to fudge it." Ganchrow says he first heard about the extent of the article about 12 hours before it hit the stands, when he was in Washington meeting with the king of Morocco.

Ganchrow, who says he has a good relationship with Rosenblatt, first read the allegations the same day as everyone else.

"I would have been happy if Gary Rosenblatt had picked up the phone and called me a few weeks before and said, 'I have this story, I'd like to meet with you.'"

He wasn't interviewed about the charges until two weeks later.

But Ganchrow wants his voice heard now. He was in Los Angeles recently for face to face meetings with supporters, rabbis and lay leaders, giving the facts on what the OU is doing to respond.

"I think it's very important for people to look me in the eye and see. Body language tells a lot," says Ganchrow. "People can see that we're very serious, we're deeply distressed about what's going on." Ganchrow offers a more sympathetic image than has come across in the press thus far. He seems sincerely pained, acutely aware of the gravity of the scandal and willing to approach it with a candor that is both practical and compassionate.

Ganchrow is, of course, somewhat constrained in his comments because of the looming possibility of lawsuits. He also remains completely dedicated to the OU and the good work it does.

"NCSY and the Orthodox Union are not Baruch Lanner," he said. Rather, he asks people to recognize the many positive programs, such as NCSY's work with mentally and physically disabled kids; summer programs in the U.S., Israel and Ukraine; successful outreach to thousands of unaffiliated teens; and OU's public affairs program, synagogue services and kosher certification of 220,000 products.

He says the incident has opened up discussions on every aspect of NCSY. All of the leaders of summer programs, he said, had extra training on harassment and emotional abuse of teens, and the union is working to come up with permanent guidelines to ensure the safety of the 40,000 kids who are involved with NCSY every year.

"I'm a parent, I'm a grandparent," Ganchrow says. "There is no way I would knowingly, willingly put someone that is a sex molester in contact with children, no matter how good he makes Havdalah."

Rabbi Lanner Article Wins National Award
Staff Writer - Staff Writer
The Jewish Week - September 29, 2000

Gary Rosenblatt's article, "Stolen Innocence" (June 23), on the alleged long-term abuse of teens by Rabbi Baruch Lanner of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, has been named first-place winner of the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, which honors distinguished coverage of disadvantaged and at-risk children and families in the United States.

The medals are awarded in 10 categories by the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families, an independent national resource center affiliated with the University of Maryland College of Journalism. Rosenblatt won in the non-daily newspaper category.

The judges, who praised his "great resourcefulness," wrote, in part: "Rosenblatt showed astonishing fortitude in the face of powerful institutional pressure to keep the story out of the paper. The story illuminated not just the pattern of abuse in this specific case, but also the enormous difficulty ordinary people face when they try to make a case against a powerful and shielded individual.

"We are reminded that disadvantaged youth include children who are not protected by their parents and the larger community from abusive leaders whom they have been taught to trust."

Other first-place winners include "Nightline," the ABC-TV program, in the national television category, for "Crime and Punishment: Kids in Court," a five-night series; and New York's Newsday, in the daily newspaper category, for a nine-day series on day-care oversight.

First-place winners will be honored at an awards luncheon on Oct. 27, where they will receive framed medals and a $1,000 award.

Rosenblatt said he was grateful for the recognition from peers, and credited as "the real heroes the men and women who came forward and went on the record with their painful stories."

He said he plans to donate the award to charity.

NCSY Special Commission Cites Rabbi Lanner's "Abusive" Behavior Toward Teens & Calls For Change In OU Governance And Operations
Department of Public Relations 

Orthodox Union (OU) - December 26, 2000

NEW YORK – The NCSY Special Commission, comprised of prominent members of the Orthodox Jewish community that was convened by the Orthodox Union (OU) several months ago, has found that Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who recently resigned as an executive of its youth division, engaged in "abusive" behavior with teenagers during his years with the organization.

The Commission also found that some members of the lay and professional leadership of the OU and NCSY "made profound errors of judgment in their handling of Lanner throughout his career with NCSY." As a result of the Commission's findings, the organization has begun a review of its leadership in order to implement any changes that may be necessary.

The 331-page Report, which took nearly four months to complete, also addressed what it termed serious weaknesses in the OU's overall management structure, including: procedures for staff selection, development, training, supervision and evaluation; procedures for financial accountability; and internal audit and lay oversight.

Since the allegations surrounding Rabbi Lanner were raised this past summer, the OU Officers and Board of Directors have instituted a number of new management programs and policies in NCSY. These include: establishing a comprehensive sexual harassment policy for staff; an ongoing sensitivity training program for staff that was launched during a two-day seminar at which attendance was mandatory; and stricter hiring policies and training programs for NCSY advisors. An NCSY ombudsman will be appointed shortly who will investigate any allegations brought to his or her attention. NCSY is also creating a professional standards committee — comprised of mental health professionals, educators, rabbis and parents — to address issues that confront those who work with children and teenagers.

NCSY has also initiated a program with a leading New York medical institution to refer mental health professionals to work with current and former members of NCSY who feel they could benefit from counseling as a result of Rabbi Lanner's actions. For further information on this program, please call the NCSY national office at 212.613.8380.

Additionally, new policies and procedures for all OU programs and staff will be developed – including overall management and governance of the organization.

"On behalf of the Orthodox Union, I want to personally thank each of the Commission members and their counsel for presenting us with a very comprehensive Report that provides a thorough road map of ways we can improve the management and operations of our organization," said OU President Mandell I. Ganchrow, M.D. "We view the findings and recommendations of the Report with great seriousness. Now we will begin the process of how we set our house in order. The Commission has taken several months to do its work and write the Report. There is no doubt that it will also take the OU several months to consider and implement the changes that are necessary to improve our operations.

"We are distressed that behavior like this could ever have occurred within our organization," Dr. Ganchrow added. "We sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering these young people experienced as a result of Rabbi Lanner's actions. We also wish to apologize to the families of these young people who entrusted their children to us. We promise to use this sad event as an opportunity to assure that behavior such as this will never again occur within our organization."

Harvey Blitz, who will assume the presidency of the OU later this week at the group's biennial convention, added, "I am grateful to the members of the Commission for their thoughtful Report. The new administration will promptly and carefully study the Commission's recommendations and adopt and implement them appropriately to ensure that the Orthodox Union becomes a more responsible and responsive organization. We believe this will greatly enhance our ability to serve the community in the future."

A copy of the NCSY Special Commission's 54-page executive summary is available on the OU's web site at

The Orthodox Union, now in its second century of service to the Jewish community of America and beyond, is the world leader in youth work, advocacy for the disabled, synagogue services, adult education and political action. Its kosher supervision label, the OU, is the world's most recognized kosher symbol and can be found on over 250,000 products in 68 countries around the globe.

Report Slams O.U.'s 'Failure' in Lanner Abuse Scandal
FORWARD - December 29, 2000

A scathing, 54-page document released this week confirmed many of the allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse made public in June against Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the former director of regions at the Orthodox Union's National Council of Synagogue Youth.

Absent from the document, however, are specifics about who was responsible for allowing Rabbi Lanner to continue to work at the O.U. despite knowledge of his inappropriate behavior. Although the summary makes wide-ranging recommendations on financial and organizational restructuring of the O.U. and NCSY, victims'. families, concerned parents and other O.U.-watchers are expected to be disappointed that the summary does not suggest specific staff changes.

"The failure of certain members of the O.U. and NCSY leadership to take [effective] action allowed Lanner's conduct to continue unchecked for many years," the document states.

The document states that Rabbi Lanner sexually abused women and teenage girls, physically abused boys and girls, attempted to control the lives of NCSY students, initiated sexual discussions with girls and engaged in other inappropriate conduct, such as operating an unauthorized bank account, soliciting donations for NCSY programs and probably depositing them in his own bank accounts.

The eagerly awaited document summarizes a longer, 331-page report prepared during a four-month period by an NSCY special commission appointed to investigate the O.U.'s role in the Lanner affair. The law firm Debevoise & Plimpton conducted the investigation in coordination with the nine-member commission, interviewing more than 175 witnesses in some 6,000 hours.

Only 13 members of the O.U. board have reviewed the longer report, and they will be responsible for presenting their proposals to 167 members of the full executive board. The executive board meeting, which was postponed from December 25 because of Chanukah, is likely to convene sometime after New Year's weekend when the national conference takes place at the Rye Town Hilton in Westchester County, N.Y.

The longer report provides a chronological narrative describing events from 1972 to the present and includes "disturbing, graphic evidence" of Rabbi Lanner's conduct and details about what the O.U. professional and lay leadership knew or should have known about Rabbi Lanner over the years. The summary report — which can be viewed online at the O.U.'s web site, — does not include the chronology, nor does it include many of the details set forth in the comprehensive report.

The commission has recommended restructuring the O.U. like a corporation, with a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer, financial controls, performance-based compensation, standards for reporting breaches of conduct, as well as a reorganization of NCSY to train and educate all staff members.

The summary report points out that "Lanner's improper conduct, while committed directly by him alone, was made possible by the inaction of various individuals in the lay and professional leadership of the O.U. and NSCY and a lack of effective management controls in those organizations. Certain members of the O.U. and NCSY professional and lay leadership, although not directly aware of some of the most serious elements of Lanner's abuse, were aware of his overtly inappropriate behaviors and frequently abusive personality traits. This knowledge alone should have led them to take effective action against Lanner at any one of many points in his career. The failure of certain members of the O.U. and NCSY to leadership to take such action allowed Lanner's conduct to continue unchecked for many years·. The commission believes that many of these failures reflect the exercise of extremely poor judgment by otherwise well-intentioned people."

The report details four specific instances — in 1972, 1977, 1984 and 2000 — when leaders of both organizations were notified of Rabbi Lanner's sexual misconduct, but did not remove him from his position. Leaders denied receiving some of these reports, the summary states, and the commission did not receive evidence that "actual, detailed knowledge of abuse by Lanner was widespread" aside from those four incidents. The report lists examples of 12 "red flags" — from 1977-2000 — that should have alerted the leadership that something was wrong, the commission found.

Rabbi Lanner — who is repeatedly referred to in the report as "Lanner," without his title — originally refused to testify before the commission because it would be "inappropriate" to provide testimony since he is still under investigation by the Monmouth County, N.J., police department, his lawyers wrote to the commission. Rabbi Lanner's lawyers later sent a 10-page document stating that their client denied having committed any crime, but acknowledging that "in the past, his conduct on occasion was inappropriate. He did or said things in the past that, in hindsight, should not have occurred."

He also acknowledged that his behavior "was unbefitting for anyone, particularly one in his own position." According to the summary report, Rabbi Lanner's statement denied many — but not all — of the allegations of physical and sexual abuse lodged in The Jewish Week's June 24 article that first made the story public, and it was silent on many of the allegations the commission received that were not contained in the article. Rabbi Lanner also claimed in the statement that some of the actions were consensual, a claim dismissed by the commission because of the young age of the girls and the position of authority that Rabbi Lanner held over them.

A former NCSY officer and a critic of the O.U.'s handling of the Lanner case, Murray Sragow, said he felt vindicated by the commission's summary but warned that unless the report becomes public, or is released to the entire board, there will be "trouble," including a possible lawsuit to release the full report. Mr. Sragow, a youth committee chairman at Rinat Yisrael Synagogue in Teaneck, N.J., who heads an email list of 150 people concerned about the Lanner affair, said, "The victims and their families deserve the answer to who is it that failed to take care of the kids. This report fails to do that."

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Ten women testified that Lanner engaged in sexually abusive behavior during his NCSY career.
  • "Credible" witnesses provided testimony describing abusive sexual conduct by Rabbi Lanner toward 16 additional girls.
  • Some 30 witnesses testified to having suffered or witnessed Rabbi Lanner kneeing the boys in the groin.
  • Witnesses testified to several occasions during which Rabbi Lanner punched, hit or otherwise physically assaulted them, in addition to those described in The Jewish Week.
Rabbi Lanner repeatedly targeted and engaged in "intense and abusive emotional manipulations" of students who were having emotional or family problems.

The chairman of the special commission, Richard Joel, the president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, announced on Tuesday that the commission hopes that the summary will "lead to accountability for actions, reform of the organization under study, and ultimately a healing of wounds."


Lanner Indicted On Sex Abuse Charges
Two former students at Deal, N.J., yeshiva provided key testimony.

Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - March 16, 2001

Nine months after The Jewish Week reported on allegations that Rabbi Baruch Lanner had abused teenagers in his charge for three decades, a Monmouth County, N.J., grand jury indicted him Wednesday on six criminal charges.

The rabbi faces two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct, criminal sexual conduct and endangering the welfare of a child. The crimes are second-, third- and fourth-degree offenses. A second-degree offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

An arraignment will be scheduled in the next six weeks, according to Mark Fliedner, assistant prosecutor in Monmouth County. Rabbi Lanner will be required to appear and bail will be set.

Fliedner told The Jewish Week the investigation, conducted by the prosecutor's office and the Ocean Township, N.J., Police Department, was "lengthy and exhaustive," and originated with The Jewish Week report of last June. Two women, now adults, who were minors at the time of the alleged abuse by Rabbi Lanner, came forward to the authorities, who convened a grand jury that met over a period of several weeks.

The focus of attention in the Lanner case has been on the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and its parent group, the Orthodox Union, where the rabbi served in a leadership capacity for 30 years. But the indictments stem from his contact with the two women when they were students at the Hillel Yeshiva High School in Deal, N.J., where Rabbi Lanner served as principal for 15 years, leaving amid a cloud of suspicion in 1997.

He is charged with engaging in sexual conduct with the students in his private office.

School officials did not return phone calls from The Jewish Week on Wednesday morning.

The first woman approached officials after reading the initial news report, and the second woman came forward as a result of the police investigation, Fliedner said.

The assistant prosecutor explained that aggravated criminal sexual conduct stems from the fact that the victims were under 16 at the time and that the rabbi had a supervisory or disciplinary role. Criminal sexual conduct means that force or coercion was used, and the endangerment charge applies to someone who has the legal duty of care for a minor and engages in sexual conduct.

The first woman, now 19, alleged that Rabbi Lanner sexually abused her almost daily in his office at the yeshiva when she was a 14-year-old ninth-grader there in 1995 and 1996. She described the mistreatment in detail to The Jewish Week last July, though she was not named in the article, at her request. She noted then that Rabbi Lanner would call her into his office over a period of eight months, touching her and professing his love for her.

She testified about this treatment before the grand jury, as did her mother, who asserted that she overheard Rabbi Lanner on the phone with her daughter, telling her he loved her and wanted to marry her.

The rabbi, who has refused past efforts by The Jewish Week to be interviewed, denied the allegations to a New York Times reporter last July. He was quoted as saying, "Emphatically, emphatically, emphatically it did not happen. This is a kid that came from a troubled background. I took her in and raised the tuition money for her to attend that school, and bus money, and this is the payback I receive?"

The time frame of the alleged misconduct with the second student took place between Sept. 1, 1992 and June 30, 1994, according to the indictments.

The veracity of the first woman was questioned by some who knew her at the time of The Jewish Week report last July. She later became involved in substance abuse and criminal behavior.

But Fliedner said the witnesses who came forward were credible to the grand jury. He also noted that the police and prosecutor's investigation was conducted independent of the special OU commission report, released in December, alleging sexual misconduct by Rabbi Lanner.

Jewish Week Follow-Up
By Editorial Board
Jewish Press - July 5, 2001

Last week in this space we took the New York Jewish Week to task over its giving front page placement to a rehashing of a year-old story about a concededly serious abuse problem at the Orthodox Union's NCSY, and to a hazy report about a religious discrimination lawsuit filed against Yeshiva University by a Conservative Jewish woman. We saw this as fresh evidence of an Orthodox-bashing bent at The Jewish Week manifested by that tabloid's artificial pumping up of negative pieces about two crown jewels of Orthodox Judaism.

In fact, with respect to the lawsuit, we have since learned that although it was provided the documentation, The Jewish Week failed to include in its story that a federal agency had dismissed the charges prior to the filing of the lawsuit!

In addition, in last week's issue of The Jewish Week, a letter was published commenting on its NCSY article which turned up the volume even higher and went so far as to question the integrity of the OU's universally accepted kashruth operation!

It is fair to wonder about what needs to be done to stop these kinds of spurious efforts against Orthodox organizations by a publication that depends on the Jewish public's largesse as provided by the UJA/Federation. It is well known that absent that lifeline, The Jewish Week would be a bankrupt organization. The time has come for the UJA/Federation to rein in its dependent lest the UJA/Federation be adjudged as complicit in its outrageous enterprise. It is plainly out of control.


Grappling with Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community - No Longer Taboo
For years, the Orthodox community has hidden it. Now, a confluence of factors is making their sexual abuse problem come out of the closet.
By Julie Wiener
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - 2001

The Borough Park section of Brooklyn is one of America's most visibly Jewish neighborhoods.

On several residential blocks of one- and two-family brick homes, almost every front door has a mezuzah. Modestly dressed women push strollers, while girls in dresses and boys in tzitzit and yarmulkes play on the sidewalks.   More on this story

Sixteenth Avenue, one of the main drags, is lined with religious study centers and yeshivot, a Jewish high school for girls, small synagogues and Judaica stores.

And in the middle of it all is an agency that runs a treatment program for Orthodox Jewish pedophiles.

Orthodox pedophiles?

For years, most people in the Orthodox world assumed their religious way of life and tight-knit communities insulated them from problems rocking the larger world, like sexual abuse.

There is still a great deal of resistance to discussing the issue, and a lingering feeling among many victims and advocates that Orthodox institutions are more concerned with protecting the reputations of men accused of sexual abuse than with believing or helping victims.

But fueled by a combination of factors — recent scandals, a growing cadre of Orthodox psychotherapists in whom Orthodox Jews feel comfortable confiding, and American society's growing openness about sensitive social problems — that sense of insularity is eroding both among the fervently and centrist Orthodox communities.

Just as it has begun to acknowledge that there are Orthodox child abusers and Orthodox drug addicts, the community is gradually coming to grips with the fact that it, too, has sexual abusers in its midst.

Through Jewish agencies like Borough Park's Ohel Children's Home and Family Services — whose sex offender program is believed to be the only Orthodox program of its kind — it is starting to confront the problem.

Among the indicators of change:

  • In the wake of public allegations last year that a high-ranking professional in the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth had sexually abused more than 20 teen-age girls, sexual abuse has become a household world among centrist Orthodox Jews. The O.U., which had been accused of protecting Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the alleged abuser, underwent an investigation by an independent commission, made some key staff changes and has vowed to implement policies to prevent future abuse.
  • Four years ago, at the request of the Brooklyn District Attorney, Ohel — which already treated Jewish survivors of sexual abuse — created the first- ever treatment program specifically for Orthodox sex offenders. More than 30 people, half referred through the criminal justice system and half through rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, have received evaluation or treatment through the program; more are on a waiting list.
  • At its convention this year, the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents 1,100 mainstream Orthodox rabbis, held an open and detailed discussion about sexual abuse led by Dr. Susan Shulman, a pediatrician who served on the O.U.'s commission investigating the Lanner scandal and lectures frequently about sexual abuse.
  • According to the RCA's immediate past president, Rabbi Kenneth Hain, the rabbinic group is in the "embryonic stages" of creating a system for dealing with members accused of sexual misconduct.
  • In the aftermath of two publicized cases of pedophilia — one concerning a rabbi teaching at a day school and another concerning a kosher butcher — the Chicago Rabbinical Council recently created a special Beit Din, or rabbinical court, to address sexual abuse. The court, which has four rabbis from different sectors of the local Orthodox community, consults with a team of psychologists, social workers and lawyers. It is believed to be the only permanent North American Beit Din focusing on this issue.
  • According to David Mandel, chief executive officer of Ohel, Orthodox schools and other institutions increasingly are hosting workshops educating parents and teachers on how to prevent abuse against children and identify the symptoms indicating that a child may have been abused. In the past year, Ohel participated in more than 12 seminars or conference sessions on the topic, about twice as many as in previous years.

Sexual abuse is hardly unique to the Orthodox community, and many who work in the field say there appear to be far fewer incidents in the Jewish community than in American society as a whole.

Problems like victims' reluctance to come forward, difficulty proving cases, and a tendency of people not to want to believe accusations are vexing issues in any community. Even when caught, sexual abusers are difficult to treat, and many experts say they must be watched vigilantly because they never fully recover.

But there are certain aspects of Orthodox life that make such problems uniquely challenging.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the wall of silence and denial.

"We're a community that would like to believe that our religious lives prevent these problems," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual guidance counselor at Yeshiva University's rabbinic seminary and someone known as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies and sociology at the City University of New York, said the presence of sexual abuse "calls into question some of the deeply held values of Orthodoxy — mainly that if you maintain a strict attachment to Jewish tradition and values, somehow that would insulate you from all that is evil in society."

In addition, there is a historic Jewish tendency, particularly acute in the Orthodox world, to keep quiet about sensitive issues for fear of publicly scandalizing the community.

Many Orthodox Jews also fear that embarrassing information could jeopardize future wedding matches for individuals and their families.

Another obstacle is that the many demands of an Orthodox lifestyle — and the fact that Orthodox Jews must live within walking distance of synagogue — make Orthodox communities tight-knit. That can make it hard for a victim to come forward, particularly if the abuser is prominent or well-liked.

When the perpetrator is a rabbi or other respected member of the community, victims have an even greater difficulty, given Orthodox Judaism's reverence for rabbinical authority figures.

"... That's no good because if he goes to another community he will do the same thing ..." -- Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz

"If a kid goes to a parent and says, My rebbe did something to me, the parents tend to believe the rabbi, not the child," Blau said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is that most Orthodox institutions lack a formal system for preventing or reporting abuse.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that Orthodox Jews generally are more reluctant than liberal Jews to go to the police for crimes committed within the community.

Instead, Orthodox Jews tend to rely on rabbinical courts. But most such courts are ill-equipped to handle sexual abuse cases, and many — according to victims' advocates and Shulman — refuse to hear such cases.

Chicago's Beit Din is one of the few actively dealing with sexual abuse. So far, it has found three people guilty of abuse, alerting community leaders so they can keep an eye on the offenders and not hire them for jobs where they will be alone with children.

Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz, chief presiding rabbi of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and the Beit Din of America, a national rabbinical court under RCA auspices, urges victims to go to the police as well.

"Some might say, send" the abuser "to another community," Schwartz said. "That's no good because if he goes to another community he will do the same thing."

However, some communities do just that.

In her RCA speech, Shulman told of an anonymous rabbi who impregnated a student while he was principal of a school for Jewish girls with learning disabilities. When he was fired, he moved to another community where he is "still a prominent rabbi."

Despite the remaining challenges, some in the Orthodox world find solace in the fact that the topic is now on the table and that some treatment programs are out there.

Because of the Lanner case, "people who in the past would've said, `I'm sure he couldn't have done that and Just let it go are now saying, I heard about this and we can't let this happen again,' " Blau said.

According to Mandell and others, the changes are deeper than a mere reaction to Lanner.

In fact, sex abuse is being discussed and addressed not just in centrist Orthodox circles but in fervently Orthodox communities where many people — who do not read secular or even mainstream Jewish newspapers — have not heard of the Lanner scandal.

David Pelcovitz, director of psychology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and a clinical professor of psychology at the New York University School of Medicine, said he increasingly hears rabbis frame the issue by talking about the concept of ha'alamah, the biblical injunction not to look the other way.

Mandel, Pelcovitz and Shulman all say that invitations are increasing to speak on the topic at conferences and to lead training workshops.

Pelcovitz, who teaches a pastoral psychology course at Yeshiva University's rabbinical school on dealing with sexual abuse complaints, said Orthodox rabbinical groups such as the RCA and the National Council of Young Israel also are starting to offer continuing education on sexual abuse.

Mandel noted that after almost every speech he and his staff give on sexual abuse, at least one adult privately comes forward to say he or she, too, was victimized but never before felt comfortable telling anyone.

"People are discussing a topic that truly wasn't discussed," he said.

Preventing Future Lanner CasesBy Judy Klitsner
The Jewish Week - March 1, 2002

I was a victim of Baruch Lanner in 1974, when I was 16. Next month he is due to stand trial for his actions — not those against me and many of my contemporaries, but against much younger women, who like me reportedly were victim to Lanner's mix of sexual, psychological and physical abuse.

I shudder to do the math: If in my day I knew about a dozen of his victims, how many were there in the intervening 28 years? If in my day hundreds of people knew on some level that Baruch Lanner was a dangerous man, how many must have known over all these years?

The questions everyone asks: How could this have happened? If so many knew, why didn't anyone do anything? Why did only public expose and scandal stop him? Not an internal audit, not a public uproar, but an article in The Jewish Week. Why?

The "normal" channels — colleagues and superiors — failed utterly to slow Rabbi Lanner's alleged predatory progress. They were buttressed by any combination of the following automatic responses to reports of abuse:

Doubt the reporter of the abuse, assuming she has an ulterior motive.

"Why are you telling me this?" one esteemed rabbi asked me. "What's in it for you?"

Rabbi Lanner enthusiastically encouraged this form of questioning by attributing nefarious motives to all the women that accused or confronted him, asserting they were sick, provocative or hated rabbis. These arguments were accepted and the accusers dismissed.

If the report was of abuse in the distant past, Rabbi Lanner was assumed to have been rehabilitated, or to have "done teshuvah" since then. "What proof do you have that he's still doing these things?" was asked of me more times than I care to recall. In other words, you, the victim, must prove to me, the ranking rabbi, that his abusive pattern has not been broken.

A cost-benefit analysis in human souls. He may have problems, but they are outweighed by the benefits he brings to the Jewish people. "Yes, I've heard the rumors," said Rabbi Lanner's superior in 1974, "but Baruch does so much good."

Of course, all these reactions are deflections, for reasons that range from collegiality to outright self-interest. But the result is the same: inaction that leaves the abuser in place.

What about recent complaints? Wouldn't the rabbinate have been forced to consider them seriously? They might have, but there were next to none (with the notable exception of the two brave young women bringing suit today), because younger women tend not to complain about sexual abuse by their rabbi while it is going on, nor in the years immediately following. It takes time to come to terms with what has happened, and to have the confidence to come forward.

In sum, that's how this happened, and that's why these tragedies will happen again. If complaints are made, no one wants to hear them. At best, when there are enough victims and they are disgusted enough with the inaction and the stonewalling, they go to the press. Then there's expose and scandal. And then one abuser is stopped.

The problem is there are other rabbis to whom suspicion and accusation cling tenaciously. As with Rabbi Lanner, "everyone knows" about their past actions. And tragically, as with Rabbi Lanner, the automatic responses are in place. The rabbis speak with legalistic insistence: prove it or I will not take your complaint seriously. The number of complaints fails to impress, the similarity of abusive detail is seen as unremarkable.

Have we abdicated all responsibility for the moral standards of our teachers and decided to rely on the press to safeguard our children?

Allow me to suggest an alternative: a monitoring committee comprised of religious leaders who are above moral reproach and professionals in psychological services. The committee would provide the following:

  • A list of clear norms and guidelines for the behavior of clergymen. Non-Orthodox rabbinical groups have drawn up such rules, so should the Orthodox. Standards must be stricter than in normal male-female situations due to the inherent inequality in the clergy-student and clergy-congregant relationship.
  • A safe address for victims to report abuse in a setting that offers complete confidentiality and support, and which does not compromise their dignity.
  • A mechanism to investigate reports of abuse. Where there are persistent allegations of misconduct, there is probably a problem. (And of course, if a rabbi is accused unfairly, a search will allow his name to be cleared.) Instead of expecting the victim to "prove" allegations, the committee would hire professionals to thoroughly investigate the situation.
  • More flexible standards for "conviction." If there are strong indications of abuse but no ironclad proof, the victims and potential victims, not the accused, must be given the benefit of the doubt. Many victims never speak out. Some are loath to revisit the trauma they have experienced, while others are dogged by an unremitting sense of fear. For these reasons, second-hand testimony should be taken very seriously in the decision-making process.
  • Decisive action. If found guilty, the rabbi must be barred permanently from Jewish education. There has been a persistent refusal to take such action from a sense of compassion and concern for the offending rabbi. Also, the revocation of rabbinic ordination of abusive rabbis should be given serious consideration.
  • Education of our children to identify and respond to warning signs.
  • Education of new rabbis. Those granting ordination must be sure their students are not just intellectually prepared to be spiritual leaders but are psychologically and emotionally up to the task as well. If problems are spotted, counseling should be offered. If problems are not correctable, these candidates must not be granted ordination.

While I am grateful and relieved that Baruch Lanner has finally been exposed, I feel the need to sound the alarm: The manner in which he was dismissed does not bode well for our future. Public expose and scandal are symptoms of a breakdown of all forms of prevention and correction within our community. The responsibility is ours to work with vigilance, sensitivity and integrity in preventing — and if that fails, in rooting out — abusers in rabbinical positions.

There are many innocent souls counting on us to protect them. Let us make sure that the three-decade long, now infamous Lanner affair will prove to be the last time we have failed our children. n

Judy Klitsner teaches Bible at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and lives in Jerusalem.


CNN - Rome: Cardinals Meet to Remedy Sex Scandal in U.S. Catholic Church
CNN Transcript - Aired April 23, 2002

SAVIDGE: But the suspect in no priest. Rabbi Baruk Lanner, by just about all accounts, was an extremely charismatic and effective teacher/motivator credited with drawing teens to Judaism like no one else could. For over 30 years, he was a national youth group leader for the Orthodox Union.

GARY ROSENBLATT, EDITOR, JEWISH WEEK: But the alleged darker side was that he was a very controlling person and abusive in many ways.

SAVIDGE: Despite numerous complaints from students and parents of the Rabbi's sexual impropriety, dating back to the '70s, leaders of the Orthodox Union chose to ignore or simply disbelieve, leading an eventual investigative commission to report: "It was a widely held view that the good being done by Lanner for the organization outweighed the negative effects of his bad behavior."

Editor Gary Rosenblatt finally broke the story in the Jewish Week newspaper of New York, after talking with Jews claiming to be the rabbi's victims.

ROSENBLATT: I spoke to dozens who each would tell me that they know of many others. So I think it's fair to say that in some way or another, he had an abusive relationship or effect on hundreds of teenagers.

SAVIDGE: Marcy Lenk says she was one of those teens. She's angriest most, not with the Rabbi, but with the leaders in the Orthodox Union.

LENK: If they had stopped him, first of all, many, many more students would not have been hurt by him, but also they would have stood up for real Jewish values.

SAVIDGE: Lanner resigned the day after the story went public, and now faces trial in New Jersey. His attorney declined to go on camera, but did say: "Rabbi Lanner strenuously denies violating any criminal code or committing any act of sexual abuse." The Orthodox Union has implemented major changes and apologized.

RABBI HERSH WEINREB, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ORTHODOX UNION: We should have responded much sooner than we did and much more firmly than we did.

SAVIDGE: Experts say no faith is immune to sex scandals.

PROFESSOR THOMAS PLANTE, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY: Approximately two to five percent of clergy, regardless of religious tradition, has had a sexual experience with a minor.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Despite their suffering, victims often say that they never lost their religious faith. What was lost was their faith in religious leaders. Martin Savidge, CNN, New York.

Pressure Builds on O.U. Ahead of Rabbi's Sex Abuse Trial
FORWARD - APRIL 26, 2002

With the sex abuse trial of former Orthodox Union youth group leader Rabbi Baruch Lanner set to start June 3, alleged victims are claiming that the organization has not done enough to address the scandal.

Several of Lanner's alleged victims say the O.U. has yet to apologize officially or accept blame for failing to remove Lanner, who allegedly abused dozens of young people over a 30-year period as the director of regions of the union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

They are also calling on the O.U. to announce publicly that it will, regardless of the outcome of Lanner's legal trial, stand by the conclusions of a special commission appointed by the organization which determined that Lanner had been sexually, physically and emotionally "abusive."

The union was generally praised for the recent appointment of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb as the its top professional and for several recent reorganizational steps. But with the national media often invoking the Lanner case in their reports on the spreading sexual abuse and cover-up scandal in the Catholic Church, several critics claim that the organization still seems more worried about protecting its reputation than in making redress to current youth group members and Lanner's alleged victims.

"The O.U. is more concerned with being sued than with any sense of justice or decency or caring about the victims," said Marcie Lenk, a doctoral candidate in religion at Harvard University. Lenk alleges that when she was a teenager active in NCSY in New Jersey, Lanner constantly made lewd comments to her, and would rub up against her while they passed through doorways.

"The O.U. should be saying, 'The trial is irrelevant,'" said Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual counselor to students at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University. "They should say, 'We accept the report. We recognize all these people are victims and whatever happens in this trial will not change the fact that this man will have nothing to do with Jewish children.'"

In response to the complaints, O.U. President Harvey Blitz said, "I have apologized on behalf of myself and the organization many times. Maybe I haven't captured the right words, but I've tried to convey a deep felt sorrow and regret over what happened. We should have responded to what we knew quicker and more firmly as an organization. We have organizational responsibility for what happened."

Richard Joel, chair of the special commission and an outspoken critic of the way the O.U. initially handled the scandal, came to the organization's defense.

"The O.U. is really en route to taking serious steps to see that [such abuses] do not recur. I don't think there should be any fear that Baruch Lanner will be back at work at the O.U. or anywhere else," said Joel, who is also president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. "I made a statement a few months ago that I'm impatient, but I know what it takes to evolve a culture of an organization, and I think they should be given an opportunity to move to their next step."

Lanner, who resigned from NCSY in 2001, has pleaded innocent to charges that he fondled two female students while principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Monmouth County, N.J.

Several alleged victims and their supporters worry that if Lanner is acquitted in the trial, which focuses only on the charges brought by the two girls, he will challenge the findings of the O.U. commission, which stated that Lanner "engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and abusive behavior (emotional, physical, and sexual) towards a number of NCSY students." Critics want the O.U. to state publicly that it will stand by the commission's report even if Lanner is found not guilty.

Asked whether the O.U. should make such a statement, Joel said, "Frankly, I think it's important to distance the way the Jewish community deals with the issue of Jewish education from the particulars of the trial involving Baruch Lanner."

Critics of the O.U. say that fears of potential lawsuits have prevented the organization from issuing an adequate apology and accepting responsibility for the scandal.

"Their general apologies are very carefully worded so as not to presume any guilt on their part," Lenk said. "Many people are still in power in the O.U. who were vehicles through whom Lanner was able to hurt people."

"There may be lawsuits to force them to take responsibility," Lenk said. Asked if she plans to sue, Lenk said, "We'll see."

Weinreb, the O.U.'s executive vice president, told the Forward that his organization is committed to following the commission's recommendation regardless of the court's verdict. "The Lanner trial, whatever its outcome, will not affect our commitment to zero tolerance of any kind of abuse," Weinreb said. "We stand by the commission report."

But another of Lanner's alleged victims, Elie Hiller, from the northern New Jersey township of Teaneck, is not impressed with the steps taken by the O.U.

"There are a lot of apologetic words but no accountability for their actions and inactions," Hiller said, referring to public apologies from Blitz.

In one letter sent by O.U. to complainants who spoke with the special commission, the organization stated, "We apologize from the depths of our hearts and souls. And as an expression of this regret, we pledge to attempt to learn from the past."

Hiller derided the apology as insufficient. "That's like me hitting you over the head with a baseball bat and saying I'm sorry you're hurt instead of I'm sorry I harmed you," Hiller said.

Several of the commission recommendations have already been implemented, including the appointment of a neutral ombudsman and ombudswoman to receive complaints of abuse. Local commissions are being established to give parents a greater say in how the youth group is run and group leaders have been receiving training in a variety of areas related to abuse prevention.

But Blau has already called into question the neutrality of the newly appointed ombudswoman. Blau complained that she previously worked as a school psychologist at Manhattan Day School under Rabbi David Kaminetsky, who was the principal at the time and is now the national director of NCSY.

Kaminetsky responded: "She's absolutely independent. There's no relationship now. I have 30 years of experience in the field and contact with many other people. We chose her because we knew she could do the job."

Orthodox Rabbi Issues Warning on Sexual Abuse
Says Community Needs To Learn From Catholic Church Scandal

FORWARD - MAY 3, 2002

The rabbi of a prominent Manhattan synagogue is using the occasion of the Catholic Church's sex scandal to warn that Orthodox institutions are often "dismissive" of abuse complaints.

Rabbi Ari Berman, the religious leader of the Jewish Center, a well-heeled Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper West Side, issued the warning last weekend during a Saturday morning sermon. Berman said the Orthodox community needs to learn from the sex abuse scandal racking the Catholic Church. While asserting that sexual abuse cases are far more common in the Catholic community than in Orthodox circles, Berman criticized Orthodox institutions for dismissing many of the claims that do arise in their own backyard.

"Perhaps in the outside world there might be an exaggerated tendency to launch a witch hunt, to fire people and prosecute immediately," said Berman, whose predecessors at the Jewish Center include Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi J.J. Schachter, dean of a Modern Orthodox think tank in Brookline, Mass. "But in the Orthodox world we have the opposite tendency: to circle the wagons and deny wrongdoing. The concern for the reputation of the teacher or school is given greater weight than the child's words."

Berman's sermon comes as American Jews are struggling to understand the ramifications of the church's sex scandal for their own religious institutions. It also comes as the most prominent Orthodox organization in America, the Orthodox Union, attempts to recover from its own sex scandal involving Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a popular leader of its youth group, the National Council of Synagogue Youth.

An independent commission set up by the O.U. determined that the organization had failed to act on complaints about Lanner, who allegedly abused dozens of students over 30 years. In his sermon, Berman said that allegations of sex abuse were not limited to Lanner and had not disappeared in the wake of the O.U. scandal.

"Just a short time ago, a much publicized case of abuse and negligence in the Modern Orthodox world raised this issue in the public consciousness," Berman said, in an apparent reference to the Lanner scandal. "I wish I could say that these were the only cases that I have heard in our community, but they are not. There are others, and some with tragic endings."

To hammer home his point, Berman told the story of a pre-teen child who claimed he had been molested by a rabbi at summer camp. According to Berman, even though the rabbi had been the subject of previous complaints, the camp rejected the allegation, and a teacher at the child's school told the student "to stop making up stories, to forget about it and to move on." The family was ostracized, Berman said, and had trouble enrolling the child in another school.

Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, argued that Orthodox sensitivity to sex abuse has greatly improved since the Lanner scandal became public almost two years ago. He cited one Orthodox school that, when faced with a credible complaint just a few months ago, immediately fired the teacher, contacted law enforcement authorities and supplied the student in question with psychological counseling.

"The Lanner incident really awoke and sensitized the community," said Dworken, whose group represents more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis. "We are surely more sensitized now than five years ago. You don't think that the entire world is more sensitized since the Catholic Church scandal? Unfortunately it takes such a scandal to sensitize people."

Meanwhile, Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, a leading ultra-Orthodox group, said leaders of his community have no tolerance for sex abuse, and that those who commit such acts are blackballed from holding educational positions.

But Rabbi Yosef Blau, a religious adviser to students at Yeshiva University and harsh critic of the O.U.'s handling of the complaints against Lanner, argued that in both the Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox worlds, organizations still do not adequately respond to sex abuse complaints. He acknowledged, however, that some progress has been made, with several prominent rabbis, including the O.U.'s new professional head, Rabbi Zvi Hersh Weinreb, instructing followers to bring sex abuse complaints to law enforcement agencies.

Many rabbis, especially older ones, simply find it hard to believe that any of their colleagues would sexually abuse children, said Blau, who sat on a three-person rabbinical court that decided not to take severe action against Lanner in 1989. But, Blau said, after hearing additional complaints and learning more about sexual abuse, he realized that he had made a mistake in not pushing for Lanner to be barred from working with young people.

Blau said that even when rabbis are dismissed or leave their job under suspicion, they often manage to find educational work in another city. Blau said he is strongly in favor of Berman's call for the creation of a "national registry" for schools, camps and youth groups to check before hiring staffers.

OU Standing By Lanner Report
On eve of sexual abuse trial, group says outcome doesn't change his `horrific behavior.'

By Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - Thursday, January 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat 5763 

Whether or not Rabbi Baruch Lanner is convicted of sexually assaulting two former female students, leaders of the Orthodox Union — his employer for three decades — assert the rabbi has a long history as an abuser of teens and is not qualified to work with young people.

His trial is set to start this week in Monmouth County, N.J., and could last several weeks. Rabbi Lanner faces up to 33 years in jail if convicted on all six counts — two each for aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.


Rabbi Baruch Lanner trial update - Jury selection under way in rabbi sex trial
Newsday - June 11, 2002

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- Jury selection got under way Tuesday in the sex abuse trial of a Bergen County rabbi.

Baruch Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, faces two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and child endangerment. The alleged assaults occurred while he was a principal at Hillel High School in Ocean Township.

The charges were filed last year after two former female students claimed Lanner had assaulted them when they were younger than 16. He claims they fabricated the charges because they had conflicts with him while he ran the school in Monmouth County.

Lanner faces up to 40 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if he's convicted of molesting the girls. Prosecutors said he used "physical force or coercion" to molest one girl between September 1992 and June 1994 and the other between October 1996 and May 1997.

Jury selection will continue Wednesday. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.


Rabbi Baruch Lanner trial update - Day 1 
Testimony to begin in trial of rabbi accused of molestation

Newsday - June 13 2002

June 13, 2002, 8:35 AM EDT FREEHOLD, N.J. -- Jury selection was completed in the sex abuse trial of a Bergen County rabbi and testimony was to begin Thursday. Baruch Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, faces two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and child endangerment. The alleged assaults occurred while he was a principal at Hillel High School in Ocean Township. The charges were filed last year after two former female students claimed Lanner had assaulted them when they were younger than 16. He claims they fabricated the charges because they had conflicts with him while he ran the school in Monmouth County. "(Lanner) ruled the school as principal, and he essentially ruled with authority that was unchallenged," Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser told jurors on Wednesday. "With respect to these two young women, he used that authority and he used that power to isolate, intimidate them and abuse them." Defense attorney Tama Beth Kudman countered that Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, did not have the privacy in his office to commit such offenses. "Baruch Lanner did not do this," Kudman told jurors. "The fact that there is an accusation is meaningless. These girls were not touched." She said that Lanner's office, where the inappropriate touching allegedly happened, had three windows and no blinds. His secretary could look directly into the office from her desk and doors could not be locked from inside, said Kudman. Lanner faces up to 40 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if he's convicted of molesting the girls.


Responding to sexual abuse: Catholic problems are public, but Jews can't be complacent
Chicago Jewish Star - June 13, 2002
V.XII; N.262 p. 4 Word Count: 393

DURING THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS, CASES of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic clergy have been given wide publicity. And it's not only the abusers, or alleged abusers, who have been condemned; the conduct of those who knew but covered up, or asked few questions and looked the other way, has likewise been called into question. This is all as it should be.

It was an unresponsive bureaucratic structure which heightened the agony surrounding revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic priesthood, but just because Jews do not have such a structure does not mean that sexual abuse does not appear in other, similar configurations.

Of course it does. And here are two book ends to the problem in the Jewish community.

Some 15 years ago, allegations began to be heard in Winnipeg, Manitoba, about an American-born Orthodox rabbi who was molesting young girls. The rumors continued, until a 17-year-old boy, who also claimed to have been molested, committed suicide in Toronto in 1993. The charges had been before the police at the time, and not long afterwards a CBC television documentary reported on the case of Rabbi Ephraim Bryks, and on the way in which Jewish authorities had stone-walled concerned parents.

More recently, in 2000 The New York Jewish Week reported that for nearly two decades Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a youth worker with the Orthodox Union, had allegedly been abusing teens -- sexually, physically, and/or emotionally. when confronted with the results of a meticulous investigation, and the failure of Jewish authorities to respond, the OU declined to take serious measures (Jewish Star, March 9, 2001).

DURING THESE YEARS, THERE WAS A reluctance to seriously treat the allegations of young people -- just like the response of Catholic authorities. There was a desire to bury it within the organized Jewish world -- just like within the Church. And there was a sometimes innocent (but always misguided) fear that to bring the issue into the open would constitute lashon ha'ra (gossip), and would bring into disrepute religious authorities.

That sexual abuse should be a problem in all communities is not a surprise. What is regrettable is that evidence suggests that Jews and their organizations don't seem to respond to it any better than others.

Ex-student tells jurors rabbi punished her for refusing sexual advances
Newsday - June 14, 2002

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- A woman who graduated from a Monmouth County Jewish high school told jurors Thursday that the rabbi who worked as principal made repeated sexual advances then punished her when she rebuffed them.

During her freshman and sophomore years, Rabbi Baruch Lanner put his arm around the woman's shoulder and touched her breasts roughly four times when they were alone together at the school, the woman testified. The former student, now 23, also said the rabbi also called her at home and made crude sexual remarks to her, then took her out of honors classes when she told him to stop.

She said the rabbi "discredited" her among teachers and put her in detention for tardiness.

Under cross-examination, the woman couldn't recall the exact comment Lanner made nor explain specifically how he discredited her.

Lanner, 52, is on trial on charges of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child involving two female students at the Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township between 1992 and 1996. Both students were under 16 at the time the alleged incidents occurred.

Lanner could face up to 40 years in jail if convicted. Testimony will resume Tuesday.


Ex-student of rabbi testifies about abuse; Intimidation, fondling citedBy TOM DAVIS
The Record (Bergen County, NJ) - Friday, June 14, 2002

FREEHOLD - A 23-year-old woman testified Thursday that a former Bergen County rabbi fondled her breasts and intimidated her during his tenure as a high school principal in Monmouth County.

The unidentified woman was the first to testify in the sexual misconduct trial of Baruch Lanner, a nationally known rabbi and former leader in an Orthodox youth group. But his lawyers immediately tried to discredit the testimony by Lanner's former student as contradictory.

"Rabbi Lanner engaged in lewd, crude telephone conversations, he touched your breast, and then you were willing to go to Israel ... with the man who molested you?" asked defense attorney Marvin Schecter.

Lanner, 52, a father of three who has lived in Paramus and Fair Lawn, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. After two days of jury selection and opening arguments this week in Superior Court in Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boser said he plans to call a second accuser to the stand to recount Lanner's years of allegedly "inappropriate behavior."

Both were students of Lanner in the early to mid-1990s.

During opening arguments on Wednesday, Boser told the jurors he would prove that Lanner used his power "to isolate, intimidate them, and abuse" the female students when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township.

Tama Beth Kudman, another lawyer on Lanner's legal team, countered that he did not have the privacy in his office to commit such offenses.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, with more testimony from the 23-year-old witness. In previous court hearings, defense attorneys have complained that the alleged victims, now both in their 20s, have admitted suffering from psychological problems or exhibiting bizarre behavior in high school.

Lanner appeared confident but weary in Judge Paul Chaiet's courtroom Thursday as the trial proceeded before a jury of seven men and seven women. A crowd of Lanner's supporters - including his mother - and supporters of the victims filled the seats.

Chaiet has barred the media from publishing the names of the accusers, although he did allow television cameras in the courtroom - as long as the accuser's images were shielded from view.

For more than five hours Thursday, jurors heard testimony from the 23-year-old who attended the Hillel school between 1992 and 1996, when she graduated. Appearing nervous and somewhat guarded, she struggled to remember the details of her encounters with Lanner, admitting her memory is fuzzy.

She said the "inappropriate" conduct began when she was a freshman, in late 1992, and that Lanner encouraged her to telephone him as late as 9 p.m. at his office in the school. The woman, who said the commuting-weary rabbi would sometimes sleep in his school office, recalled that the initial conversations between the two were friendly and not inappropriate. But over time, they became more personal, she testified.

"He was suggesting engaging in sexual activity - not explicitly," she said.

The woman said her sister, who is eight years older, had a great relationship with Lanner and that she hoped to become active in the National Council of Synagogue Youth, where Lanner was director. He resigned two years ago when the allegations came to light.

The woman testified that when she told Lanner that she no longer wanted to have telephone conversations, the principal became "enraged.'' After that, he treated her poorly and gave her detention more times than she deserved, she said.

He also moved her out of a higher-track academic program, and tore up her application for a summer-study program he ran in Israel, the woman said.

The woman said Lanner used the detention as an opportunity to meet with her alone. "There were occasions where he'd speak to me really close, and I'd back up, but then he'd back me up against the wall," she said.

She then demonstrated to the jurors where Lanner allegedly wrapped his arm around her, and touched her breast.

Under cross-examination, the woman admitted that she received detention because she was habitually late. She also acknowledged that her poor grades were a factor in her transfer from a higher-track academic program.

Schecter was most aggressive in his cross-examination when the woman spoke of her attempts to join a summer study program in Israel, despite Lanner's role in the program. The woman said she didn't know he was involved.


Sex abuse case goes to defense
Newsday - June 19, 2002

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- Lawyers for a rabbi charged with sexual abuse were expected to begin their defense Wednesday, one day after a woman testified that Rabbi Baruch Lanner molested her when he was principal of an Ocean County high school.

Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and child endangerment between 1992 and 1997.

Lanner's attorneys have maintained their client's innocence.

A 21-year-old woman testified Tuesday that Lanner touched her breast, her legs and her inner thigh when she was a freshman at Hillel High School.

"He would rub his hand on my leg, just to cop a cheap feel," she said.

State Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet ordered the news media not to identify the woman or her mother, who also testified.

The mother said she listened in on a phone call in which Lanner professed his love for her daughter.

"I was stunned. I was shocked," the mother said.

The next day, the mother confronted Lanner at the school. At first, he denied calling the girl, she said. Then he admitted that he had, but denied saying the things she claimed.

Mother's rage was pointed at rabbi
Rabbi Baruch Lanner trial update - Day 3


The Star Ledger (New Jersey) - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

FREEHOLD - The mother of a 21-year-old woman testified Tuesday that she overheard a former Bergen County rabbi attempt to seduce her daughter in a telephone conversation about six years ago.

The mother, the third witness to testify in the sexual misconduct trial of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, said she was so enraged that she unleashed her fury the next day in the rabbi's office.

"I knew I was going to be quite loud and quite angry. I didn't want [my daughter] to be subjected to that," said the mother, who said she demanded to Lanner's secretaries, without success, that she address her complaints directly to the rabbi.

Lanner is a nationally known rabbi and a former leader in an Orthodox youth group and was the daughter's principal at theHilel Yeshiva in Ocean Towship.

Lanner, 52, a father of three who has lived in Paramus and Fair Lawn, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. Tuesday was the second day of testimony in state Superior Court in Monmouth County. Judge Paul Chaiet has barred the media from publishing the names of the accusers in the trial, which began June 12.

On Tuesday, defense attorneys questioned the family's appearance on the Sally Jesse Raphael show, during which the daughter talked about her alleged encounter with the rabbi.

The daughter, who also testified Tuesday, said that her words were scripted but still true.

The daughter who was 14 at the time of the alleged abuse, was the second former student to testify. Like the first, she said the rabbi touched her on the breast.

Defense attorneys have complained that the alleged victims, now both in their 20s, have admitted suffering from psychological problems or exhibiting bizarre behavior in high school.

On Tuesday, the woman's mother testified that Lanner talked to her daughter on the telephone and told her that he loved her.

The mother said she was listening on another telephone that tapped into the same line.

The state rested its case Tuesday, and Lanner's attorneys will question witnesses beginning at 9 a.m. today.

Secretary defends rabbi
By Tom Davis

The Star Ledger (New Jersey) - Thursday, June 20, 2002

Witnesses for Baruch Lanner say there was no sexual misconduct. (AP)

FREEHOLD - A secretary who once worked for a former Bergen County rabbi testified Wednesday that she never witnessed him touch teenage girls when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township.

Susan Snyder, testifying in the sexual misconduct trial of Baruch Lanner, contradicted two former students who accused the nationally known rabbi of sexual misconduct.

Snyder, Lanner's secretary from 1985 to 1997, said she could hear the rabbi's telephone conversations and never heard him utter a sexually inappropriate word. Two former students testified earlier that Lanner tried to seduce them in telephone discussions.

"I could hear what was going on," she testified in state Superior Court in Monmouth County. "The walls were made of glass. It was very thin."

Lanner, 52, a father of three who has lived in Paramus and Fair Lawn, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.

The defense called six witnesses to testify Wednesday, all of whom were former employees or associates of the rabbi when he was principal of the yeshiva. He also was the leader of an Orthodox youth group.

The defense witnesses said they never saw Lanner behave in a sexually inappropriate way. They said the rabbi's office was accessible, and at least part of it was visible through an outside glass window.

Snyder also contradicted the mother of one of the rabbi's two accusers, who said she was so enraged by the rabbi's behavior that she complained, loudly and bitterly, in front of Snyder one day in Lanner's office.

"It was just pleasant chit-chat," Snyder said of the conversation.


Women Detail Abuse By Lanner - Former students testify rabbi molested them in school
by Eric J. Greenberg The Jewish Week - June 21, 2002

Rabbi Baruch Laner at Trial
Freehold, N.J. — She was 14 and an incoming freshman at a yeshiva high school in New Jersey. He was 45, a married rabbi with three children, and the principal of the yeshiva at the shore. He was also one of the most prominent Orthodox Jewish youth leaders in America.

Yet once a week, the rabbi would call the 14-year-old student at home, proclaiming his love and promising she would be his wife someday.

At school he would summon the teenager to his office, where he would grope her private parts while she sat powerless and disgusted.

That was the testimony from a New Jersey college student on Tuesday, as the trial of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the former principal of the Hillel Yeshiva in Deal, N.J., entered its second week in Superior Court in Monmouth County.

The student, now 21, graphically detailed how her principal and religious mentor — she was affiliated at the time with the Orthodox youth group Rabbi Lanner helped lead — repeatedly molested her. She said the abuse took place in his office in 1995 for nearly the entire school year before she finally challenged him and was expelled.

The woman was the second of three witnesses — including her mother and a second female former Hillel student — who testified against Rabbi Lanner this week.

Judge Paul F. Chaiet has ruled that the media cannot publish the names of the two victims or the mother.

Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boser rested the state's case on Tuesday.

Rabbi Lanner, 52, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child in the incidents involving the two women. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in jail.

Rabbi Lanner's defense team was expected to begin calling witnesses Wednesday before a jury of seven men and seven women (two alternates). Contending that the abuses could not have occurred in Rabbi Lanner's office because of its lack of privacy, the defense planned to call school employees to testify the Venetian blinds in his office were always open and that they never saw or heard any disturbances there.

"That fishbowl of an office is not a private office," defense attorney Tama Kudman told the jury in opening statements last week.

The trial is expected to last another week.

The short, heavy-set rabbi with close-cropped hair and glasses is a former leader of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the largest Orthodox youth group in the nation. He was also principal at the Hillel Yeshiva for 15 years until he left quietly in 1997 amid rumors of his alleged misconduct.

Through nearly three hours of testimony and cross-examination, the student testified how the relationship with the rabbi began innocently with his offering to help her with personal and academic problems.

But she said Rabbi Lanner quickly moved to putting his hand around her shoulder, then rubbing her breast and thighs during private meetings after he summoned her to his office during the school day several times each week.

"I always thought he was a little creepy," said the woman, dressed in a white blouse, black slacks and black sweater.

In later testimony, the student's mother tearfully told jurors how she "was shocked" after first learning about the rabbi's advances. She said she overheard a phone conversation between her daughter and Rabbi Lanner in May 1996 in which he told the girl he loved her and pressured her to say she loved him.

The mother said she tried to discuss the incident with her daughter, "who was crying but wouldn't say a thing."

She tried to confront Rabbi Lanner the next day, the mother testified, and at first he refused to speak to her. He then denied he made the phone call, then said he made the call but did not say the things she alleged.

When the mother shouted at the rabbi and refused his demand that she leave, she said she was manhandled by two male school employees, one of whom was a rabbi and assistant principal.

Last week and early Tuesday, the first alleged victim, a 23-year-old woman — a former NCSY member and Hillel graduate — testified that when she was a student at the school, Rabbi Lanner touched her breast at least four times in his office during school hours. She said the principal also repeatedly called her at home when her parents weren't there and made crude sexual remarks.

The two students and the mother testified that it was an investigative report in The Jewish Week in June 2000 detailing a series of allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse against Rabbi Lanner by scores of former NCSY students that led them to contact New Jersey law enforcement officials and press charges. Rabbi Lanner was forced to resign from NCSY the day the first article was published.

Much of what the 21-year-old woman alleged in court this week was detailed in a Jewish Week article in July 2000 about her alleged abuse at the hands of Rabbi Lanner. On Tuesday, speaking in a clear voice in the small, wood-paneled courtroom, she recalled that her first day in high school was fine and the rabbi was "very nice and welcoming."

"The only unusual thing was he talked right up in my face," she said.

But almost immediately he began making sexual advances, she said, noting that Rabbi Lanner tried to convince her to become more observant and urged her to stay away from her parents because they weren't observant by Orthodox standards.

"If they weren't the solution, they were part of the problem," she quoted him as saying.

A couple of weeks into the school year, the physical contact began, she said.

"He would bring me in close," she testified. "He would put his arm around my shoulder."

That confused her, she said, because she was taught that Orthodox men and women aren't supposed to touch.

"I didn't say anything but I knew it was wrong," she testified.

She said during the one-on-one meetings in his office and elsewhere, Rabbi Lanner kept going further, trying to "cop a cheap feel" by stroking her legs, waist, breast area and inner thighs.

While she was testifying, Rabbi Lanner sat at the defense table with his three-person defense team. He mostly stared without expression at the young woman.

She testified that he repeatedly called her at home.

"The nature of the conversations was always the same: `You know how much I love you,' " she quoted the rabbi. " `One day you're going to be my wife.' "

She said she just "yessed him" to avoid conflict.

"Rabbi Lanner wasn't the type of person you talk back to," she said, stressing that he had a penchant for yelling at her. "He was a pretty scary guy."

But by May she confronted the rabbi in his office and a screaming match ensued.

"I just wasn't scared of him anymore," she said.

After the shouting, Rabbi Lanner "told me to get the hell out of his office."

She never told her parents about the situation, but she testified that she told Hillel vice principal Rabbi Steve Amon that Rabbi Lanner had acted inappropriately, without getting into specifics.

"He told me I probably did something wrong," she said.

In May 1995, the girl was expelled after cutting school and going to the local mall, where she shoplifted, she testified.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Julian Wilsey brought up her poor grades in her freshman year. The defense has sought to suggest that the accusers, who have admitted having had psychological problems, were seeking revenge on their former principal for punishing them academically.

The young women maintain that Rabbi Lanner's disciplinary actions came after they resisted his advances.

Last week, for example, the 23-year-old testified that when she finally told Rabbi Lanner to stop calling her at home, he punished her with detentions, transferred her out of the honors program and forced her out of NCSY — blocking her attempt to go on a trip to Israel.

Defense attorney Marvin Schecter asked why she sought to go to Israel on a group youth trip headed by a rabbi who had sexually harassed her. She said she did not know the rabbi would be leading the trip and that she wanted to go to Israel.

In contrast to her testimony, which seemed tentative at times and vague on specifics, the 21-year-old student spoke confidently and in detail about her encounters with the rabbi.

She revealed that she stopped attending morning prayers at Hillel, instead sneaking into the school gym to attend an "Atheist's Minyan" where rebellious students smoked marijuana and inhaled nitrous oxide cartridges, or laughing gas.

Her mother testified she sent her daughter to Hillel because she believed the yeshiva "would keep her as innocent as possible for as long as possible."

Surprise witness in rabbi sex case - Additional testimony may aid prosecutionBy Tom Feeney
The Star-Ledger New Jersey - Friday, June 21, 2002

The rabbi accused of groping two high school students continued his defense yesterday, but the focus of his trial shifted to a surprise prosecution witness.

The witness -- who is not expected to take the stand until Tuesday -- contacted prosecutors this week to say one of the two students had complained to him during the mid-1990s that Rabbi Baruch Lanner had "sexually touched her" during a meeting in his office at the Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, Monmouth County.

What's more, the man told prosecutors, he had shared the allegations with the rabbi who runs the New Jersey chapter of a large Orthodox Jewish youth group, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, the principal at Hillel until 1997, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a minor for allegedly groping the two students, both now in their 20s, on numerous occasions between 1992 and 1996.

The prosecution's case has rested almost entirely on the testimony of the two students. The only other witness the prosecution called was the mother of one of the students. She testified in Superior Court in Freehold that she listened in on the phone one night while Lanner told her daughter, then a high school freshman, that he planned to one day make her his wife. The mother could not offer testimony about the sexual contact because her daughter didn't tell her about it until years later.

The existence of the corroborating witness became public yesterday during the testimony of Rabbi Matt Tropp, director of the New Jersey region of the NCSY and a self-described Lanner protégé.

Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser asked Tropp whether the young man Edward Kline -- a contemporary of one of the victims -- had told him and another rabbi about the allegations against Lanner during an NCSY event in Elberon.

The jury was led out of the courtroom after defense attorneys objected to the line of questioning. In their absence, Boser explained to Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet that Kline had come forward Tuesday evening, and that he planned to call him as a rebuttal witness when the defense rests its case. Chaiet allowed Boser to pursue the question.

Tropp acknowledged knowing Kline through the NCSY, but insisted Kline had never told him about the student's troubles with Lanner. Also,Tropp and another witness testified that Kline's family has been angry with NCSY leaders for kicking a younger brother out of the group.

Even if Kline had told Tropp about the allegations against Lanner, Tropp said, he would not have gone to the police. Unlike teachers and social workers, he said, youth group leaders have no legal obligation to report potential abuse to the Division of Family and Youth Services.

Tropp did say he would have felt a moral obligation to make a report, though not to the police.

"I would certainly have reported it to some authority, certainly my supervisors," he said during cross-examination.

"Your first instinct would be to not report it to law enforcement, is that right?" Boser asked.

"Correct," Tropp said.

"That's because it would be embarrassing to the organization to have such a prominent person accused of a crime?" Boser asked.

"Correct," Tropp responded.

The two Monmouth County cases that led to the criminal charges have been just the tip of the iceberg for Lanner. In June 2000, the Jewish Week newspaper published a story accusing the charismatic rabbi of sexually, verbally and physically abusing scores of teenagers in his roles both asNCSY leader and high school principal. The Orthodox Union -- the parent group of the NCSY -- appointed a panel to investigate Lanner. The panel's findings substantially confirmed the newspaper's report.

The panel criticized the Orthodox Union for not taking more aggressive action against Lanner when complaints were filed earlier in his 28-year career.

Accused rabbi's attorney calls charges 'fiction'
By Tom Davis

The Star Ledger (New Jersey) - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

FREEHOLD - Defense attorneys told a Monmouth County jury Tuesday that testimony accusing a former Bergen County rabbi of sexual misconduct is riddled with "inconsistencies" and "fiction."

"There can only be one decision in this case. It must be an acquittal," defense attorney Marvin Schechter said during closing arguments of the six-day-old sexual misconduct trial of Baruch Lanner.

Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boster countered that the testimony of Lanner's two female accusers proved the rabbi was "gratifying himself, and he was intimidating and degrading" students when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township in the early to mid-Nineties.

A final jury of 12 will be chosen from among the seven men and seven women who have heard the case. The 12 will begin deliberations over Lanner's fate this morning.

Lanner, 52, a father of three who has lived in Paramus and Fair Lawn, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.

Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet sent the jury home Tuesday after nearly five hours of testimony and dramatic closing arguments from Boser and Schechter.

Schechter attacked testimony from the prosecutor's rebuttal witness, Edward Kline, a friend of a 23-year-old woman who testified earlier that Lanner touched her inappropriately on several occasions. Kline took the stand early Tuesday and said the alleged victim told him of the incidents while she was attending Hillel between 1992 and 1996.

He also said he told Rabbi Matthew Tropp, the regional director for the National Conference of Synagogue Youths, about the incident but Tropp brushed him off. Lanner was a part of NCSY's national leadership in the early Nineties.

Schechter noted that Tropp testified last Thursday that Kline never reported the allegation to him. "Ed Kline lied," he said. "Ed Kline lied to you under oath. That's never easy."

Boser, however, argued that Tropp was a close friend of Lanner and would never say anything that would incriminate the rabbi. Lanner's charisma and hot-tempered personality, he said, "intimidated and controlled" people like Tropp.

"Baruch Lanner had absolute control," Boser said. "He knew he was going to be unquestioned."

Schechter also attacked the testimony of Lanner's two female accusers - one now 23, the other 21. Both were teenagers when the alleged sexual misconduct took place, and both testified during the first two days of the trial. Chaiet has barred the media from publishing their names.

The defense attorney told the jury that both students had poor academic and disciplinary records, but both remain angry that Lanner tried to force them to do better.

Schechter noted that the 23-year-old testified that Lanner moved her out of a higher-track program because, she believed, she resisted his sexual advances. But the attorney held up a transcript documenting her poor academic record that he said was the actual reason for her transfer.

"You know on television there's always that moment when they reveal the smoking gun?" Schechter said. "Well, it never happens. Except in this trial, it happens."

Boser, on the other hand, dismissed Schechter's suggestion that the two accusers had any motive other than bringing to justice a man whose years of sexual misconduct went undetected.

He noted that both did not feel comfortable in approaching prosecutors with their accusations until 2000 - four years after they left the school.

Boser questioned whether its possible for the two women to hold a grudge over disciplinary actions taken against them for so long.

"You absolutely have to evaluate the credibility of the two women in this case," he said, suggesting that something as major as sexual misconduct would cause them to take action. "Did these women decide four years after they were free from his influence that they were going to pay him back?"

Jury deliberating fate of rabbi in sex abuse case
Newsday - June 26, 2002

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- A jury began deliberating the fate of a rabbi accused of molesting two students at a Monmouth County school while he was principal there.

The case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner went to the Superior Court jury Wednesday morning, a day after his lawyer told jurors his accusers were lying.

"Baruch Lanner did not touch either of the two women," Lanner's lawyer, Marvin E. Schechter, said in his closing argument.

But Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser said the girls told the truth.

"This case is about the fact that Baruch Lanner isolated these young high school students," he said. "He intimidated them, he took control of them, and he abused them."

Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, is accused of molesting the two female students at Hillel High School between 1992 and 1996. He is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. The students were under 16 at the time.

Endangering the welfare of a child, the most serious charge, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison.

During closing arguments, Schechter portrayed one accuser, now 23 years old, as a poor performer in high school. She claimed abuse as a way to "give herself credibility," Schechter said.

"This was a rough four years for her at that school," he said. And she remembered the one authority figure "who took her on."

In her 14-year-old mind, "It was Lanner who was responsible for her failure," he said.

The woman testified Lanner touched her breast over her clothes while she was a freshman and sophomore at Hillel, a yeshiva in Ocean Township. She claimed that Lanner transferred her to a lower track in school the day after she asked him not to call her at home.

Schecter said the second woman, now 21, wanted Lanner to pay for her difficulties at Hillel. She was expelled at the end of her freshman year after leaving school and going to Monmouth Mall.

She testified that Lanner put his hand on the side of her breast, her inner thigh and pubic area over several months. In May 1996, she said she had had enough and began to scream at Lanner in his office.

The lawyer said the abuse claims are not credible because Lanner's office had glass windows as walls so people could see inside.


Jury weighs groping case against rabbi
By Tom Feeney
The Star Ledger (New Jersey) - Thursday, June 27, 2002

A Monmouth County jury will continue today to deliberate the fate of Baruch Lanner, the Orthodox rabbi accused of groping two students at the high school where he served as principal.

The six men and six women deliberated for about five hours yesterday without reaching a verdict.

Lanner, 52, is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly touching two students at Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township between 1992 and 1996. The women -- whose identities are being withheld because of a court order -- are now in their 20s.

Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet instructed the jury in the law yesterday morning for an hour before they began deliberating. He told them not to infer anything from Lanner's decision not to take the stand during the trial. Likewise, he told them not to infer anything from the fact that the two victims waited several years before bringing criminal charges.

"It is not necessarily logical or true that a child or woman will complain after having been subjected to a sexual offense," he said. "Silence or failure to complain, therefore, does not necessarily mean that a sexual offense did not occur."

Chaiet told the jury to consider, in addition to the six counts of the indictment, the lesser, included charge of harassment. Lanner should be found guilty of that, he said, if the evidence shows that he subjected the girls to "offensive touching" for the purpose of harassing them.

The jury returned to the courtroom late yesterday afternoon and asked that several passages from the testimony of Lanner's accusers be reread by the court reporter.


Jury weighing fate of rabbi accused of molestation
Associated Press - Thursday, June 27, 2002

FREEHOLD - A jury began deliberating the fate of a Bergen County rabbi accused of molesting two students at a Monmouth County high school while he was principal there.

The case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner went to the Superior Court jury Wednesday morning, a day after his lawyer told jurors his accusers were lying.

"Baruch Lanner did not touch either of the two women," Lanner's lawyer, Marvin E. Schechter, said in his closing argument.

But Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser said the girls told the truth.

"This case is about the fact that Baruch Lanner isolated these young high school students," he said. "He intimidated them, he took control of them, and he abused them."

Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn, is accused of molesting the two female students at Hillel High School between 1992 and 1996. He is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, and endangering the welfare of a child. The students were under 16 at the time.

Endangering the welfare of a child, the most serious charge, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison.


Rabbi convicted of fondling
By Tom Davis
Bergen County Record - Friday, June 28, 2002

A former Bergen County rabbi was found guilty Thursday of fondling a teenage student while he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township during the early 1990s.

However, the jury of six men and six women in Freehold acquitted Baruch Lanner of two charges relating to a second female accuser.

Both women, who were teenagers when they were Lanner's students, testified during the trial against the nationally known rabbi.

After two days of deliberations, the jury convicted Lanner on two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, one for each accuser. He was convicted on one count of aggravated and criminal sexual contact against one accuser, who is now 23. He also was found guilty of one count of harassment.

The 52-year-old rabbi, a divorced father of three who has lived in Paramus and Fair Lawn, faces up to 20 years in prison and $300,000 in fines. Sentencing by Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Lanner, who was smiling and somewhat upbeat after the verdicts were read, was released on his own recognizance. His mother, who witnessed the entire trial and was sobbing as the verdicts were read, is supposed to sign a $100,000 bail bond by 12:30 p.m. today.

Lanner, a former leader in a widely acclaimed Orthodox youth group, faced the media after the verdicts and thanked "the United States of America for giving me a fair trial."

He then offered a Jewish blessing that he said is often recited in an "unpleasant" situation: "Bless art thou God the true judge."

Defense attorney Marvin Schechter, looking glum, said he was "very disappointed" in the verdict and is considering an appeal. He may challenge the judge's decision to bar release of the accusers' mental health records during the trial.

The accusers testified that Lanner often made sexually explicit remarks in telephone conversations with them and routinely called them into his office and fondled their breasts and other parts of their bodies.

Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boser said in his closing argument that the testimony proved the rabbi was "gratifying himself, and he was intimidating and degrading" students.

Throughout the trial, Lanner's defense team hammered away at the credibility of the accusers, whose names Chaiet prohibited from being published.

Both had a history of academic and disciplinary problems at Hillel, as well as mental health problems, according to testimony from the school's teachers and administrators.

Boser praised the jury: "They considered the evidence carefully and didn't take any shortcuts," he said.

The trial came as reports of sexual misconduct involving religious leaders have shaken the Catholic Church and other institutions. Both sides in the Lanner case expressed confidence that the jurors were not prejudiced by national publicity.

Lanner appeared confident throughout the trial, and even kissed Schechter's hand after his dramatic closing argument on Tuesday.

For others, the trial was an emotional ordeal as they watched the accusers struggle to try to remember graphic details of incidents that took place a decade ago. The mother of one of the accusers smiled after she heard the verdict.

"I'm very exhausted, emotionally and physically, and I just want to get home to my daughter," said the woman.

The jury rejected the defense's argument that the accusers were angry with Lanner for imposing strict academic standards.

The defense noted the 23-year-old testified that Lanner moved her out of a higher-track program because, she believed, she resisted his sexual advances. During his closing argument, Schechter held up a transcript documenting her poor academic record, which he said was the actual reason for her transfer. He called it the "smoking gun" of the trial.

The defense also paraded a series of witnesses who were former employees or associates of the rabbi when he was principal.

All said they never saw Lanner behaving in a sexually inappropriate way.

They said the rabbi's office was accessible, and at least part of it was visible through glass windows, and so any inappropriate acts would have been witnessed.


June 23, 2000 - Jewish Week reports that as principal and on his duties with the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, Rabbi Baruch Lanner allegedly sexually, physically, and emotionally harassed or abused several teens in the last three decades.

June 27, 2000 - The Orthodox Union accepts Lanner's resignation From the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. (NCSY)

July 12, 2000 - Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye says his office is conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation based on the allegations against Lanner.

Dec. 26, 2000 - The Orthodox Union Releases a report accusing Lanner of sexually abusing women and girls and physically abusing boys and girls. The report concludes some personnel of the union and NCSY failed to respond properly to "red flags" raised during decades of complaints against Lanner.

March 21, 2000 - A Monmouth County grand jury indicts Lanner on charges that he had sexual contact with female students at Hillel Yeshiva. Lanner is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, and endangering the welfare of a child.

April 30, 2000 - Lanner surrenders to authorities and pleads not guilty. He surrenders his passport and is freed without bail. Lanner faces up to 40 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of molesting the girls.

Oct. 19, 2001 - A state Superior Court judge rejects Lanner's request to dismiss the charges. Lanner denies the allegations, and his lawyers say there is reason to question the credibility and mental stability of his two accusers.

June 12, 2002 - Trial opens. During opening arguments, prosecutors say they will prove that Lanner used his power "to isolate, intimidate them, and abuse" the female students when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva. Defense lawyers counter that Lanner did not have privacy in his office to commit such offenses.

June 27, 2002 - A jury convicts Lanner of fondling one student. He is acquitted of fondling another of his accusers.

Lanner Protégé Under Scrutiny
Testimony from Rabbi Matt Tropp conflicts with N.J. law on reporting cases of possible abuse.

by Eric J. Greenberg
The Jewish Week - June 28, 2002

It is no secret that Rabbi Matt Tropp's job as director of the largest region in the country of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) was on the line following allegations of teen abuse by Rabbi Baruch Lanner two years ago. Not only had Rabbi Tropp long called Rabbi Lanner his rebbe and mentor, but he was considered his "hatchet man," according to several former NCSY members.

In the last year, though, even critics credited him with embracing the new standards and procedures written by a parental oversight group of his Etz Chaim region of NCSY in New Jersey.

Now, following his testimony in the Lanner trial this week, Rabbi Tropp may again be in trouble, according to OU and NCSY leaders.

First, Rabbi Tropp testified that he considers himself exempt from the state's tough law requiring all citizens to report any allegations of child abuse to the state Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).

Then he asserted that he is still in close contact with Rabbi Lanner, despite a strong edict issued several weeks ago by NCSY and its parent organization, the Orthodox Union, stating that any employee of NCSY in contact with Rabbi Lanner would be subject to dismissal.

OU executive vice president Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb told The Jewish Week Monday that he expected all NCSY employees to obey the law and all regional directors to be "thoroughly familiar" with legislation in their respective states.

Informed of Rabbi Tropp's statements under oath, Rabbi Weinreb said he would examine Rabbi Tropp's testimony after the trial is over.

"It certainly bears a thorough investigation," he said, "and if necessary, appropriate discipline."

Rabbi Weinreb also said he intended to enforce a directive he issued on May 30 barring all NCSY employees from having professional or personal contact with Rabbi Lanner "under penalty of dismissal."

Rabbi Tropp testified last week that he knew Rabbi Lanner since childhood, when he was 12, and maintained a close relationship with him.

Murray Sragow, a member of the Etz Chaim NCSY oversight committee, said "there was great concern [about Rabbi Tropp two years ago] among parents because of his relationship with Rabbi Lanner," but that the situation had eased since Rabbi Tropp was working to implement recommendations. In light of the youth leader's statements at the trial, though, "it brings into question" whether he should remain in his post, Sragow said.

In his testimony last Thursday, Rabbi Tropp, called as a defense witness, said he was not aware until the summer of 2000 — after a Jewish Week investigation revealed years of alleged abuse of teens by Rabbi Lanner — of New Jersey's law requiring citizens to report abuse to the state, even though he was a youth leader in the state for years.

Under questioning from Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boser, Rabbi Tropp denied that a then 14-year-old girl, or anyone else, ever came to him to complain about Rabbi Lanner's alleged sexual abuse or any inappropriate behavior by Rabbi Lanner, who had hired him at NCSY.

Rabbi Tropp contended he is not legally required to report such suspicions.

"I'm not a legal reporter. I'm not a social worker or a teacher," he said.

Said Boser: "As leader of a youth group you don't have to report to DYFS?"

"Correct," Rabbi Tropp said.

Later, defense attorney Robert Schechter sought to minimize the damage and asked Rabbi Tropp whether he ever believed he was required to report, under the law, a suspected case of child abuse.

"No," Rabbi Tropp responded.

Pressed by Schechter, Rabbi Tropp said that now he would "certainly" report such allegations "to some authority — my [NCSY] supervisors."

He did not mention an obligation to report cases of possible abuses to the state.

Rabbi Tropp also said he never made a phone call to his NCSY superiors about the female student who testified she was molested by Rabbi Lanner between 1992 and 1994 because "there was nothing to report."

A surprise witness for the prosecution — who came forward at the 11th hour — testified on Tuesday that he told Rabbi Tropp about Rabbi Lanner's alleged molesting of the now 23-year-old woman.

The witness, Edward Kline, was a schoolmate of the alleged victim, whose anonymity was requested by the court.

Rabbi Tropp testified last Thursday that Kline never came to him.


Critics Call for Firing of Lanner Protégé - Orthodox Union Official Testified for Defense in Sex Abuse Trial
By Nacha Cattan

FORWARD - JUNE 28, 2002

As the sex abuse trial of former Orthodox Union youth group leader Rabbi Baruch Lanner drew to a close, critics were calling for the ouster of one of his top protégés in the organization.

A female accuser in the case and a witness who testified this week both said they told Rabbi Matt Tropp, the current director of the Etz-Chaim New Jersey region of the union's National Congregation of Synagogue Youth, that Lanner was abusing the accuser and that Tropp did nothing about it. The claim was denied by Tropp during his testimony.

Another woman not involved with the trial, Dena Lerhman, is also accusing Tropp of doing nothing after she told him Lanner verbally abused her.

Meanwhile, the O.U.'s executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, said the organization is planning to investigate Tropp concerning his testimony at the trial, specifically his assertion that he is not legally obligated to report claims of abuse to authorities. New Jersey law states that "any person" with "reasonable cause" must report child abuse to government authorities. Tropp also testified that if the accuser would have told him about the alleged abuse by Lanner, his first instinct would be to report such information to "my superiors" and not to the police.

Some of Lanner's alleged victims who were not part of the trial said Tropp should be fired. Others lambasted the O.U. for not ensuring that its leaders know the laws on reporting abuse cases, especially after the Lanner scandal rocked the organization two years ago and brought promises of reform.

Tropp did not return phone calls placed to his home and office.

Lanner, 52, is on trial only for the accusations made by two women who say that he assaulted them in the mid-1990s while they were students and he was the principal at Hillel High School in Ocean Township, N.J.

The former director of regions of NCSY, Lanner faces up to 40 years in jail on two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and child endangerment in a Monmouth County, N.J. courthouse. Lanner, who is also a former regional director of the Etz-Chaim region, claims the two former students fabricated the charges because they had had conflicts with him.

A 331-page report prepared in 2000 by a special commission appointed to investigate the O.U.'s role in the Lanner affair found that Rabbi Lanner sexually abused women and teenage girls and physically abused boys and girls.

Tropp, who was called as a defense witness, testified that the scheduling of the NCSY retreat, where the younger alleged victim claims she was molested, made it impossible for the abuse to take place.

Weinreb said that a regional director of NCSY not knowing the relevant laws governing his or her region was grounds for "strict disciplinary measures and perhaps dismissal." But Weinreb would not comment specifically about Tropp except to say that the matter will be investigated. "I'll make sure everyone in the NCSY system knows what the law requires of them," Weinreb said. "I'll do that ASAP."

Lanner's critics were disturbed that three other rabbis, two of them currently working with children, contradicted claims of the accusers while testifying for the defense. The rabbis, who all taught at Hillel, are Rabbi Perry Tershwel, principal of the Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, Fla.; Rabbi Nisanel Yudin, assistant principal of Frisch Yeshiva High School of Northern New Jersey, and Rabbi Jonathan Zakutinsky, who testified that he is close friends with Lanner.

Unlike laws in other states such as New York that specify who is required to report child abuse, the New Jersey statute broadly mandates "any person" to report. According to a spokesman at New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services, Joseph Delmar, this means that no one is exempt from reporting abuse, including clergy. Failure to report a case could result in the equivalent of a misdemeanor.

Some legal experts, however, say that in cases involving exchanges similar to sacramental confessions, clergy may raise the argument that they are immune. Tropp testified that youth leaders are not legally obligated to report.

The first accuser, a 23-year-old woman, testified that while she was a freshman and sophomore at Hillel, Lanner touched her breast "in the area of" four times and made lewd comments to her. She said she had told Tropp that Lanner behaved "very inappropriately" with her and implied to him that it was of a sexual nature. The second accuser, a 21-year-old woman, testified that Lanner touched her breasts, thighs and "pubic area" almost every day for several months while she was a freshman at Hillel.

The court barred reporters from printing the names of the accusers.

A 23-year-old former NCSY member, Edward Kline, testified Tuesday that when he was 15 or 16 he and three other then-NCSY members approached Tropp at a weekend retreat. Kline said his group told Tropp and senior Etz-Chaim director Shimmie Kaminetsky that one of the accusers confided in them that Lanner touched her in an "an inappropriate manner."

Kline told the jury that Tropp's response was: "we were making it up, that he didn't believe Rabbi Lanner would do something like that, that we were liars."

Tropp and Kaminetsky denied in their testimony that they were told about Lanner and the accuser. They both said that Kline's father threatened NCSY leaders after Edward Kline's younger brother was excluded from some programs as a penalty for misbehaving.

In a strongly worded closing argument Tuesday, defense attorney Marvin Schecter said the jury should acquit Lanner not only because of reasonable doubt but because, "You have evidence of subterfuge, lies and inconsistencies."

Schecter said he brought eight witnesses, including several teachers, who say, in contradiction to the accusers, that the window blinds in Lanner's windowed office were always up. The lawyer argued that easy access to Lanner's office made it impossible for the accusers to be molested there or in surrounding areas.

Schecter said it was unbelievable that the younger accuser was allowed by her parents to continue at the school for two more years after she told them about the abuse. He said both accusers are retaliating against Lanner for their bad years in high school.

In his closing argument, Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser said that the defense's assumption that Lanner had no privacy is questionable and does not make it impossible for him to molest the accusers quickly or on the sly.

Lehrman, a pediatric occupational therapist now living in the West Bank, told the Forward that in 1984, when she was 17, Lanner made numerous sexual comments to her which she related to Tropp. Lehrman said that Lanner once asked her to sleep with him when she was a student president of NCSY's Etz-Chaim region.

"I repeatedly told Matt Tropp the sexual comments Baruch Lanner made to me," Lehrman, now 36, told the Forward. "[Tropp's] reaction was pretty consistent. He would throw up his hands and say. 'Dena, you're not going to change him. That's the way he is.'"

Lehrman said she was "shocked" when Tropp testified June 20 that he would have reported claims to superiors and not law enforcement authorities. "I don't understand the rehabilitation Etz Chaim is claiming," Lehrman told the Forward. "It's time for [Tropp] to leave. But NCSY is a positive organization and this is an opportunity to rebuild it from the bottom up."

One of Lanner's alleged victims, Elie Hiller from West Orange, N.J., told the Forward that Tropp should be "canned." Another alleged NCSY victim, Lisa Rabinowitz Dunn of Hastings, N.Y., told the Forward the blame for Tropp's testimony lays squarely with the O.U.

The organization, she said: "Is supposed to be in charge, and two years later they're having someone who doesn't even know their legal obligation in identifying sexual abuse running a religious organization. Where's the change?"

Dunn says Lanner made sexually explicit comments to her over the phone when she was between the ages of 11 and 14. In one instance, she said, Lanner drove her to a dark parking lot and asked her to kiss him. Dunn told the Forward that if Lanner were acquitted she would be "inclined" to file a civil suit against him. "But I have not made my decision yet," she said.

The chairman of the special O.U. commission on Lanner, Richard Joel, praised Weinreb's response to the Tropp testimony. "A reasonable person would listen to Rabbi Weinreb's reaction and say, 'He gets it,'" said Joel, president of Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.



Vigorous Defense In Lanner Case
Attorney insists abuse could not have happened in `fishbowl' office

Eric J. Greenberg - Staff Writer
The Jewish Week - June 28, 2002

Rabbi Baruch Lanner - Convicted Sex Offender
Freehold, N.J. — Were the Venetian blinds open or closed? After nearly three weeks of court testimony, the question about the level of privacy in a yeshiva high school principal's office was at the crux of the defense's case in the trial here of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the disgraced former national Orthodox youth group leader.A 12-person jury sitting in Superior Court was given the task Wednesday to decide whether they believed two young women, now in their 20s, who testified that Rabbi Lanner molested them while he was their principal at Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J., in the mid 1990s. Or, they could believe Rabbi Lanner, who did not take the stand, but in declaring his innocence, saw 14 friends and former employees testify on his behalf, virtually all asserting the blinds in his office were always open.

A verdict in the case was expected this week.

The Lanner case has rocked the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest Orthodox membership group in the nation, forcing senior officials, including Rabbi Lanner, to step down. For three decades he was a top director of the OU's National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY).

The trial has received national attention, no doubt spurred by the sex abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Church. CNN and the Washington Post have covered the Lanner trial, saying that it opens a window into child sex abuse problems in the Jewish community at a time when abuse by religious leaders in various faiths is coming under scrutiny.

In an emotional 90-minute summation Tuesday, defense attorney Marvin Schechter told the jury the molestations of the two girls could never have happened because Rabbi Lanner's office did not provide him enough privacy. Using charts, photographs, drawings and the testimony of 14 witnesses, Schechter described the principal's office as "a porous, open fishbowl" where inappropriate sexual advances could not have taken place.

Former Hillel yeshiva teachers, secretaries and other employees testified that the blinds covering Rabbi Lanner's window-enclosed office were always up. "The blinds are crucial to this case," said the defense attorney, one of three sitting next to the rabbi in the small, heated courtroom where the air conditioning had failed Tuesday afternoon.

"When you take a look at the diagrams you have to come to the conclusion that the blinds were up," Schechter told the jury.

The two women, whose names are being withheld by orders of Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet, testified last week that the blinds were down when Rabbi Lanner summoned them to his office to molest them repeatedly.

In order to convict Rabbi Lanner, Schechter told the jury they would have to conclude that all the defense witnesses lied or misled them under oath about the blinds never being closed.

Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Boser, during his 55-minute summation, countered that it was suspicious that all the defense witnesses testified "in unison, in lockstep" that the blinds were "never, ever closed.

"Wouldn't there be circumstances, times he needs privacy?" Boser wondered, suggesting private meetings with staff and students about sensitive issues. "If you listen to the defense case, everything is impossible," said Boser, referring to Schechter's summation that all the accusations of the two women against the rabbi, whether they occurred in his office, in a school corridor, or at NCSY regional meetings — where Rabbi Lanner was a leader and the two victims were also members – could never have happened.

Rabbi Lanner, 51, of Fair Lawn, was indicted on two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1997, during his 15-year tenure as principal of Hillel.

There was a bit of drama on Tuesday surrounding the testimony of "surprise" witness Edward Kline, a 23-year-old former NCSY member. Kline came forward late last week to corroborate the first woman's testimony that she complained to authorities at the Hillel yeshiva and NCSY about Rabbi Lanner, and that they ignored her.

Kline testified he personally complained on behalf of the woman to two NCSY officials, Rabbi Matt Tropp, the director of the New Jersey chapter, and Shimmie Kaminetsky, an NCSY program director, in 1995 or 1996, at an NCSY Shabbaton, a Sabbath weekend gathering. Kline said both Rabbi Tropp and Kaminetsky called him a liar and dismissed his accusations.

Kline thus directly disputed Rabbi Tropp, who testified last week that no one ever told him about Rabbi Lanner's alleged sexual harassment of that woman, or anyone else. (See sidebar)

Kaminetsky, currently executive director of a Riverdale, N.Y., synagogue and director of Senior NCSY, also denied Tuesday that Kline approached him about Rabbi Lanner.

Schechter, in his summation, attacked the credibility of the two alleged victims, characterizing them as students with bad grades and personal problems who years later have schemed to gain revenge against Rabbi Lanner for their "rotten" high school experience.

Schechter painted the 21-year-old woman, who was expelled from Hillel in the spring of her freshman year, as a pot smoking, "defiant, mean-spirited" woman who "hated her life, hated her religion, hated Rabbi Tropp and hated that guy," pointing to Rabbi Lanner. "You have to wonder why she would go back to that office every day to get molested," he said referring to the woman's testimony that she was frequently called to the principal's office and was abused there. "That's because she wasn't molested."

Schechter dismissed the supporting testimony of the woman's mother as a sad attempt on her part to restart a relationship with an estranged daughter.

He described the other alleged victim, the 23-year-old woman, who graduated from Hillel, as a "troubled misfit" whose uncertain recollections of details undermined her credibility. "How is the jury supposed to determine where the truth begins and the fiction ends?" he asked.

With dramatic flair he challenged her contentions that Rabbi Lanner retaliated against her after she rejected his sexual advances by suddenly transferring her out of honors classes. Schechter proclaimed he had a "smoking gun" to refute the young woman, a memo to her mother that her grades were suffering and she was being transferred.

Boser dismissed the "smoking gun," as theatrics and told the jury they should believe the women because they answered honestly and thoughtfully and had no reason to put themselves through the ordeal of a court proceeding after all these years other than to seek justice.

"Rabbi Lanner isolated them, intimidated them, took control over them, and abused them," Boser declared.

Defense attorney Schechter, seeking to show the honesty of the defense witnesses, noted that even they described Rabbi Lanner as "intimidating, abrasive and abusive," his point being that they still insisted his office blinds were always open.

Rabbi Lanner did not take the stand. The jury was instructed that is his right under the law and they should not hold it against him in deliberations.

During pre-trial motions, Judge Chaiet rejected the prosecution's request to present evidence that Rabbi Lanner acted in sexually suggestive ways toward two girls who were students at the Frisch School in Paramus between 1979 and 1985. Defense attorney Julian Wilsey countered that even if the allegations against his client were true, while they were "juvenile, ill-advised and inappropriate for a teacher and clergyman," they were not criminal and should not be permitted as evidence.

Rabbi Lanner was forced to leave Hillel in 1997 amid allegations of abuse. He was forced to quit NCSY in June 2000 the day after a Jewish Week investigation was published, chronicling three decades of alleged abuse of teens by Rabbi Lanner. The two women who pressed charges came forward after hearing about the newspaper investigation.

Rabbi Lanner Guilty
By Eric Green Berg

The Jewish Week - June 28, 2002 - 3 p.m.

Freehold, N.J. - Rabbi Baruch Lanner, once a prominent national Orthodox youth group leader and New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was convicted late Thursday of sexually abusing two teenage girls while they were his students in the mid-1990s.

After two days of deliberations, a 12- person jury here found the 52-year-old Rabbi Lanner guilty of endangering the welfare of both girls, the most serious charge. In addition, he was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact and sexual contact against one of the girls, and acquitted of those charges against the other. He was also convicted of harassment against the second girl.

The rabbi is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 13 and faces a maximum 20 years in prison on the two endangering convictions, as well as up to $300,000 in fines.

However, court experts said they expected the prison term to be considerably less, given that this is a first offense and Rabbi Lanner's standing as a clergyman.

Defense attorney Marvin Schechter said the five-person defense team is considering an appeal.

Speaking to the press for the first time, shortly after his conviction, Rabbi Lanner quoted the Talmudic passage: "Blessed art thou, God, the true judge," customarily recited on hearing of a death.

Rabbi Lanner was released on his own recognizance, but his passport was being held by Monmouth County prosecutors. Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser said Rabbi Lanner cannot have unsupervised contact with children under 18 years of age.

On Friday, Rabbi Lanner and his mother, Augusta, were expected to appear in court and sign an agreement that they are liable for $100,000 if he flees. He is also expected to undergo psychological evaluation at a sexual treatment center in Woodbridge, N.J.

The convictions involve incidents while Rabbi Lanner was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J.

At the same time he was director of regions for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an arm of the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox organization in the country.

During the two-week trial in Monmouth County, before Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet, the women, now 23 and 21, testified that Rabbi Lanner touched their breasts and other body parts through their clothing and had phone conversations with them of a sexual nature.

The women said that when they rebuffed his advances, he retaliated against them in school and at events of NCSY, where they were also members.

"We are very gratified with the outcome of the verdict," said the parents of the 21-year-old, noting they feel she has been vindicated.

The victims testified it was a June 2000 Jewish Week investigation of Rabbi Lanner, which contained interviews with dozens of people who said that he had sexually, physically or psychologically abused them while they were teens, which spurred them to press charges.

Rabbi Lanner resigned the day the article appeared. Several weeks later, the Monmouth County prosecutor's office launched an investigation. On Dec 26, 2000, the OU issued a report accusing Rabbi Lanner of sexually abusing women and girls and physically abusing boys and girls. The report revealed that OU and NCSY officials had known of the rabbi's behavior but failed to stop it.


N.J. Rabbi Convicted of Sexual Abuse
by Alan Cooperman
Washington Post - Friday, June 28, 2002; Page A12

A prominent Orthodox rabbi who ran a religious high school and held a senior position in a national Jewish youth group was convicted yesterday of sexually abusing two teenage girls.

After a two-week trial and two days of deliberations, a jury in Monmouth County, N.J., found Rabbi Baruch Lanner, 52, guilty of aggravated sexual contact, sexual contact, harassment by offensive touching and endangering the welfare of a child. He could face a prison term of more than 20 years at his Sept. 13 sentencing.

The victims, now 23 and 21, testified that Lanner engaged in lewd conversations, touched their breasts through their clothing and punished them when they resisted his advances from 1992 to 1996. At the time, Lanner was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J., and the No. 3 official of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox Jewish youth group.


Monmouth rabbi guilty in school sex case - Principal endangered welfare of two girls
By Rudy Larini

The Star-Ledger - Friday, June 28, 2002

An Orthodox rabbi accused of fondling two young girls at a Monmouth County yeshiva where he was principal was convicted yesterday of endangering the welfare of both girls, the most serious charge against him.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner was also convicted of aggravated sexual contact and sexual contact with one of the victims. The jury acquitted him of those charges with respect to the other girl but found him guilty on the lesser charge of harassing her.

Defense lawyers claimed the verdict on the second girl was "inconsistent" and would be a basis of appeal.

Lanner, 52, was accused of groping the two young girls in his office while serving as principal of the Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township. There was testimony that he also telephoned them at home, made lewd and sexually suggestive comments, and promised one that he would some day marry her.

The offenses occurred between 1992 and 1996, when both students were under 16 years of age. One is now 20 years old and the other is 23.

Neither Lanner nor his mother showed any emotion when the guilty verdicts were read by the jury foreman.

Outside the courtroom, Lanner thanked the government "for giving me a fair trial" and cited a traditional prayer of the Jewish faith.

"Blessed art thou, God, the true judge," he said.

Before leaving the Freehold courtroom after the verdict, Lanner smiled while being hugged by one of his defense lawyers, saying to him, "Don't worry about it."

Lanner faces a maximum of 10 years in prison with a presumptive sentence of seven years for each count of endangering the welfare of a child. The aggravated sexual contact charge carries a maximum sentence of five years, while sexual contact is punishable by 18 months in prison. Harassment carries a six-month sentence.

State Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet set sentencing for Sept. 13.

Lanner's defense team said it would appeal the verdict, citing what it described as the inconsistency of the jury's findings with respect to the younger of the two girls.

Aggravated sexual contact and sexual contact, which the jury concluded he did not commit, are essential elements of a guilty verdict for endangering, they said, while harassment alone legally cannot constitute a basis for that offense.

The jurors deliberated for seven hours yesterday after weighing the evidence for five hours on Wednesday. As they had on the first day, they asked to have victim testimony reread late in the afternoon. Minutes later, they announced they had reached a verdict.

The mother of the woman who the jury concluded was not a victim of criminal sexual contact had left the court in tears Tuesday, saying she was afraid the rabbi would be acquitted.

"I'm very exhausted, emotionally and physically, and I just want to get home to my daughter right now," she said while leaving the courthouse yesterday.

Chaiet has ordered the press not to identify her or either victim.

Both the defense and prosecution agreed there were gaps and inconsistencies in the victims' testimony, but the two sides offered the jury contrasting versions of why.

Defense attorney Marvin E. Schechter claimed the flawed testimony proved the girls had fabricated the accusations against Lanner because they were unhappy as students at the Jewish high school.

But Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser contended that lapses in remembering incidents from years ago are plausible. If the former students were making up the allegations against Lanner, their testimony would have been more polished, Boser argued.

"As both sides said, it was resolved around the credibility of the victims," Boser noted after the verdict.

"We thought we did a pretty good job in exposing the weaknesses and inconsistencies in the testimony of the two claimants," Schechter told reporters.

Asked what might have been the defense's undoing, the defense lawyer replied, "I think we're in difficult times right now in child sex abuse cases."

For much of this year, the Catholic Church has been tormented by allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and the tendency of the church's supervising bishops to overlook rather than deal with the scandalous incidents.

Lanner's victims came forward two summers ago after a June 2000 article in the Jewish Week newspaper accused the rabbi of having sexually, physically and emotionally abused scores of youngsters during his 28-year career as a teacher and as a director in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

The conference's parent organization, the Manhattan-based Orthodox Union, which is the largest Orthodox Jewish organization in the world, conducted it own investigation of Lanner and concluded there was "extensive, disturbing, graphic evidence" that Lanner had abused women and teenagers during the 1970s and 1980s.

The investigative panel's 332-page report blamed Jewish leaders for ignoring Lanner's conduct, and a month after the report was issued, Rabbi Raphael Butler of Queens resigned as executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.

The Monmouth County convictions represent the only criminal charges the rabbi has faced.

Lanner, who lives in Fair Lawn, did not testify during the two-week trial. He was released on his own recognizance yesterday, though his bail was increased from $50,000 to $100,000. He would have to put up the money only if he misses a court appearance.

The rabbi left the Hillel Yeshiva in 1997 and resigned from his job with the National Conference of Synagogue Youth in June 2000, the day the accusations against him appeared in the Jewish Week.


Sexual Abuse Scandal Hits Orthodox Jews
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post - Saturday, June 29, 2002; Page A02

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- While sexual abuse of minors by priests has shaken the Roman Catholic Church this year, a smaller-scale but still painful scandal over sexual abuse by a charismatic rabbi has reverberated through the nation's Orthodox Jewish community.

The Jewish scandal came to a head Thursday, when a jury of six men and six women here in central New Jersey found Rabbi Baruch Lanner, 52, guilty of abusing two teenage girls. Once a rising star among Jewish educators, Lanner had been principal of a private religious high school as well as a full-time, high-ranking official in the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, an association of more than 1,000 synagogues.

Lanner's case has some striking similarities to the revelations of misconduct in the Catholic clergy. During his 30-year career as a Jewish youth leader, he sexually, physically and emotionally abused dozens of teenage girls and boys while his colleagues failed to believe or act on the allegations, according to a stinging internal investigation by the Orthodox Union.

Much as the Catholic scandal erupted from reporting by the Boston Globe in January, the story of the Lanner case was broken in June 2000 by New York Jewish Week. Since then, the Orthodox Union, like the Catholic Church, has been consumed by public apologies, personnel changes and establishment of stricter policies against abuse.

"I only came this year, so it is not my mea culpa personally, but this organization has apologized, we have said we were wrong, we should have known better, we should have acted sooner," said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, who took over in January as the Orthodox Union's executive vice president, its top paid staff position. "At this point, we are so sensitized that it is hard to believe there could be any allegation of abuse, on any level, local or national, that is not going to be reported and acted on very quickly."

Yet there are also major differences between the Jewish and Catholic scandals. One is scale.

Lanner is hardly the first American Jewish clergyman accused of sexual abuse. Lilith, a Jewish feminist magazine, caused a furor in the spring of 1998 with an article reporting numerous accusations of molestation of teenage girls by the late Shlomo Carlebach, an Orthodox rabbi famous worldwide for his melodies. The cantor at New York City's largest Reform synagogue also was charged in February with sexually molesting his nephew.

But none of the country's major Jewish movements -- Reform, Conservative or Orthodox -- face anything like the tidal wave of criminal charges and civil lawsuits, involving hundreds of priests, that have hit the Catholic Church.

Another difference is structural. While some bishops have shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish, rabbis are hired and fired by the boards of directors of individual synagogues. "An offender could conceivably be dismissed by one congregation and get a job in another one, but there is no superior rabbi in a position to shift an offender from here to there," Weinreb noted.

Lanner's offenses, both proven and alleged, also differ from the typical cases among Catholic clergy, which involve molestation for sexual gratification in secret. According to a 54-page public summary of the Orthodox Union's internal investigation, much of Lanner's abusive behavior took place openly, and much of it was not sexual but physical, particularly his alleged propensity for kneeing teenage boys in the groin.

Peter Boser, the assistant Monmouth County prosecutor, urged the jury in his summation to "keep in mind, one possibility of sexual contact is to sexually gratify the defendant. . . . But also, if he does it for the purpose to humiliate, to degrade, that is also sexual contact."

The two victims, now 21 and 23, testified that Lanner engaged them in increasingly personal -- and often lewd -- conversations in nighttime phone calls when they were students from 1992 to 1996 at Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J. As principal of the school and a leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, they said, he controlled both their academic and social lives and punished them when they resisted his physical and emotional embraces.

Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet has ordered reporters not to disclose the victims' full names. One of them, identified as M.L., testified that on about four occasions, Lanner put his arm around her and touched her breasts through her clothing. The other victim, identified as M.C., said he touched her breasts, legs and pubic area, also through her clothing.

M.C.'s mother testified that in 1996, she picked up a telephone extension in her home and was stunned to hear Lanner, who is divorced and has three grown children, tell her 14-year-old daughter that "someday you'll be my wife."

Lanner's defense attorneys sought to persuade the jury that M.C. and M.L. were bent on revenge because they had a "rotten time" in high school and Lanner had punished them, appropriately, for serious academic and disciplinary problems. A parade of 14 teachers and school administrators testified that Lanner's office had glass walls with open blinds, making it impossible for him to touch a female student without being noticed.

Ultimately, the trial hinged on the victims' credibility. After two weeks of testimony and two days of deliberations, the jury convicted Lanner of the most serious charges against him, including aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. At his Sept. 13 sentencing, he could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

Lanner, a heavyset, gregarious man who kissed his lead attorney's hand at the end of the trial, responded to the verdict with a Hebrew phrase meaning, "Blessed is the true judge" -- the Almighty.

One of Lanner's lawyers, Fred M. Zemel, said he is convinced that the jury was influenced by months of news coverage of clerical abuses.

"It was in the back of everyone's mind. It's a volatile atmosphere," he said. "This was a lynch mob, and they lynched him."

Boser, on the other hand, noted that the jury was not told about the Orthodox Union's internal investigation in 2000, which found 10 women who accused Lanner of sexual abuse and "credible testimony" from witnesses describing abusive sexual conduct by the rabbi toward 16 others.

The Orthodox Union has not publicly released the full, 332-page report, citing the privacy of those who provided information and a desire to withhold "salacious or sensationalistic" details.

"Lanner, in street terms, was and still is a control freak," Weinreb said. "The things he is accused of doing were all a power trip . . . But there is no question that the Lanner case has turned the attention of everyone in the Jewish educational world to the problem of abuse."


Rabbi's trial begins
by Elaine Silvestrini- Freehold Bureau
Asbury Park Press (NJ) - June 12, 2002

FREEHOLD - Jury selection began yesterday in the case of a rabbi accused of sexually molesting two teen-age students while he was principal of Hillel High School in Ocean Township.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, 52, of Fair Lawn is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1997.

Endangering the welfare of a child is the most serious of the charges, and it carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in state prison.

Lanner is being represented by a team of three lawyers, who also employed a jury consultant to sit with them in the courtroom during jury selection. The defense maintains that the two teens have motives to lie about Lanner because they blame him for setbacks in their education and their lives.

Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet has granted permission to an out-of-state lawyer, Marvin E. Schechter, to represent Lanner, along with lawyers Julian Wilsey of Livingston and Tama Beth Kudman of Hackensack and New York.

The government's case is represented by a single assistant prosecutor, Peter Boser.

Schechter, who is former president of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has tried more than 100 cases and has been an adjunct faculty professor at Fordham Law School, according to court papers submitted by the defense.

He has lectured on topics, including "Sex Crimes - Defense Techniques" and "Voire Dire (jury selection) Techniques."

According to the New York Law Journal, Schechter represented Brooklyn Rabbi Lewis Brenner, who pleaded guilty to a charge of sodomy after being charged with 14 counts of sodomy, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

According to the Journal, prosecutors said Brenner had sexual contact with a youth he met in the bathroom of the temple they both attended. The molestations allegedly took place over a three-year period that ended in 1995 when the victim was 15 years old, the Journal reported. Rabbi Brenner was sentenced to five years probation.

The Lanner investigation reportedly began after one of the victims' allegations were reported in New York Jewish Week in July 2000. The newspaper conducted an investigation that turned up abuse claims by 25 of Lanner's former students, most from the job he held before he came to Hillel High School in 1982.

Mindful that allegations of sexual abuse by clergy are a hot topic in the media, the judge yesterday assembled a larger-than-usual pool of 100 potential jurors and gave each jury candidate a questionnaire to complete. The jury candidates were then sent home and directed to return to court today.

Ordinarily in non-capital cases, jury selection is conducted differently, with oral questioning of potential jurors by the judge, who addresses his inquiries to a panel with directions for people to raise their hands if a question applies to them.

Among the questions contained on a three-page questionnaire given to jury candidates yesterday was, "Do the recent scandals of a sexual nature that are affecting the Catholic church have any bearing or affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?"

Potential jurors are also being asked their religious affiliation and whether they or any family members or friends have been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment.

While he did not screen the entire panel yesterday, Chaiet did excuse at least three jury candidates who felt they could not be fair because of the nature of the charges.

He also began hearing excuses from some jury candidates who felt they could not sit for the expected three-week trial. A total of 14 people were excused for hardships ranging from scheduled medical procedures to lack of income or scheduled trips.

The judge did not accept all excuses, and refused to release a physician, for example, who said he worked in a hospital and has patients and new residents coming in. Chaiet told the doctor his staff could fill in, and directed him to "take a seat" in the jury box.

Jury selection was set to resume this morning.


Looking for Lanner
By Haim Shapiro
The Jerusalem Post - 2002

Herut Lapid, the kibbutznik who has spearheaded the rehabilitation of hundreds of prisoners, is traveling to New York in an attempt to bring Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who has been accused of sexual abuse of teenagers under his care, to Israel. | The case has been a source of scandal for the American Orthodox community since it was publicized by The New York Jewish Week. Lanner was first a top official of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and later the principal of a Hebrew day school.

In March, a Monmouth County grand jury indicted him on two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct, criminal sexual conduct, and endangering the welfare of a child.

However, Lanner, a charismatic leader who is said to have influenced many young people to assume a religious way of life, continues to have his defenders. Rabbis Heshie Reichman and Benjamin Yudin contacted Lapid and Norman Friedman, a respected New York real estate broker, who has volunteered to help many Jewish prisoners.

Friedman refused to comment on the case, but Lapid confirmed Friedman and the two rabbis have been in contact with him. Lapid said he would be going to the US after Pessah.

At the same time, Lapid said he has very grave reservations about helping Lanner and would impose very strict conditions as a condition for such help.

"I loathe what he did, and I am in nobody's pocket," Lapid said.

He said his first demand would be a clear and unequivocal admission of guilt. Then, he said, Lanner would have to agree to treatment by a specialist at Hadassah-University Hospital, including a shot twice a week to kill all sexual drive, and see a psychiatrist and a social worker. Lanner would also have to work eight hours a day in a place Lapid would organize, and only meet with people of whom Lapid approves.

All this, Lapid said, would be for the period specified by the American prosecutor and a doctor here. If Lanner did not come in for his shots or report to the psychiatrist, he would be sent back to prison in the United States.

"... If it were so easy to solve the problem of sexual predators, it would have been solved a long time ago ..." -- Judy Klitzner
Lapid said he normally washes his hands of sex offenders and would only intervene in this case because of conditions in US prisons.

"If he is white and a Jew and a rabbi, and considering what he did, he would not get out of there alive," Lapid said.

In response, Judy Klitzner, who describes herself as a former victim, said Lanner out of jail is absurd. She is also skeptical about the effectiveness of the drug treatment.

"If it were so easy to solve the problem of sexual predators, it would have been solved a long time ago," Klitzner said.

Klitzner said an e-mail group of former victims, at, continues to receive messages all the time. She said there had been attempts for years to stop Lanner and she finds it incredible there are still rabbis are trying to stop him was from being tried.

"The assumption is if he has to, he will put in the time and then go back to doing the only thing he knows how to do," she said.

Rabbi Yosef Blau of New York, also involved in the case, is equally critical of the proposal to bring Lanner here. Blau describes Lanner as a master manipulator who continues to have his supporters.

"Some people say he did it a long time ago, that he did tshuva [repentance], but there is no sign of the behavior of tshuva, he didn't call the people who suffered," Blau said.

Blau said while he could not dictate to the State of Israel how to act, he is unhappy about seeing it as a refuge for criminals.

"I am unhappy about the idea of giving Israeli citizenship to someone convicted of crimes in another country. The fact that that person is a rabbi makes it a chilul Hashem [a desecration of God's name]," Blau said.

Judge is told: Rabbi's not safe in jail
By Elaine Silverstrini
Asbury Park Press - October 9, 2002

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, jailed for sexually abusing children in his religious school, now fears he may become a victim of sexual abuse by fellow inmates, his lawyers say.

The lawyers are working to free their client, who is in the Monmouth County Jail, Freehold Township, awaiting transfer to a state facility.

The defense team has filed an emergency appeal of state Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet's refusal Friday to allow Lanner to remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction of endangering the welfare of two teen-age girls and sexually touching one of them while he was principal of the Hillel School in Ocean Township.

Chaiet sentenced the 52-year-old rabbi from Fair Lawn to seven years in state prison for molesting the girls -- who were under age 16 at the time -- between 1992 and 1996.

Defense consultant Louise Luck authored a report saying Lanner is at "high risk" for "assaultive sexual victimization." Luck's report was attached to a defense petition sent to Judge Mary Catherine Cuff of the Appellate Division of state Superior Court, who is considering whether to allow Lanner's release on bail.

Luck wrote that Lanner is at risk in part because he is white, short, nonviolent and likely to become isolated because he is an Orthodox Jew.

The report also says he could be targeted by anti-Semites in prison, saying he is "particularly victim prone in light of the many anti-Semitic groups within prison, including the Muslims, KKK and others. In light of the trouble in the Middle East, Jews are ever more hated by Muslim groups."

It was not clear when Cuff intends to rule on the defense motion or whether she will hear oral arguments.

Defense lawyer Nathan Z. Dershowitz on Monday filed an affidavit saying lawyer Fred Zemel visited Lanner in jail on Sunday and found that he "appeared already to have undergone substantial disintegration." Dershowitz added, "Mr. Zemel told me that the man he saw was 'not the normal Baruch Lanner.' "

The defense argues that Lanner's case presents serious issues that are likely to be resolved in his favor by appellate judges. Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter J. Boser, however, responded in a brief filed yesterday that Lanner is not legally entitled to be released on bail pending the outcome of his appeal because there is "no substantial issue for appellate review."

Boser did not address Lanner's fears about prison in his response brief, contending that they were not relevant to the judge's ruling.

In the appeal, the defense is challenging the validity of Lanner's convictions on the endangering charges, particularly whether certain aspects of the law can be applied to this case. The defense maintains the prosecution didn't prove, and the jury wasn't explicitly directed to find, that Lanner's conduct impaired or debauched the morals of the victims, as required under the law. In rejecting this claim before sentencing, Chaiet, in essence, said such a finding was a matter of common sense.

The victims testified during the trial that Lanner touched their breasts and thighs over their clothes.

"Under objectively reasonable contemporary standards, offensive or inappropriate as these touches might have been, they were not the kind of conduct that could or would impair or debauch the morals of a child," Dershowitz wrote. "Because, according to the complainants themselves, they did not consent to the touches at issue, the touches could not corrupt or impair their morals or their moral development. The view that young women who are the victims of sexual assaults to which they did not consent have been, or in danger of being, morally corrupted -- that they are somehow sullied, defiled or rendered unfit or unclean -- is an archaic one that the Legislature did not embrace, and that this court should repudiate, not endorse."

But Boser wrote, "To adopt defendant's interpretation would reintroduce the issue of consent into the prosecution of sexual offenses against minors, a position clearly contrary to both the legislative intent of the Criminal Code and the resulting case law."

Dershowitz also argues that Lanner didn't qualify as someone who has "a legal duty for the care of a child or has assumed responsibility for the care" of the child. Chaiet noted that the defense conceded during the trial that Lanner, as principal of the school, had a legal duty to care for the children.

Boser said the law doesn't require the prosecution to prove that the victims' morals were debauched or impaired, only that the conduct of the defendant was likely to impair or debauch the victims.

Lanner Gets 7-Year Prison Term
`I brought this upon myself,' disgraced Orthodox teen leader tells court.

by Eric J. Greenberg
The Jewish Week - October 11, 2002

Declaring that he is "not a monster" and acknowledging errors in judgment — but stopping short of apologizing to the girls he sexually abused — Rabbi Baruch Lanner was sentenced last week to seven years in a New Jersey state prison.

Rabbi Lanner, 52, once one of America's most prominent Modern Orthodox youth leaders, was taken away in handcuffs Friday from the Monmouth County courtroom in Freehold, N.J., after delivering an emotional plea for mercy that invoked the Holocaust, God and his grandchild.

"The room was so quiet you could hear the click of the handcuffs," said an observer who was in the courtroom.

His defense team, including new member Nathan Dershowitz, brother of the famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, filed an appeal asking that Rabbi Lanner be allowed to remain free on bail pending an appeal of his conviction, which could take months.

Judge Mary Catherine Cuff of the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court was expected to rule on the request this week.

Rabbi Lanner could have received up to 20 years, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser. Defense attorneys had asked for a four-year sentence.

The rabbi must spend at least a year and 10 months in prison before being considered for parole.

Rabbi Lanner, a divorced father of three from Bergen County in New Jersey, was convicted in June of endangering the welfare of the two girls — 14 and 15 years old — and sexually touching one of them in the early 1990s when he was principal of the Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township, N.J.

At the same time, Rabbi Lanner was a national director of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, the teenage outreach division of the Orthodox Union, the world's largest Orthodox synagogue association.

The OU has admitted it failed to stop the rabbi despite years of warning signals.

New Jersey law enforcement authorities began investigating abuse complaints following an investigative series by The Jewish Week in June 2000. The series detailed accounts by former students who accused Rabbi Lanner of sexual and other abuse.

The students said they were routinely ignored by teachers and other rabbis, many of whom supported Rabbi Lanner and praised his magnetic ability to lead children to greater religious observance.

After the first story appeared, Lanner resigned as NCSY's director of regions. Since then he has been silent on the charges and has declared his innocence. He refused to talk to the media during the trial in June.

On Friday, Rabbi Lanner publicly spoke about the case before being for the first time, sentenced by Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet. Several observers in the courtroom who know the charismatic rabbi described his plea to the judge as "classic Baruch," a dramatic and emotional speech.

"After lengthy introspection and self-evaluation, I stand before you shattered and destroyed," he said, according to press reports.

"I am a religious person, despite whatever mistakes I have been accused or found guilty of. ... I am not a monster, certainly not cold-hearted, and I don't isolate and destroy children."

Rabbi Lanner lamented his fate, saying that he is "a social outcast shunned by all. I teach no one, I study with no one. And the greatest tragedy of all, I learn from no one."

Acknowledging that he will be barred from teaching children, Rabbi Lanner, who taught at The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., in the 1980s, said: "Never again will I be entrusted with the greatest gift of all — the heart, mind and potential of a youngster."

He did not directly admit guilt to the charges, but said: "I brought this upon myself ... by poor judgment combined with impulsive behavior."

Invoking God, he said: "I desecrated His great name. It is for this I am truly sorry and beg the forgiveness of all."

Rabbi Lanner also said that he believes what happened to him is just. "Everything comes from the hands of God, and God is just."

He regretted that his mother, a Holocaust survivor, had to be put through a second devastating trauma and that his newborn grandson would go through life with the name Lanner.

Asking the judge for mercy before his sentencing, Rabbi Lanner said tearfully: "Even as I mourn and pity my own wretched fate, my greatest anguish is for my innocent family. Your honor, what can you do to me that can possibly rival what I've done to myself?"

But Chaiet, according to press reports, said Rabbi Lanner deserved to go to jail "for abusing his position and inflicting emotional trauma on both these girls."

The judge said he found the victims to be credible witnesses. "They both suffered greatly as a result of Rabbi Lanner's actions."

While acknowledging that the rabbi also has helped many children with their religious studies, Chaiet added that "along the way, he has apparently abused, battered and taken advantage of a number of people."

Rabbi Lanner is subject to New Jersey's Megan's Law, which requires that a sex offender register with the local police authorities and the information be made available to his neighbors.

The younger of the two victims, whose names have not been publicly cited, attended the sentencing. Now 21, she stood in the courtroom and told the judge that Rabbi Lanner "destroyed my life and my family."

The older woman, now 23, declined to appear. Boser, the prosecutor, said the woman feels guilty that she didn't come forward to stop Rabbi Lanner before the younger woman was abused. She felt the rabbi "stole her faith," according to Boser.

The younger woman's mother told The Jewish Week the abuse her daughter suffered from Rabbi Lanner still troubles the family deeply. "He took away her teenage years, precious years that she can never regain," she said. "We will carry the feelings of her torment for the rest of our lives."

The Lanner case has been closely monitored by a group of Modern Orthodox Jews in New Jersey, many of whom have known and complained about Rabbi Lanner for years. They have maintained a Web site and an e-mail and discussion group for more than two years, sharing their views.

Despite the sentence, they are still concerned about the future of NCSY and the culture Rabbi Lanner fostered of emphasizing religious outreach and observance over all else. Several members of the group have been deeply involved in calling for drafting reforms for NCSY, and the youth group has adopted a number of these proposals increasing parental involvement and oversight of activities.

"Lanner's incarceration should be considered a tragedy for the Jewish community in that an acknowledged talmid chacham [religious scholar] and man of great talent was allowed to go so far astray and become so corrupt," Murray Sragow of Teaneck, N.J., one of the leaders of the Modern Orthodox group, wrote in an e-mail. "Those who failed to correct his behavior decades ago need to consider not only the plight of his victims who Lanner later abused, but also the loss to the community of such a [potentially] powerful force for good."

Sragow said Rabbi Lanner is merely "the most egregious example of the dangerous culture that pervaded New Jersey NCSY, namely the notion of kiruv [outreach] at all costs."

"If we allow ourselves to declare victory and go home happy because one man has been stopped," Sragow went on, "we will be making a terrible mistake. The goal must not be the removal of a dangerous man but the removal of the philosophy that attracted and nurtured him."

Yeshiva University's Rabbi Yosef Blau, a leading critic of the OU's handling of the case, agrees with that sentiment and called for the organization to provide psychological counseling not only for Rabbi Lanner's victims but also his loyal supporters. The latter includes some rabbis still with NCSY who may be having trouble accepting the verdict and sentencing.

"There should be some attempt to get people together with the proper supervision so they can talk it out," he said. "I would be very happy if the OU took the initiative."

OU spokesman David Olivestone said the group offered counseling to victims early on and the offer still stands. He said if any NSCY or OU employee felt they needed counseling on the issue, "I'm sure they would get a sympathetic ear." 


Lanner Out On Bail Pending Appeal
By Eric J. Greenberg
The Jewish Week - October 10, 2002

A New Jersey appellate court Thursday granted Rabbi Baruch Lanner's emergency request to be free on bail pending the appeal of his conviction of sexually abusing two teenaged girls while he was their principal in a New Jersey yeshiva high school.

In effect, Mary Catherine Cuff, Superior Court judge of the Appellate Division, agreed with Rabbi Lanner's defense lawyer's arguments that there were "substantial" questions about the trial process that led to the 52-year-old rabbi's seven-year prison sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet last week. A second Appellate Division judge, Michael Winkelstein, concurred in the opinion.

"Having concluded that the case involves a substantial question that should be determined by the appellate court concerning the instruction to the jury on the second degree endangering the welfare of a child charge, we find that defendant satisfies the criteria for admission to bail pending appeal," Judge Cuff ruled Thursday.

Judge Cuff also said that she didn't believe releasing Rabbi Lanner would endanger the community.

"Our review of the record reveals that the sentencing judge found and the prosecutor concedes that the safety of any person or of the community will not be seriously threatened if the defendant remains on bail and that there is no significant risk of defendant's flight," she stated.

Rabbi Lanner was in a prison in Trenton on Thursday. It was not known how quickly he would be released, defense attorney Nathan Dershowitz told The Jewish Week.

As directed by Judge Cuff, Judge Chaiet raised Rabbi Lanner's previous bail to $150,000 from $100,000. The extra bail was posted Thursday by Newark Dr. Nathan Zemel, the brother of one of the defense attorneys, Fred Zemel.

Dershowitz called the seven-year sentence extreme, and said there were several serious legal questions about the "overreaching" charges brought against Rabbi Lanner by Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser and flaws in instructions given to the jury by Judge Chaiet.

Dershowitz also said he found it unusual that Judge Chaiet refused to grant bail at sentencing last week.

"Having reviewed the trial transcript instead of merely reading press coverage, I was convinced there are substantial legal issues involved in this case, and I'm glad that two appellate judges have agreed there are substantial issues which may well result in the reversal of the conviction for endangering the welfare of a child," Dershowitz said.

Rabbi Lanner was convicted by a 12-person jury of endangering the welfare of a child - the most serious charge against him - in connection with the abuse of both students, one who was 14 and one 15 when they attended Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township, N.J., between 1992 and 1996. The girls testified that Rabbi Lanner touched their breasts and thighs over their clothes, and called them at home making inappropriate advances.

However, the jury convicted Lanner on the lesser charge of sexual abuse of the older girl, now 23, but not the younger girl, now 21. The defense team argues that is an inconsistency that should overturn the conviction. Chaiet and Boser disagree.

Willig talk draws protests because of Lanner link
The Jewish Standard (Teaneck, NJ) - January 30, 2003

A controversy with its origin in the Baruch Lanner affair is arousing strong emotion in parts of the Orthodox community in Teaneck and next-door Bergenfield.

On Sunday at 8 p.m., Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a member of the 1989 bet din, or court, called by Rabbi Lanner, is scheduled to speak about chinuch habonim — loosely translated as Jewish parenting — at Cong. Beth Abraham in Bergenfield. Some current and former area residents are protesting his talk because of his connection with that case.

Willig and Rabbi Herschel Schachter are both listed as speakers at Beth Abraham; both scholars are on the faculty and roshei yeshiva at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. They are members of TorahWeb, a group of RIETS faculty members whose writings are available on the Internet. Their talk is being sponsored by Beth Abraham and congregations Bnai Yeshurun, Keter Torah, Rinat Yisrael, and Tzemach Dovid, all in Teaneck.  Lanner is the former Orthodox Union employee who has been accused of sexually and physically abusing some of the teenagers with whom he worked for more than 30 years. In June he was convicted of sexually abusing two young women who were students at the Hillel Academy in Deal, where he had been principal, in the mid-1990s; he is now out on bail pending appeal. In 1989, Lanner sought to clear his name against allegations of abuse made by Elie Hiller, then of Teaneck, who had circulated a letter making public some of the charges that had simmered against the charismatic rabbi. The bet din, according to the NCSY Special Commission the OU had charged in 2000 with unraveling the story, "concluded that Hiller's allegations were `unsubstantiated or highly exaggerated,'" although it also concluded that Lanner had "kneed teens in the groin, used `salty' language and engaged in `crude talk with sexual overtones.'" According to the commission's report, when its members interviewed witnesses, "Many of the members of the OU and NCSY leadership familiar with Lanner, as well as all the members of the beis din, told the commission that, in their view, Lanner either engaged in conduct unbecoming a rabbi, was not someone they would have hired or was not someone they wanted their children to have as a role model."

The decision, or psak, of the 1989 bet din was not made public; instead, it was released on a "need to know" basis. Instead, misinformation abounded. The NCSY report found that "a senior professional of the OU and NCSY misrepresented the findings of the 1989 beis din as being an affirmative approval for Lanner to continue his employment with NCSY. This individual also falsely suggested that the beis din was responsible for continuing to monitor Lanner. This unfounded and exclusive reliance on the beis din caused the organization to abdicate its responsibility to investigate Lanner's conduct and to take action against him.

"The description of the beis din's September 1989 psak (the beis din chose not to issue its psak in written form) as a complete exoneration of Lanner and as a mandate for allowing Lanner to continue his work for NCSY was simply not true....

"These inaccurate representations about the findings and role of the beis din continued over the course of the next 10 years."

In 2000, Gary Rosenblatt of New York's Jewish Week wrote an article about Lanner; it caused an uproar. Lanner's employment with the OU ended the day after the article appeared; the OU commissioned the report, assembled by a group headed by Richard Joel, now head of Hillel and soon to become president of YU. The article led to changes at the OU and to the court case in Monmouth County.

When Willig's talk in Bergenfield was announced, a group opposed to his appearance tried to have it stopped. People on both sides set up a marathon meeting where they attempted to come to some understanding. Despite what have been described as good-faith efforts to reach a compromise, none was reached. People on both sides say they hope to continue the conversation, but so far scheduling difficulties are said to have interfered.

This weekend, The Jewish Standard obtained a copy of an open letter being sent to the presidents of Beth Abraham, Bnai Yeshurun, Rinat Yisrael, and Keter Torah. The letter, signed by 19 people, all of whom have had some connection with NCSY, says, "We are writing because, in light of Rabbi Willig's public history regarding parenting issues, we do not believe that he is an appropriate presenter on the topic [Jewish parenting] and we want to urge you to reconsider your shul's sponsorship."

The letter goes on to say that the 1989 bet din "demanded that Hiller publicly apologize for his statements, apparently prejudging the case in Lanner's favor. Had he permitted the Beit Din to function fairly, perhaps Lanner could have been stopped a decade and many victims earlier. More troubling is Rabbi Willig's silence since the proceeding, which fed (and continues to feed) the impression his Beit Din created: that the Beit Din vindicated Lanner and found against Elie Hiller....

"Actually," the letter continues, "the Beit Din found Lanner guilty on three charges, including physically abusing children entrusted to his care.... The Beit Din knowingly sealed its psak to protect Lanner's reputation, refusing to release its written decision publicly...."

The writers say that they have chosen to speak now because "Rabbi Willig has delivered several addresses over the last two-and-a-half years on issues of child-rearing and/or sexual abuse. He has had ample opportunity to share with the community the hard lessons of that Beit Din from long ago. But he has never sought to explain his actions or offer his perspective on what happened at the 1989 Beit Din and afterward, so that as a community we can make sure the mistakes are not repeated."

The Jewish Standard telephoned Willig to ask if he would care to address the situation. He faxed a statement to the newspaper. Signed by all three of the rabbis who sat on the bet din — the other two are Yosef Blau and Aaron Levine — it reads:

"Several weeks ago, we met at length with Elie Hiller and a group of concerned individuals to discuss their perceptions, concerns, and expectations.  "The group conveyed to us then its strong feeling that some perceive that in 1989 our bet din had vindicated Baruch Lanner and vilified Elie Hiller. On the contrary, we never intended this regretful result. In fact, we informed the group that Lanner was guilty of a number of charges.

"Our commitment to meet with Elie and members of the group remains steadfast. We do not think it is appropriate to comment publicly at this time."

Over the phone, Willig said that he is not comfortable talking to the press, but Leon Meltzer, who has known all three of the rabbis on the bet din since the mid-1980s and counts them all as friends, acted as his spokesman. "About the three rabbis — these are three good guys," Meltzer said. "No malice was ever intended. They are respected by their communities, they are respected by their students, they are respected by their colleagues. They would never defend actions they had found to be wrong.

"Elie Hiller demonstrated a lot of courage in stepping forward," he added. "And unfortunately, in the aftermath of the din Torah he paid a price for his heroism."

Emphasizing the NCSY Commission's report on the bet din, he pointed out that the bet din, which met only for the Lanner case, had disbanded. It had no ongoing role as Lanner's overseer. What followed the issuing of the psak was miscommunication, according to Meltzer.

He said that the rabbis, who do not live in New Jersey and do not move in the circles frequently by NCSY members or their parents, did not know that their psak was misunderstood. "I never heard these stories either," he said.

"As far as I know, no one ever told them."

Two of the shul presidents who received the letters did not return the Standard's telephone calls, and one is out of the country. Mike Roth of Bnai Yeshurun did return a call. He said, "I would not pull my sponsorship. There's not enough time to investigate, and I feel no need to investigate. I don't feel that we have enough information at this point to do anything. This is opening up an old wound. It's finished. Lanner's going to jail. I would just drop it at this point. There's no proof in the letter, and no one in any other community is making an issue of it. Inasmuch as that's the case, we're not looking into it any further."

Rabbi Michael Taubes of Kehillas Tzemach Dovid, who is also menahel of the Mesivta of North Jersey, was forceful in his disapproval of the situation, and of this newspaper for writing about it.

"It seems that certain people have a grievance in terms of Rabbi Willig," he said. "The letter wasn't addressed to the newspaper, and it shouldn't have been sent to the newspaper. I'm sure lots of people write letters about lots of things that don't appear in the newspaper. In what way is this a public issue?"

He dismissed the controversy as having no merit. "I don't know if there is a real issue," he said. "It seems to me that people are looking for a platform to make a big issue. The letter indicated that the people who were involved spoke with Rabbi Willig in person. Okay, they weren't satisfied with the response. How does that make it a public issue? What does that have to do with the rest of the community?"

"Whoever sent in the letter sent it in because he or she or they knew that this is a way for it to become a public issue. I believe they're looking for a soapbox, and I find this is wrong."

The people who signed the letter are all connected to NCSY, mainly as former members or staffers. They are Deborah and Todd Baron, Teaneck; Robert Dinerstein, Commack, N.Y.; Daniel Geretz, Highland Park; Nechama Goodman, Bergenfield; Shayndee and Dani Hiller, Hollywood, Fla.; Jordan Hirsch, Teaneck; Mindy Chassin Horowitz, New York, N.Y.; Marcie Lenk, Cambridge, Mass.; Laurie and Steve Kurs, East Windsor; Tova and Avi Sacher, North Miami Beach, Fla.; Aubrey Sharfman, Beverly Hills, Calif.; Allen Sragow, Long Beach, Calif.; Howard Sragow, Bronx, N.Y.; Murray Sragow, Teaneck; and Daniel Wildman, Edison.


Critics Charge Rabbinic Court Covered Up Lanner Abuse
By Nacha Cattan
Forward - January 30, 2003

Nineteen critics of convicted sex offender and former Orthodox Union youth leader Rabbi Baruch Lanner have signed a letter excoriating a respected rabbi, saying that he withheld for more than a decade a 1989 rabbinical court ruling that found Lanner guilty of abuse.

The January 24 letter accuses Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a highly regarded spiritual leader at Yeshiva University's rabbinical seminary, of sharing the rabbinical court's findings against Lanner only with select individuals who apparently "did nothing to remove him from children." It also accuses Willig of pressuring one of Lanner's accusers, Elie Hiller, to write a letter of apology.

According to the letter, Willig, who in 1989 led the New Jersey-based rabbinical court, or beit din, fed the public perception that Lanner was innocent while Lanner continued to have contact with children. Signed mostly by alleged Lanner victims and their families, the letter comes after a meeting earlier this month in which attendees say Willig stated, for perhaps the first time in so public a forum, that Lanner was found guilty of some of the charges brought against him in 1989.

"Rabbi Willig prioritized the reputation of a rabbinic colleague — a colleague who he knew was abusing kids — ahead of the safety of children," says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Forward.

Willig, head of the Wexner Kollel Elyon, a prestigious post-rabbinical institute at Y.U.'s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, denied the charges in a January 28 statement sent to the Forward. The statement was signed by Willig and the two other members of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual counselor to students at Y.U.'s seminary and Rabbi Aaron Levine, professor and chair of the economics department at Y.U.

"Several weeks ago, we met at length with Elie Hiller and a group of concerned individuals to discuss their perceptions, concerns, and expectations," the rabbis say in their statement. "The group conveyed to us then its strong feeling that some perceive that in 1989 our bet din had vindicated Baruch Lanner and vilified Elie Hiller. On the contrary, we never intended this regretful result. In fact, we informed the group that Lanner was guilty of a number of charges.

"Our commitment to meet with Elie and members of the group remains steadfast. We do not think it is appropriate to comment publicly at this time."

And in a separate development, famed Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz has been serving as a consultant to Lanner's defense team, according to Dershowitz's brother Nathan. Nathan Dershowitz is one of Lanner's full-time attorneys. Lanner is appealing his July conviction that he sexually abused two teenage girls while he was their principal during the 1990s at Hillel Yeshiva high school in Ocean Township, N.J.

Lanner, 54, of Fair Lawn, N.J., received a seven-year prison sentence and is out on bail pending an appeal. Nathan Dershowitz said his brother Alan might join Lanner's defense team full time. "It depends," he said, without elaborating.

The letter criticizing Willig is addressed to four Orthodox synagogues in New Jersey. It urges them to reconsider their sponsorship of a February 2 lecture at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, N.J., in which Willig will speak on Jewish parenting.

A report prepared in 2000 by a special commission appointed to investigate the O.U.'s role in the Lanner affair stated that Lanner sexually abused women and teenage girls and physically abused boys and girls while he was a leader for decades at the O.U.'s National Conference of Synagogue Youth. The report also cited the failure of members of the O.U. and NCSY leadership to take effective action, allowing Lanner's conduct to "continue unchecked for many years."

The commission report also stated, for the first time in public, that while the beit din exonerated Lanner of some of the charges, "it also found some troubling allegations to be true." The commission found that members of the O.U. and NCSY leadership "misrepresented" the findings of the beit din ruling as being "an affirmative approval for Lanner to continue his employment with NCSY."

Before the commission report, the beit din had only shared its findings against Lanner with certain organizational and community leaders involved with the employment of Lanner.

Willig is one of three candidates frequently mentioned as possible successors to Rabbi Norman Lamm as the spiritual head, or rosh yeshiva, of the Y.U. seminary, according to sources within the seminary. Willig, spiritual leader of Young Israel of Riverdale, N.Y., is considered one of the world's leading authorities on issues pertaining to the agunah, a Jewish woman who cannot obtain a religious divorce because of a recalcitrant husband.

The chairman of the board of Y.U.'s seminary, Julius Berman, lauded Willig's role in the Jewish community. "He's a phenomenal rosh yeshiva," Berman said. "He's helping mold the future leadership of Modern Orthodoxy and he's doing a real good job."

Nevertheless, at least one signatory of the January 24 letter called for the ouster of Willig from his post at the seminary. "He is culpable for allowing Lanner to continue," said Shayndee Hiller of Hollywood, Fla., the mother of Elie Hiller. "I think he should step down."

Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of biology at Yeshiva College and professor of Talmud at the seminary, defended Willig and the rest of the beit din. Tendler said if indeed Lanner was found guilty of abuse by the rabbinical court it was up to the O.U., and not the court, to follow through with the ruling by keeping Lanner away from children. But Tendler added that if members of the beit din convicted Lanner and were informed that Lanner continued to have contact with children — as the letter writers allege — "it certainly would've been their responsibility to do something about it."

But Tendler also believes that Lanner's sentence was "overly severe," especially since Lanner now comes under the provisions of New Jersey's Megan's Law — requiring him to register as a sex offender when he is released from prison. "He has been lumped together with the Catholic Church scandal," Tendler said.

The letter regarding Willig was drafted after the January 8 meeting between members of the 1989 beit din and Lanner critics, most of whom have spoken out against the O.U.'s handling of the Lanner incident. According to those attending the meeting, Willig stated publicly, to everyone's surprise, that the rabbinical court found Lanner guilty of some of the charges. His statement caused those in the audience to question why the results of the beit din hearing were never made public.

The letter urges the four Orthodox synagogues in New Jersey to pull their sponsorship of the February 2 lecture unless Willig apologizes and addresses these matters. The other three synagogues, all located in Teaneck, N.J., are Congregation Rinat Yisrael, Congregation Keter Torah and Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. Bnai Yeshurun has refused to pull its sponsorship, according to the synagogue's rabbi, Steven Pruzansky. "It's not even being considered," he said. Pruzansky called the letter "highly inappropriate."

"It seems discordant he's giving speeches on parenting," said one signatory of the letter, former NCSY participant Howard Sragow of the Bronx, who testified in the 1989 beit din. "Obviously the most basic responsibility of parenting is keeping children safe, and it seems to me he has little authority to speak on this issue."

But those who signed the letter also distinguished between Willig and the other two members of the beit din. They claim that unlike Blau, who has been a highly vocal critic of Lanner since the beit din hearing, Willig has not come forward until now.

"Of the three of them, Rabbi Blau has done the most to try and right the past," said another signatory of the letter, Jordan Hirsch of Teaneck, N.J.

The January 24 letter also protests Willig's actions during the beit din hearing. It claims Willig demanded that Hiller, Lanner's main accuser, publicly apologize for lambasting Lanner in a letter even before Willig heard any testimony. After the hearing, Willig and Lanner drafted a letter of apology for Hiller to sign, in which Hiller apologizes for "brutal language" and "unintentional factual errors." During the hearing, Willig barred witnesses from hearing rebuttals against their testimony and credibility, the letter states.


An Injustice That Still Lingers
by Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - Thursday, January 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat 5763 

Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a highly respected rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, has an opportunity to make amends this weekend for a mistake in judgment (at best) made more than 13 years ago that hurt a number of people — and the reputation of the bet din, or religious court — in ways that are still being felt.

Rabbi Willig is scheduled to speak at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, N.J., on Sunday evening on the subject of Jewish parenting. For those who have been upset about the role he played as the chief judge in a 1989 bet din dealing with Rabbi Baruch Lanner and charges that the youth leader was involved in abusive behavior toward teens, having Rabbi Willig speak about parenting in Bergen County, the epicenter of the Lanner scandal, is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Rabbi Lanner was sentenced in June to seven years in prison for the sexual abuse of two female students. He is free on appeal.

After numerous attempts to have Rabbi Willig either withdraw from the program or promise to use his religious authority and influence to take responsibility for past actions and speak out on the subject, an ad hoc group of 17 former NCSY teens and/or employees has written a letter to the local Orthodox synagogues asking them to "withdraw" their "sponsorship of the evening." The 17 say they represent victims and their families, as well as many others who chose not to go public.

Their decision to go public apparently was made reluctantly, after a five-hour private meeting with Rabbi Willig and other negotiating attempts were inconclusive. A copy of the letter the group wrote to the synagogue presidents, dated Jan. 24 and shared with the press, outlines their grievances and concerns.

They recount how Ellie Hiller, then in his mid-20s and an employee of Rabbi Lanner for several years at NCSY, the youth arm of the Orthodox Union, wrote a letter in the summer of 1989 to members of the Orthodox community of Teaneck recounting Rabbi Lanner's abusive behavior. Hiller cited numerous examples as proof that Rabbi Lanner was unfit to assume the pulpit of the local Orthodox shul that was considering hiring him.

Rabbi Lanner, claiming his name had been maligned, brought Hiller to the three-rabbi bet din. The court's ruling was never published or made public, but Hiller was forced to write a letter of apology — apparently drafted and edited by Rabbis Willig and Lanner — saying that his initial letter's characterization of Rabbi Lanner was "false." And on the Shabbat after the bet din was held, and before the final decision had been made, a number of Orthodox rabbis in Bergen County took to the pulpit and publicly chastised Hiller for writing the first letter.

According to the letter from the group of 17 and other accounts, the bet din was a travesty of due process. The letter asserts that Rabbi Willig demanded Hiller write a letter of apology even before the hearing took place; that Hiller, the defendant in the case, was barred from the proceedings except for his testimony; that several witnesses later said they felt they were the ones on trial; and that one teen witness said that after Rabbi Willig asked her if Rabbi Lanner had raped her and she said no, Rabbi Willig just shrugged his shoulders.

In addition, Hiller has said that Rabbi Willig spent the last two hours of the one-day trial heatedly chastising him for besmirching the honor of the rabbinate.

One of the other judges, Rabbi Yosef Blau, also of Yeshiva University, later became convinced that witnesses had been tampered with, pressured not to appear and/or lied to the bet din. Rabbi Blau sought to reconvene the court and notify officials of the OU but without success.

Rabbi Willig has refused to discuss the case publicly, and does not speak to the press. Last March, though, he gave a "Torah perspective" on the topic of sexual abuse at a workshop for professionals and volunteers at Mount Sinai Hospital, sponsored by its SAVI (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention) program. It was open to the public, and I attended. The rabbi asserted that Jewish law was "unequivocal in its condemnation" of various forms of this "terrible crime." He was insistent that victims be supported and protected, and that perpetrators be held responsible for their crimes because "there is zero tolerance in Jewish law."

Though he was slated to take questions at the end of his presentation, Rabbi Willig begged off, left in a hurry and, when I caught up with him in the hallway, gently but firmly refused to speak with me about the seeming contradiction between his message and his own behavior in the '89 bet din.

What is so frustrating to his critics is that he increasingly is seen as an expert on abuse when, in at least in this one key case, he acted to protect the abuser rather than the abused. Just last month Rabbi Willig addressed a West Coast OU conference on "Halachic Parameters of Domestic/Sexual Abuse."

At the five-hour meeting several weeks ago with some of his critics, Rabbi Willig said that the bet din did conclude Rabbi Lanner was guilty of physically abusing teens, according to Howard Sragow of the Bronx, a former NCSY adviser who was at the meeting.

"He [Rabbi Willig] told us they decided to divulge that information only on a need-to-know basis," presumably to Rabbi Lanner's employers at the OU, Sragow said.

This news is even more disturbing than the notion that the bet din was duped. To see and hear evidence of what Rabbi Lanner was doing to young people and not speak out about it or ensure that he was removed from his position is at best a monumental error in judgment. Further, given its public censure of Ellie Hiller, the bet din apparently concluded that publicly criticizing a rabbi is a more serious offense than child abuse. Or as the letter from the 17 people this week put it, "in the end, the desire to protect a colleague's reputation trumps parents' rights to protect their children."

This is a grievous wrong that has festered under the surface for more than 13 years and finally may be coming to a head at what could be a public confrontation Sunday evening.

One irony here is that Rabbi Willig has played a key role in reforming the Bet Din of America, the religious court of the Rabbinical Council of America, the rabbinic arm of the OU. Thanks in large part to his efforts, the court now allows and at times relies on the expert witness of outside specialists, including psychologists.

Perhaps Rabbi Willig has put his unfortunate experience with the ad hoc 1989 bet din to good use. But the fact is that until now, he has never expressed regret, explained or taken any responsibility for the harm caused to victims (including those from after the 1989 ruling, when presumably the bet din had cleared Rabbi Lanner of any serious wrongdoing). He has the opportunity to do that Sunday evening.

Last March, at the SAVI session, Rabbi Willig spoke forcefully about "the obligation of the bet din to protest and uproot" sexual abuse and harassment. "There is no room for equivocation," he said.

One hopes he will take his own words to heart. Perhaps he can explain the disconnect between his powerful rhetoric and his own past actions. If that's not possible, a simple but direct apology — and statement about Rabbi Lanner's guilt — this weekend would help restore faith in Rabbi Willig's judgment, and in the authority of the rabbinate and bet din he so fiercely sought to protect. n

Group opposes lecture by rabbi
By John Chadwick, Staff Writer
North Jersey News - Friday, January 31, 2003

The case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a convicted sex offender, is once again stirring emotions in North Jersey's Orthodox Jewish community.

A group of 19 people - including some who say they were Lanner's victims - has recently taken four Bergen County synagogues to task for sponsoring a lecture this weekend by a rabbi they say shielded Lanner from child-abuse allegations.

Rabbi Mordechai Willig headed a panel of three rabbis that investigated Lanner in 1989, more than a decade before Lanner was convicted in a Monmouth County courtroom of sexual misconduct charges.

Lanner was sentenced in October to seven years in prison but is appealing his conviction and is free on bail.

Critics say the 1989 panel of rabbis failed to make its findings public, acted in a hostile way toward accusers, and forced one of them to publicly recant his allegations. They sent letters to the presidents of each synagogue, asking they reconsider their sponsorship of the lecture.

The accusations are the latest chapter in a case that has shaken the Orthodox Jewish community where Lanner worked for decades.

Willig, a noted Orthodox Jewish scholar who teaches at Yeshiva University's rabbinical school, will discuss Jewish parenting Sunday at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield.

The focus on parenting is infuriating Lanner's accusers. "It seems odd he is speaking on parenting when he failed at allowing parents to perform their most basic responsibility - keeping their children safe,'' declared Howard Sragow, one of Lanner's former students and among 14 people to testify before the rabbis.

Willig couldn't be reached for comment. In a statement he released to The Forward - a Jewish newspaper in New York City - he and the two other rabbis insist they had found Lanner guilty of a number of charges.

Critics acknowledge that's true but say the panel should have gone further and alerted parents and the community at large.

Meanwhile, a rabbi at one of the four synagogues sponsoring the lecture said the criticism of Willig is unfair.

"To try to impugn anyone associated with Lanner is outrageous,'' said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of B'nai Yeshurun in Teaneck. "Not everyone acted improperly or unethically just because they were unable to rein him in.'' The Lanner case, which came to light several years ago, has been a dark chapter in the Orthodox community. Lanner, a former resident of Fair Lawn and Paramus, was a teacher at The Frisch School in Paramus and served as regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

When the allegations against him finally became public, an Orthodox Jewish commission found that his colleagues in the Orthodox Union knew of his abusive personality but failed to stop him.

The 1989 rabbinical proceeding was set into motion after Lanner was offered a job at a Teaneck synagogue. One of Lanner's former students, Elie Hiller, wrote a letter to the synagogue and other Jewish organizations that detailed a litany of abusive behavior by Lanner against his students and his wife.

The letter accuses Lanner of attacking Hiller's brother with a knife, kicking Hiller in the groin, and making crude, profane, and sexually charged remarks.

Lanner, outraged, denied the accusations and brought the matter to the rabbis. Rabbinical courts generally oversee theological issues and settle disputes within the Orthodox Jewish community.

Hiller and 13 others testified. Hiller, who lives in West Orange, declined to comment Thursday.

But others who testified said they felt that Willig and Lanner had put them on the defensive. "It felt like they were taking his side,'' Sragow said. "There were four rabbis and I was all by myself. If felt like they were trying to trip me up.''


Victims: Rabbi failed to protect children - They criticize his handling of sex scandal
By Ana M. Alaya

New Jersey The Star-Ledger - Friday, January 31, 2003

Victims and critics of convicted sex offender Rabbi Baruch Lanner have written a letter lambasting a highly regarded rabbi, claiming that he withheld for more than a decade a religious tribunal ruling that found Lanner guilty of sexual abuse.

The group criticizes Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a faculty member at the Yeshiva University's rabbinical seminary in New York, for sealing the tribunal's findings and doing nothing "to remove (Lanner) from the children."

The Jan. 24 letter was sent to four synagogues in Bergen County that are sponsoring a symposium on Jewish parenting on Sunday at the Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield. The letter was written in protest of Willig's scheduled appearance.

"It doesn't seem to make sense that Rabbi Willig is speaking about parenting when he failed to allow thousands of parents in New Jersey to fulfill their most basic responsibility of parents, and protect them against Lanner," said Howard Sragow of New York, who testified against Lanner in court and was one of 19 people who signed the letter.

Organizers of the parenting symposium could not be reached for comment last night.

Lanner, of Fair Lawn, the former principal of Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township, Monmouth County, was convicted in June of fondling two teenage girls and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is free on appeal.

The group of victims and critics decided to protest Willig's involvement at Sunday's parenting symposium after a private meeting with him last week.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Star-Ledger, the writers urge the synagogues to remove Willig from the symposium unless he apologizes for his conduct as head of the 1989 beit din, or religious tribunal, that oversaw the Lanner matter.

"Rabbi Willig kept the community in the dark even after Lanner's supervisors did absolutely nothing to remove him from children," the letter said. "Rabbi Willig prioritized the reputation of a rabbinic colleague -- a colleague who he knew was abusing kids -- ahead of the safety of children."

Willig, head of a post-rabbinical institute at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But a letter that he and two other rabbis who sat on the tribunal sent to several Jewish newspapers, published in the Forward yesterday, stated:

"Several weeks ago, we met at length with ... a group of concerned individuals to discuss their perceptions, concerns, and expectations.... The group conveyed to us then its strong feeling that some perceive that in 1989 our beit din had vindicated Baruch Lanner. ... On the contrary, we never intended this regretful result. In fact, we informed the group that Lanner was guilty of a number of charges."

Lanner's victims came forward after a June 2000 article in the Jewish Week newspaper accused the rabbi of having sexually, physically and emotionally abused scores of youngsters during his 28-year career as a teacher and as a director in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. The conference's parent organization, the Manhattan-based Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox Jewish organization in the world, conducted its own investigation and concluded there was "extensive, disturbing, graphic evidence" that Lanner had abused women and teenagers during the 1970s and 1980s. The investigative panel's 332-page report blamed Jewish leaders for ignoring Lanner's conduct.


Still Waiting For Answers
Rabbi Willig skirts critics' questions on why Lanner bet din guilty ruling was kept secret; his backers say public confrontation `not the way.'

By Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - Febuary 5, 2003

There was one brief but telling moment of dramatic confrontation Sunday night between Rabbi Mordechai Willig and one of his critics over his conduct as the lead judge in a 1989 bet din dealing with abuse charges against Rabbi Baruch Lanner.

At the end of his 30-minute presentation on Jewish parenting at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, N.J., and the outset of a question-and-answer segment, a woman in the standing-room-only audience of several hundred stepped forward to ask the rabbi, a highly respected rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, if he takes any responsibility for not warning parents that Rabbi Lanner abused children.

Rabbi Willig responded by re-reading a brief, prepared statement that he had read at the outset of his remarks, noting that it is not "appropriate to comment publicly at this time" since he was in the midst of meetings with a group critical of his behavior on the bet din, or rabbinical court.

When the woman, who is part of the group, repeated her question and said her child had been a victim of Rabbi Lanner years after the bet din had met, Rabbi Willig did not respond.

"More silence," she said angrily, as her words hung in the air.

The group of 19 former NCSY employees or victims last week accused Rabbi Willig of withholding from the public the bet din finding that Rabbi Lanner was guilty of abuse. The decision, they said, endangered another generation of young people in the 1990s. The 19 said they chose to speak out now in response to Rabbi Willig giving talks on Jewish parenting without mentioning what they believe is his flawed role with the bet din.

Rabbi Lanner was convicted in June of sexually abusing two female students in the 1990s. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and is now free pending an appeal.

Another questioner in the audience Sunday night, a local psychiatrist, respectfully asked if the bet din's "concern for the individual" — Rabbi Lanner — might have "gotten in the way of concern for the community."

Rabbi Willig's response was to refer again to the prepared statement, making it clear he had nothing further to say on the matter after mentioning the 1989 bet din for the first time in public.

In his remarks, Rabbi Willig said all abuse was wrong and should be reported to Jewish authorities, and in some cases to secular officials. He said that abuse by clergy is "far worse" because it damages not only the victims but God's name.

Rabbi Willig also implied that the 1989 bet din was not sufficiently aware of the nature of sexual abuse, noting that in the 1990s society came to better understand sexual violence and abuse.

Many innovations have been adopted in recent years, he said, by the Bet Din of America, the religious court of the Rabbinical Council of America, with which Rabbi Willig works closely.

After the presentation, several of the group of 19 who were interviewed expressed deep frustration and disappointment with Rabbi Willig's handling of their concerns. They felt he used the fact that they had met with him, and wished to meet again, as an excuse not to be more forthcoming in public.

"We had asked for a full account of what went wrong and what went right [at the bet din]," said Howard Sragow, of Riverdale, who worked for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and testified against Rabbi Lanner in the 1989 bet din. "Why the secrecy?"

Deborah Baron of Teaneck, N.J., another co-signer, said she was "deeply disappointed" that Rabbi Willig did not address why the bet din's psak, or ruling, effectively was sealed, allowing the public to believe Rabbi Lanner was not guilty of any serious wrongful behavior.

At the rabbi's trial in June in Monmouth County, N.J., his attorney asserted in his summation to the jury that Rabbi Lanner had been exonerated by a religious court in 1989.

"What we have witnessed here tonight is a tremendous missed opportunity," said one Teaneck resident, who noted the air of deep respect for Rabbi Willig in the audience. "All he had to do was say he was sorry — especially to the woman who said her child was a victim — but he wouldn't or couldn't do it. What a lesson it would have been for the many yeshiva students to see their role model admit a past mistake."

Many defenders of Rabbi Willig, who appeared to be the large majority in the audience, believe it is wrong to criticize a Torah scholar in a public manner and disapprove of the critics' letter against Rabbi Willig.

"They have an old grievance and they just can't let go," said one Yeshiva University senior. "This is not the way."

For others, some of Rabbi Willig's remarks may have raised more questions than answers. He had words of praise for Ellie Hiller, the whistle-blower whose letter to the Orthodox community in Teaneck at the time charged that Rabbi Lanner was an abuser of young people and unfit to take the pulpit he had been offered there.

Rabbi Willig said Hiller, a former NCSY employee, "demonstrated great courage in stepping forward" and "paid an unfair price for his actions."

But he did not explain why the bet din castigated Hiller and forced him to write a letter of apology to Rabbi Lanner, asserting that his characterization of him was "false."

"The `unfair price' he [Hiller] paid for speaking out was at the hands of the bet din," a Teaneck woman said later, "but Rabbi Willig didn't say that."

Others questioned why the bet din would not have seen to it that Rabbi Lanner not work with children once they had found him guilty of abuse.

Hiller, who was not at the Sunday talk, said he is not looking for an apology from Rabbi Willig or the bet din. Rather, he would like Rabbi Willig to "make a clear statement to those who look up to him that Lanner is untouchable and should never be involved in communal life, and that the people who lied to the bet din should be looked into."

Hiller said "it would be a powerful statement for Rabbi Willig to stress to future rabbis the severity of what Lanner did" and to note "the severity of the results of the mistakes made over the last 13 years in enabling Lanner to go on."

The statement Rabbi Willig issued last week, and read Sunday, said the members of the bet din met with a group of critics, who expressed "that some perceive ... our bet din had vindicated Baruch Lanner and vilified Elie Hiller. On the contrary, we never intended this regretful result. In fact, we informed the group that Lanner was guilty of a number of charges."

The statement said the rabbis were committed to continue meeting with the group.

But one member said the purpose of the meetings had been to ensure that Rabbi Willig explain the bet din's actions in a full and open manner at Sunday's event.


Letters to the Editor  (02/07/2003)

Search For Truth

I was shocked and saddened by Gary Rosenblatt's disrespectful attack on Rabbi Mordechai Willig, one of our Orthodox community's exemplary Torah scholars ("An Injustice That Still Lingers," Jan. 31).

It is a terribly sad commentary on our generation when an obsession with a particular story, albeit a truly painful one for all of us, can cause a talented journalist to lose total sight of derech eretz and respectfulness for our Torah leadership. Anyone who can even begin to understand the inner soul of a true scholar knows that he is guided by an eternal search for truth.

I am sadly reminded of the biblical story of Korach and his crew attacking Moses in what they thought to be a perfectly legitimate manner. I guess there is nothing new under the sun. Where are we headed with all of this? I am truly afraid to ponder the answer because it is God who is the ultimate judge of us all.

Jane Zylberman - Englewood, N.J.

Speaking Out

Rabbi Baruch Lanner was until very recently protected by people like Rabbi Mordechai Willig ("An Injustice That Still Lingers," Jan. 31). They all knew about Rabbi Lanner's shameful behavior, but to them his word was worth much more than any of the people who spoke up against Rabbi Lanner.

Unfortunately this behavior still continues today and Rabbi Willig and others are not willing to admit it. Good for you, Gary Rosenblatt. Congratulations for speaking out against such terrible conduct.

Erika Potasinski - Bayside, N.Y.


In his continuing crusade to seek and destroy anyone related to the Lanner situation, Gary Rosenblatt has requested that Rabbi Willig publicly address personal issues unrelated to the topic on which he has been asked to lecture ("An Injustice That Still Lingers," Jan. 31).

My only knowledge of Rabbi Willig's expertise in parenting is based on my familiarity with his own sons, and I can assure you that they have all benefited from their father's erudition and skill in the area of raising children. This, however, is not the real issue. Rabbi Willig has been hired as a speaker in order to educate his audience on Torah subjects and to help foster self-improvement.

Perhaps Mr. Rosenblatt should step off his own "high horse" and devote his considerable talents to discussing many of the same issues instead of merely criticizing others.

Jay Balsam - Flushing, N.Y.

Wrong Forum

Gary Rosenblatt's column of Jan. 31 ("An Injustice That Still Lingers") was a hatchet job, plain and simple. Could you not have found a better way to move Rabbi Willig in the right direction? A public and one-sided drubbing hardly seems fair. Unlike in the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner himself, there is no imminent danger to the community.

This seems like an abuse of your soapbox. It is difficult to imagine there is no personal element involved in this.

I respect and admire the reasoning and cogency in Rosenblatt's pieces, this one included. His content and demands are on the mark. However, the forum is wildly inappropriate and can only serve to damage the community.

Amitai Bin-Nun - New York, N.Y.

Lanner controversy surfaces at childrearing talk
By Joanne Palmer
Jewish Standard - Febuary 7, 2003

BERGENFIELD – Rabbi Mordechai Willig spoke to a packed room at Cong. Beth Abraham here on Sunday night.

In a firm, measured voice, Willig talked about Jewish parenting, the scheduled subject of his talk. Before and after that discussion, he addressed the issue that had drawn much of the audience that evening — the 1989 bet din that considered abuse charges against Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Members of TorahWeb, an organization of roshei yeshiva and faculty at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, he and Rabbi Herschel Schachter were in town to discuss "chinuch habonim" - Jewish parenting. The talk was sponsored by four Teaneck shuls and Beth Abraham.  Although the topic was not controversial, the combination of subject and speaker raised strong emotions in the Orthodox community here and in neighboring Teaneck. Willig had been a member of the bet din that Lanner called to defend himself against charges brought by Elie Hiller, then of Teaneck. In a letter circulated to the community in response to the possibility of Lanner's getting a local pulpit in 1989, Hiller accused Lanner of physical abuse; he included the charge that Lanner had pulled a knife against his brother. The bet din made Hiller write a second letter in which he apologized for the first one. It found Lanner guilty of three of the charges, but sealed the verdict, making in available only on a need-to-know basis. Lanner, for 30 years an employee of the Orthodox Union's National Council of Synagogue Youth, did not get the Teaneck post. The job was at the Roemer Synagogue, now called Cong. Keter Torah, one of the sponsors of the evening. (The others were congregations Bnai Yeshurun and Rinat Yisrael and Kehillat Tzemach Dovid.) Lanner went on to abuse teenagers sexually, physically, and verbally for 11 more years. In 2000, New York's Jewish Week's editor, Gary Rosenblatt of Teaneck, wrote an article allegling Lanner's abuses; Lanner never returned to NCSY. Later that year, OU commissioned a panel that investigated both Lanner and the OU's own structure, which the panel found had contributed to the abuse by not paying enough attention. In June, Lanner was sentenced to seven years in prison for having sexually abused two young women who had been students at the Hillel Academy in Deal,where he was principal. He is now out on bail pending appeal. When a group of people who had been affiliated with NCSY — most of whom had lived locally at some point — learned that Willig would be speaking here, they protested. Some of them met with Willig and his advisers for many hours in January; another meeting had been planned but scheduling difficulties caused its postponement. They sent a letter to the presidents of the five shuls, asking them to reconsider their sponsorship of Willig's talk because "in light of Rabbi Willig's public history regarding parenting issues, we do not believe that he is an appropriate presenter on the topic and we want to urge you to reconsider your shul's sponsorship." The shul presidents did not change their plans; the talk went ahead as planned. Last week, Willig, along with the other two rabbis who sat on the 1989 bet din, Yosef Blau and Aaron Levine, faxed a statement to The Jewish Standard and other Jewish newspapers. It read, in full: "Several weeks ago, we met at length with Elie Hiller and a group of concerned individuals to discuss their perceptions, concerns, and expectations. "The group conveyed to us then its strong feeling that some perceive that in 1989 our bet din had vindicated Baruch Lanner and vilified Elie Hiller. On the contrary, we never intended this regretful result. In fact, we informed the group that Lanner was guilty of a number of charges. "Our commitment to meet with Elie and members of the group remains steadfast. We do not think it is appropriate to comment publicly at this time."

On Sunday night, about 200 people showed up to hear the talks. The audience, which rose to show its respect each time any rabbi approached or left the bimah, was quiet as Schachter and then Willig spoke. Schachter's hour-long talk on Jewish parenting stressed moderation. Parents who force their children to skip developmental steps, Schachter said, will leave their children "scarred for life." Each person is "betzelem Elohim," he said — made in God's image — and like God each person is unique. Children must be taught to respect their parents and their teachers, Schachter said. Parents must not tell their children that "the rabbi is an idiot — even if it happens to be true. You have to be careful, to try to cover up a little bit. It's part of the chinuch," he said. Children should not be taught through fear. It's acceptable to "give patsch" — to strike children — but it should be done in moderation, it should not be done in anger, and it should be made clear to children that it is done out of the great love the parent has for the child.

Willig was the next speaker. He said that although he had not been planning to discuss the controversy, he had come to think such a discussion would be appropriate. He read the statement he had faxed the Standard earlier in the week, adding that although it was impossible for him adequately to express all his feelings on the subject, there were a few things he'd like to say. "Abuse is wrong," he said. "It's wrong if it's done by a teacher, a counselor, a spouse, or a parent, and if a member of the clergy perpetrates it that's far worse. It hurts the victim, hurts the community, hurts God's name.

"Anyone who knows of abuse most report it to the appropriate authorities," he continued, even if those authorities are secular. And "no one should vilify a person who appropriately reports abuse to the correct authorities." He said that two things were clear: "Elie Hiller showed a great deal of courage, and in the aftermath he unfortunately paid an unfair price." He said that he never intended such an outcome, and felt regretful about the vilification Hiller endured. "About Elie and the other victims," he said, "one can say that from a strong, unpopular stand can emerge something strong and good.

"We believe that in the end, haShem always sits with the victim, and does not allow any undeserved punishment to befall him," Willig said. In the main part of his talk, Willig said that the Torah's approach to positive parenting is "discipline only to teach him gently. That's all — the rest is commentary. "Chinuch is al long-range project. Punishment is a quick fix. Love is the only option," he said. Discussing up till what age a parent can spank a child — some sages say 24, some 13 — he said that some modern definitions put that age at 3, while others say that even a 3-year-old is too old to be spanked. Many young children can be damaged for life by spankings, he said, and physical punishment often leads to rebellion and long-term alienation from Jewish life.

Returning to the bet din, he prefaced his next set of remarks by saying that although Torah itself is unchangeable and immutable, changing circumstances can lead to new understandings of its unchanging truths. New times can demand new approaches, he said, which "are not against halacha but are instead halachic responses to new situations." The procedures of the bet din should be reexamined, he said; in fact the OU organization that oversees betai din was restructured in 1994. Among other changes, the sessions are now taped; such recordings discourage false statements and protect participants from "blurred or revisionist versions of what had been said." Now psychologists are sometimes consulted, and some of the judges, like Bnai Yeshurun's Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, are lawyers. And betai din are now more community-based and they are charged with following up on some of their decisions.

The problem of abuse, Willig continued, is "complex." In the general culture, there is now a new understanding of the problem of abuse, including how difficult it often is for victims to report it. The 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas, where Anita Hill publicly charged him with sexual harassment, changed public perception, he said. "During that time, Torah society began to come to grips with the realization that those problems exist in the Torah community. Regrettably, they're not just isolated incidents." Some Orthodox children can be victims of pedophilia, rape, and incest. "Our rabbis must learn about their to protect our children," he said.

Orthodox psychologists can help by getting information about abuse, Willig said, and the community should demonstrate greater compassion even when there is not enough evidence to make a strong case against an abuser. "I'm committed to the do the right thing," Willig said. "We will think creatively within halachic parameters. We will struggle to solve these complex problems, and we pray for the Almighty's guidance and the community's active support."

After the talk, the floor was open for questions; the audience was told that both men and women should feel free to ask. The first questioner was a woman. The seating had been separate; all the woman but one had sat in the upstairs women's section. By far most of the men sat downstairs, but a few latecomers took seats upstairs when the men's section was full. The questioner, Laurie Kurs of central New Jersey, had sat in the small women's section at the back of the main sanctuary, so she was able to get to the center of the floor quickly. "Do you take any responsibility for not informing parents?" she demanded of Willig.

Willig reread his statement. "Had you commented in the past 12 years, maybe my child wouldn't have been abused!" Kurs said. Willis did not reply. "What, more silence," she said. There was no response. There were a few more questions asked of both speakers. Most dealt with chinuch, but one man said that he has learned that "the individual is subservient to the community. I wonder if that maybe got in the way. An individual comes to the bet din, but you have to consider how if would affect the community."

Willig paraphrased part of his statement in reply. "Our dialogue with Elie is ongoing," he said. "I don't think it is appropriate to comment at this time."

In a telephone interview with the Standard on Monday, Kurs said that she spoke because "I'm a mother bear whose cub has been hurt. My claws have been out and my teeth are showing. I want justice."

She hadn't planned on saying anything on Sunday night, she said, but "the hypocrisy of what Willig was saying, what he was participating in — it was just more than I could bear. I was sitting in the women's section downstairs — I was looking at him through the bars, and when he finished that horrific speech, it just occurred to me at that moment that if I wanted anyone to say something I would have to say it. And I'd have to say it just then."

Kurs said that although the OU commission's report said that the bet din had found Lanner guilty of three charges, "I found out about the bet din's decision only in the past few weeks. If the bet din didn't clear Lanner in 1989, then Willig knew something about him. He knew enough to warn the parents, so they could protect their children. By not telling me, he put a stumbling block in front of me. He did not allow me to protect my child. He didn't tell me, so I couldn't protect him.

"You've got to do what's right," she said. "You can't let the consequences hold you back. It's pikuach nefesh. In not telling parents, Willig has no leg to stand on.

"Either you're an abuser or you're not," Kurs added. "I have absolutely no use for these men, who think that they can use these words to soften the problem, to make these bitter problems sound sweet."

Shirley Feldstein of Teaneck was at Beth Abraham on Sunday night. "First of all," she said, "I was impressed, and I think the audience was impressed, with the great erudition that both rabbis showed. There's no question about their halachic knowledge. I was impressed and gratified that Rabbi Willig devoted as much time as he did to the Lanner case, and I was further impressed by his point that although halacha is immutable, changes in history frequently lead to changes in interpretation. Most important of all, I was glad that he spoke of the hurt that Elie Hiller experienced. "However," she said, "while Rabbi Willig might have been sincere in his feelings he did fall short of apologizing. He fell short in apologizing to Elie, in asking for forgiveness and thereby acknowledging some responsibility for the role he might have played in hurting him. That was unfortunate.

"How wonderful if would have been — what a great cap to his talk — if he had apologized! Especially considering that he was talking about chinuch — childrearing and parenting. He could have helped parents and children to see that sometimes mistakes are made, and that you can apologize for these mistakes. You can admit to them and thereby be forgiven. "What greater thing for a kid to hear than a mother saying, `Gee, I made a mistake. I'm sorry!' What an important lesson that could have been for him to teach us, as parents and as people," Feldstein concluded. Linda Karasick of Teaneck, an account executive for the Standard, is saddened by the entire situation. "I've known Rabbi Willig and his family for over 35 years; his wife and I were at Stern College together," she said.

"He is a very well-respected talmid chacham. He is a soft-spoken, gentle human being; he's such an innocent, pure person that he would never want to hurt anyone. He is just so zeiss," so sweet.

Karasick finds it easy to understand how Willig knew nothing about Lanner's continuing abuse. "Rabbi Willig wasn't an NCSY person," she said. "Whatever information was given to him was all that he had to work with. I'm sure that he regrets the decision that was made. "It was an unfortunate, terrible chapter in our youth group's history," Karasick added. "But it's over. We should put it to rest, and pray that it never happens again."


Lanner Attorney Deplores `Guilt By Innuendo'
In letter to Jewish Week, Nathan Dershowitz says `assumptions of guilt' are `unfair' to his client.

By Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - Wednesday, February 12, 2003 / 10 AdarI 5763 

Rabbi Baruch Lanner's attorney this week went public in seeking to portray his client as the victim of an "atmosphere" that fosters a sense of "guilt by innuendo."

In a lengthy letter to The Jewish Week, Nathan Dershowitz of the New York City law firm Dershowitz, Eiger & Adelson sought to distinguish between the criminal charges Rabbi Lanner faced in New Jersey last year and other accusations that have been made against him.

Dershowitz questioned the veracity of the two young women who accused Rabbi Lanner of sexual abuse in the criminal case, and characterized a 1989 ad hoc bet din [religious court] ruling as one that cleared the rabbi of "all aveiros chamuros [serious sins]."

Dershowitz seeks to counter "the significant confusion in the public mind about these two different matters," pointing out that Rabbi Lanner expects to be exonerated in the criminal case and that the bet din findings did not relate to "serious criminal sexually abusive behavior" on the rabbi's part. (See page 6 for a shortened version of the letter.)

Rabbi Lanner was convicted of sexual abuse against the two former Hillel Yeshiva High School students in Ocean Township, N.J., and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is free, pending appeal, and according to Dershowitz, "anyone who reads the record in that case must conclude that there are serious factual questions as to whether his two accusers were telling the truth."

Two appellate court judges ruled that Rabbi Lanner should be released on bail since there are sufficient legal issues to be reviewed on the appeal.

In the case of the bet din, which became the subject of renewed interest in recent days after a group of former National Conference on Synagogue Youth employees and alleged victims criticized the lead judge for its conduct, Dershowitz wrote that Rabbi Lanner was found to have used "inappropriate ... salty language" and engaged in "horseplay with youngsters," but was "exonerated" of all "serious sins."

Aside from the two young women in the criminal case, Dershowitz said he has seen no allegations of Rabbi Lanner sexually abusing females "during the last 20 years."

And he noted that two of the rabbis on the three-man bet din, Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Yosef Blau, recommended Rabbi Lanner "for various positions" even after the bet din.

Dershowitz charged that "the assumptions of guilt because of atmospherics is [sic] unfair to Rabbi Lanner, to the bet din, and to the organizations with which Rabbi Lanner was affiliated." He concluded by wondering, "if and when" Rabbi Lanner is cleared of criminal charges, "who will stand in line to give him back his reputation."

Apparently not Rabbi Blau, who criticized the Dershowitz letter as "clearly a manipulation on Baruch Lanner's part" in a "pathetic" attempt to position himself as a respected member of the community should he be exonerated in the criminal case.

Rabbi Blau pointed out that the letter made no mention of The Jewish Week articles in the summer of 2000 chronicling Rabbi Lanner's years of alleged abusive behavior toward teens or the December 2000 findings of a special commission of the Orthodox Union, whose extensive report concluded that the youth leader was guilty of a wide range of abuse of teens — physical, sexual and psychological — over many years.

According to the OU report, 10 women testified "that Lanner engaged in sexually abusive behavior toward them in his NCSY career" and "credible testimony" came from witnesses "describing abusive sexual conduct by Lanner toward 16 additional girls."

The report characterized the findings of the 1989 bet din as substantiating that Rabbi Lanner "kneed teens in the groin," used "salty language" and "engaged in `crude talk with sexual overtones.' "

Rabbi Blau said that in a meeting within weeks after the bet din, when confronted with letters from women describing past sexual and physical abuse, Rabbi Lanner admitted to him and Rabbi Willig that such incidents took place in the past, but asserted he had received psychological help and was no longer a threat.

Rabbi Willig did not return phone calls Tuesday and has a policy of not speaking to the press.

"The reason I believe the two women who came forward and brought charges" in the New Jersey criminal case, "even though I don't know them," said Rabbi Blau, "is that they were totally consistent with and follow the same pattern of behavior as that [of how Rabbi Lanner treated] the many women I do know and have spoken with."

Rabbi Blau said he did recommend Rabbi Lanner for a position as principal of a school in Australia in 1991, two years after the bet din met.

"It was a mistake on my part," Rabbi Blau said, "and part of the learning process for me to understand how sick Baruch was."

Rabbi Blau said he was motivated by the belief in teshuvah, or repentance, and noted that Maimonides instructs a person seeking to repent to start over in a new environment.

"I thought it would be a good idea for Baruch to start over, far from here, but I was wrong. It was very hard me as a rabbi to accept that a person, especially a rabbi, probably is incapable of changing," Rabbi Blau said.

Dershowitz told The Jewish Week in a phone interview that the OU report was "very, very vaguely written" and he has "problems" with it. He said he was prompted to write the letter now because of the "totally misleading" sense, from recent articles and reports, that Rabbi Lanner has been "a predator" of females "in the last 20 years."

The leaders of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Lanner's employer for 30 years, have made clear that regardless of the results of the criminal trial in New Jersey, they believe he has a long history as an abuser and is not qualified to work with young people.

Harvey Blitz, president of the OU, told The Jewish Week on the eve of the June 2002 New Jersey trial that "Lanner did terrible things. Our views are not changed on that, and it is inconceivable to me that anyone would hire him to work with students. We're not walking away from our responsibility."

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Weinreb, executive vice president of the OU and a clinical psychotherapist, said scientific evidence makes clear that sex abusers cannot be rehabilitated.

Richard Joel, the chairman of the OU special commission, said there is "voluminous and irrefutable evidence" that Rabbi Lanner engaged in "horrific behavior." He noted that the New Jersey trial was "about one specific incident" and "not the Lanner history."

Critics of Rabbi Willig, the lead judge in the 1989 bet din, are hoping that he, too, will publicly endorse the OU findings and declare Rabbi Lanner guilty not only of the narrow findings of the religious court but of being an ongoing danger to the community.

They accuse Rabbi Willig of conducting an unfair trial; advancing the impression over the years that Rabbi Lanner was not found guilty of any serious charges; serving as a reference for Rabbi Lanner; and refusing to discuss the issue.

A group of former NCSY employees and victims met privately with Rabbi Willig in recent weeks and urged him to give an accounting of his behavior, asserting that his public silence amounted to a tacit approval for Rabbi Lanner to continue to work with teens between 1989 and 2000.

At a public lecture on Jewish parenting last week, Rabbi Willig praised Elie Hiller, the whistle-blower in the bet din case, but did not address the actions of the court.

Rabbi Blau has said in the past that the court was ill equipped to deal with the case, should never have taken it and was misled by many of those who testified on Rabbi Lanner's behalf.

He came to regret the court decision and took it upon himself to monitor Rabbi Lanner's behavior for more than a decade, acknowledging that he was less than successful in effecting change, though he did counsel many young people who felt bitterness or remorse over the outcome.

Letters to the Editor - Rabbi Lanner's Attorney
The Jewish Week - February 14, 2002

As counsel to Rabbi Baruch Lanner on his pending criminal appeal, I would normally not address newspaper articles relating to his 1989 bet din ("Still Waiting For Answers," Feb. 7). But from my review of the trial transcript of the criminal case, the letters submitted to the sentencing judge, the extensive newspaper coverage engendered by Rabbi Lanner's case and comments made to me by acquaintances, it is apparent to me that there is significant confusion in the public mind about these two different matters.

The criminal case involved specific charges by two female students who had attended Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, N.J. Rabbi Lanner has always denied those charges.

The bet din's findings relate to accusations totally different from those that were the subject of his trial. Before the bet din, Rabbi Lanner was charged with aveiros chamuros (serious sins) and aveiros kalos (lighter sins). He was exonerated of all aveiros chamuros. I understand that the sins of Rabbi Lanner found by the bet din involved his inappropriate use of salty language and his horseplay with youngsters.

Whether the bet din acted properly in deciding the issues or acted properly after it made its finding is not a subject on which I should opine. But the inference that Rabbi Lanner engaged in serious criminal sexually abusive behavior that was brought to the attention of the bet din, and that Rabbis Willig and Blau believed such charges to be true and covered them up, is absurd on its face.

It appears that the core complaints against Rabbi Lanner involve his gruff style and his almost evangelical presentation to impressionable teenagers that could well offend the teens and their parents. Aside from the two claims reflected in the criminal case, I have seen no evidence of any other allegation, no less proof of any claims, that during the last 20 years Rabbi Lanner has sexually abused any female, whether students at the yeshiva or people at NCSY or anywhere else.

The assumptions of guilt because of atmospherics is unfair to Rabbi Lanner, to the bet din and to the organizations with which Rabbi Lanner was affiliated.

If and when Rabbi Lanner has his conviction reversed and he is ultimately exonerated of the criminal charges, I wonder who will stand in line to give him back his reputation.

Nathan Z. Dershowitz, New York, N.Y.


Rabbi Mordechai Willig - Statement and Sichas Mussar
Yeshiva University - February 19, 2003

The following is an edited version of Rabbi Willig's remarks delivered in the Beis HaMedrash of Yeshiva University on Wednesday, February 19, 2003. Although this was not a TorahWeb event, we are posting it because many of our subscribers have asked to see it.

Part I is a statement signed by Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Aaron Levine, and Rabbi Mordechai Willig. Part II is Rabbi Willig's own text, delivered as a Sichas Mussar.

This is also available as an MP3 audio file.

Part I
In 1989, we convened as an ad hoc bet din to adjudicate charges of inappropriate behavior that Elie Hiller lodged against Rabbi Baruch Lanner in a letter that Mr. Hiller disseminated throughout the Teaneck Jewish community. Our tribunal did not have an av bet din (chief judge), and none of the judges had ever heard before a case of this type. Our explicit mandate was to investigate the charges in the letter. Although we found three of the charges to be unsubstantiated, we concluded that Rabbi Lanner was guilty of three other offenses.

At that time, we decided, based on the accepted norms of rabbinical tribunals, to share our findings only on a need-to-know basis. This decision, as well as the pesak itself, was unanimous. Under this criterion, we read the pesak to the litigants; members of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, the group that convened the din torah; a representative of the Orthodox Union, which employed Rabbi Lanner; and a representative of the Roemer shul, which had just appointed Rabbi Lanner as its rabbi.

The December 21, 2000 Public Summary of the Report of the NCSY Special Commission placed in the public domain the matters of which we found Rabbi Lanner guilty, namely: kneeing teens in the groin; using salty language; and employing crude talk having sexual overtones in his interaction with female students and female NCSYers.

In this public statement, we desire to go beyond our 1989 mandate as a bet din and state our opinion as three individuals. We state categorically that, in our opinion, Rabbi Lanner, based on the misdeeds of which we found him guilty and our understanding of abuse in 2003 (which was inadequate in 1989), is unfit for communal and youth work. The numerous affidavits that corroborate Mr. Hiller's charges of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse against Rabbi Lanner, stated in the 2000 Summary Report, cited earlier, reinforce our opinion. Although the compilers of the Report do not have the halakhic status of a bet din and, therefore, their Report does not constitute a pesak, we nevertheless feel that we may rely on it for our opinion.

During the last six weeks, we met twice with Mr. Hiller and a number of concerned individuals. In the intensive interactive dialogue with this group, encompassing 11 hours, we tried to reconstruct the 1989-bet din experience. We have learned new facts and gathered new insights from these encounters.

For the record, our hearing in 1989 spanned eighteen hours. We reached our conclusions based on the information we had and deemed credible at the time. We, however, realize now that at that hearing we made errors in judgment and procedure that caused unnecessary pain and aggravation. We accept responsibility for those mistakes. Furthermore, members of the bet din made mistakes in organizing the din torah.

More fundamentally, with the hindsight made possible by the deepened understanding of abuse that has emerged in the last decade, we now realize that the diverse charges appearing in Mr. Hiller's letter fall under the rubric of abuse of various sorts, including physical, psychological, and sexual. Although we had responded many times as a unit to the call of the RCBC to serve as a bet din in monetary matters, in retrospect we should have refused to hear the abuse case Mr. Hiller's letter precipitated. We did not realize that abusive behavior could inhibit potential witnesses and distort the testimony of those who do appear.

We take responsibility for our mistakes. We apologize to Mr. Hiller, his family, and anyone else who was hurt because of our mistakes, be they witnesses and other victims, or their families.

We express our heartfelt empathy with the young people who have suffered from sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Our empathy extends to the parents and families of the victims as well.

We wish Mr. Hiller and his family, and all victims and witnesses who testified to support Mr. Hiller's allegations, and their families, berakha ve-hatzlaha. We commend them for having the courage to come forward. Similarly, to those critics whose intentions were le-shem shamayim, we wish berakha ve-hatzlaha. And if there were any critics who did not act le-shem shamayim, nevertheless, we offer them a complete mehilla.

Let us look to the future. We must do everything in our power to protect potential victims from abuse. This includes reporting accusations of abuse to Jewish and, at times, to secular authorities. When a potential victim of abuse faces imminent danger, there should be no doubt that the principle of lo ta'amod al dam rei'akha, "Do not stand idly by as the blood of your neighbor is shed" (Leviticus 19:6), overrides other halakhic concerns, and one should immediately report the allegations to the secular authorities. In this brief statement, it is impossible to summarize the intricate halakhot of when to report abuse to secular authorities. We hope, however, that soon one or more of us will address the public on this question.

If there is anyone who wants to discuss any aspect of the 1989-bet din and its aftermath, we encourage him or her to contact us.

Once again, we apologize for the mistakes that we made.

Yosef Blau (212-960-5480,

Aaron Levine (

Mordechai Willig (

Part II
Every human being makes mistakes. I am no exception.

There are many things that I see now, which I did not see in 1989. Some are facts that I did not know or uncover then. Some are insights that even experts did not know then. After all, ein le-dayan ella mah she-einav ro'os: (1) a judge, or any expert, decides only on the basis of what his eyes see.

My field of vision also contained blind spots, which, while I did not see, I should have seen. These represent mistakes in judgment for which I bear responsibility. These mistakes continued after 1989 as well. I apologize for all of my mistakes, and regret any negative consequences that they may have caused.

The recent criticism of the beis din's actions, and my role in particular, enabled me to discover the biggest blind spot of all. A person is blind to his own faults. "Kol ha-nega'im adam ro'eh chutz mi-nig'ei atzmo," "All nega'im a person sees except for nega'im of his own," (2) which literally refers to tzara'as, extends, homiletically, to all blemishes. (3)

How does one not see his own mistakes? Let us go back to history's first mistake: the sin of eating the forbidden fruit. Adam, instead of admitting his own mistake, blamed Chava, who, in turn, blamed the serpent. (4) In the 1989 case, it is easy to blame others.

In history's second mistake, Cain, like Adam before him, initially was not confronted with his mistake. He was merely asked, "Where is Hevel your brother?" When he failed to acknowledge his sin, Hashem told him how terrible murder is. (5)

I thank Elie Hiller and his concerned friends and supporters for helping me during the last six weeks to understand my mistakes. I wish we had spoken earlier.

Let us look at mistakes of kings in Sefer Sh'muel. The Talmud contrasts Sha'ul and David. Sha'ul sinned once, and lost his kingdom and dynasty. David sinned twice but maintained his kingdom and dynasty. (6) Why?

Maharsha explains that David admitted his mistakes, whereas Sha'ul did not. (7) Why not?

First, Sha'ul's sin was unintentional, as his failure to destroy Amalek was based on his understanding of Talmudic logic, a kal va-chomer, which was, in fact, wrong. (8) Second, the people had mercy on Agag and the best of the sheep, and were not willing to destroy them. (9) When Sha'ul finally confessed, he still justified his behavior by saying, "I feared the people." (10)

By contrast, David confessed immediately and unconditionally. In one case, the sin of counting the people, he realized the mistake on his own. (11) In the other case, his taking Batsheva and his role in the death of Uriya, he confessed his sin as soon as Nasan Ha-Navi explained it to him with a parable of a rich man taking a poor man's only sheep. (12)

In the 1989 case, I believe my mistakes were unintentional.

Furthermore, I listened to the people who supported me. For example, my talmidim, whose loyalty I very much appreciate, reacted sharply to the ad hominem attacks, ascribing all sorts of motivations and hidden agendas to my critics. This led to self-denial of even the smallest mistake.

Let me be clear. I bear no grudge against any of my critics, be they victims, supporters, or journalists. I wish them b'racha ve-hatzlacha, and I beg, even command, that my talmidim do the same. After the primary goal of protecting our children, my next goal is to restore shalom in our Yeshiva and beyond. I hope that in four weeks, on Purim, we will all dance together to the music of Jordan Hirsch, and with all our neshama, in the spirit of shalom.

I thank my closest friends and colleagues, no more than a handful, who helped me in this painful process of recognizing the mistakes that I made. They were my Nasan Ha-Navi.

My first apology goes to Elie Hiller. In reconstructing the events of 1989, although I only said things that I thought were accurate, I now see that some of them were not.

Aside from the passage of time, I repressed certain facts. This is the blind spot of which I spoke. I now understand how people who were totally committed to truth and honesty could make an objectively false statement. In their minds, it was true.

When confronted, my first response was, "It could not be true. How could I have done that? It must be false." It took corroborated, objective facts to open my eyes.

Some people go through life in such denial. I do not fault them. I did the same. But now I learned more about human nature. In life, I have committed countless errors, and have tried to admit to them when I realize them. But, until very recently, I did not realize that what I insisted and believed to be true was definitively not true.

One day all of us will have to give a reckoning, in the Court that I fear the most, for all of our words and actions. The records there are complete and eternal: ayin ro'ah ve-ozen shoma'as ve-chol ma'asecha be-sefer nichtavim. (13) Thanks to Elie Hiller, I have a chance to beg forgiveness in this world.

My second apology is not limited to Elie. It relates not to a sin of the mind but to a sin of the soul.

Al tadin es chavercha ad she-tagi'a li-mkomo, do not judge your fellow until you have reached his makom, his place. (14) My Nasan Ha-Navi told me this. Indeed, he acknowledges that it is likely that in 1989 he would not have ruled any differently in my situation. Moreover, my defenders said that those who had the benefit of hindsight were unfair for ignoring this rule. Indeed, all of this may be true.

Yet, I am guilty of a similar mistake. Until last month, I could not understand why the victims and their concerned supporters were complaining so harshly about me. Had I spoken to them earlier, however, I believe that I would have understood their complaints. To his credit, Rabbi Blau has spent the last few years speaking to and empathizing with the victims and, therefore, he reached their makom much earlier. In contrast, I did not speak with them until last month, and, therefore, I am only trying to reach their makom now.

On my journey to their makom, I am beginning to realize the terrible pain that my deeds or words inflicted on Elie Hiller; the witnesses whose testimony supported his claims; the victims; and the families of all of the above. Moreover, my aggressive questioning of witnesses, who may have been abused, was not an appropriate style for this case, although it may be proper in cases involving commercial transactions. Even last month, in our first meeting, I did not understand the special sensitivities of such victims. I am still learning. I apologize to all victims to whom I was insensitive. I regret any pain my action or inaction caused.

It tortures me that my deeds or words caused Elie such terrible pain, and that he suffered stoically for years, while I was completely oblivious to it. I am devastated by the fact that I caused another person such searing pain and that, for so long, I did not even realize it.

This is a sin of the soul, and Elie is its primary victim. My soul, my neshama, my heart, is broken. I pray that he finds a place in his heart and soul to forgive me.

However he responds I owe him a b'racha. As Rabbi Levine said to him last week, may the verse, "Samcheinu ki-mos inisanu," "Gladden us according to the days You afflicted us,"< (15) be fulfilled for him and his family. B'racha ve-hatzlacha be-chol ma'asei yedeichem.

I now understand that although our p'sak contains findings of sorely inappropriate behavior referred to in our joint statement, there were many other complicating elements. After rereading the p'sak in 2003, I now realize that it should have placed greater emphasis on the inappropriateness of this behavior. In 1989, an honest person hearing the p'sak might have readily concluded that the sorely inappropriate behavior, in the broader context of the p'sak, was insufficient to disqualify a person from communal or youth-oriented work. Again, to his credit, Rabbi Blau recognized this before I did.

Some general statements about beis din procedures are in order. So that there is no misunderstanding, the organizers of the beis din should inform the litigants, in advance and in writing, when the session(s) will take place. Furthermore, notwithstanding the ultimate p'sak, the dayanim should treat the litigants and witnesses with respect and appropriate sensitivity. Moreover, the dayanim should make every effort to ensure that all material witnesses be given the ability to testify. Last, it is improper to order a litigant to issue a formal written apology before completing the beis din proceedings.

This Shabbos, we will read about the cheit ha-egel, the sin of golden calf, a sin for which Am Yisrael suffers to this day. (16) The Talmud links this sin with that of David and Batsheva. (17)

Both David and Am Yisrael were on a high spiritual level. They had overcome the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination), and, as such, should not have been overcome by it. Logically, they should not have sinned.

Hashem decreed that the yetzer ha-ra should rule over them and cause them to sin. Why? So that no one should say, "I will not be accepted." Neither an individual such as David, nor a community, such as Am Yisrael, should feel that t'shuva is impossible. According to this interpretation, based on Rashi, these two sins were specifically chosen because of their gravity.

May I suggest a somewhat different interpretation? These sins were selected because of their subtlety. Many explain that the Golden Calf was not meant to substitute for Hashem, chas ve-shalom, but merely to be an intermediary, not unlike the k'ruvim in the Mishkan. (18) The Talmud teaches that whoever says that David was technically guilty of adultery is mistaken. (19)

In this light, we are taught a crucial lesson. Hashem ordained these sins so that every individual and every community should be able to recognize misdeeds rather than rationalize them. This, after all, is the first step in the t'shuva process.

For me, this is the most important lesson to be drawn from this entire ordeal. Perhaps my experience will assist you, my talmidim, especially those of you who will become rabbanim, to try to eliminate the blind spots of self-denial. And, when you become aware of a mistake on your own or through your Nasan Ha-Navi, admit and take responsibility for it immediately and unconditionally. Even if the mistake was unintentional, and even if you share the blame with others, if you contributed to it, say chatasi.

Yesterday, after reading a draft of this sichas mussar, I suddenly remembered something.

On motza'ei Shabbos, January 25th, I led a kumsitz here on campus. Many of you were there, and we sang together, "David melech Yisrael chai ve-kayam," "David king of Israel is alive and enduring." I asked: "Why?" I answered: because he accepted responsibility for his actions. This distinguished David from Sha'ul, and enabled David's kingdom and dynasty to endure.

I said this just a few days before a new round of criticisms of me became public, but it was not until yesterday, after I finished preparing and writing a draft of this sicha, which refers to the same idea, that I remembered having said it. Why? Because when I said it, I did not see that it relates to me!

At that time, I asked: "From where did David receive the strength of character to make an embarrassing confession?" I answered: "From his progenitor, Yehuda."

Yehuda was confronted-- not by Hashem, as were Adam and Cain, not even by a navi, as were Sha'ul and David. Nor was he confronted directly. He was simply presented with objective proof of the facts. (20)

His response was, "tzadka mimeni," she is more righteous than I. (21) As the Rambam explains, Yehuda had done nothing against halacha, and correctly sacrificed valuable personal items to avoid public discussion of sexual matters. (22)

Tamar, the potential victim, was ostensibly guilty of deception. (23) Nonetheless, since her intention was le-shem shamayim, Yehuda said: she is more righteous than I. (24)

Targum Yerushalmi adds to Yehuda's admission: better for me to be ashamed in this world than in the future world. Better for me to burn in the weaker fire of embarrassment in this world than in the all-consuming fire of the World to Come. (25)

Yehuda's statement was so powerful that it enabled his brother Re'uven to confess his own sin publicly for the first time. (26) And, if my p'shat is correct, it enabled Yehuda and his descendant David to merit an enduring dynasty. Let us all learn the enduring lesson for life of this live and enduring king, to accept responsibility for our actions.

1. Sanhedrin 6b.

2. Nega'im 2:5.

3. Midrash Sh'muel Avos 1:7.

4. B'reishis 3:11-13.

5. Ibid. 4:9-10, Rashi 4:9 and 3:9.

6. Yoma 22b, Rashi, s.v. "Kama."

7. Op. cit.

8. Yoma 22b, Tosafos Yeshanim ad loc., s.v. "U-le-Divrei."

9. I Sh'muel 15:9,15,21,24.

10. Ibid. 15:24.

11. II Sh'muel 24:10.

12. Ibid. 12:1-13.

13. Avos 2:1.

14. Avos 2:5.

15. Tehillim 90:15.

16. Sh'mos, Chap. 32; see Rashi 32:34.

17. Avoda Zara 4b-5a; see Rashi. See also Michtav Mei-Eliyahu I, pp. 165-66.

18. Ramban Sh'mos 32:1, Beis Ha-Levi Parshas Ki Sisa.

19. Shabbos 56a.

20. B'reishis 38:25.

21. Ibid. 38:26.

22. Moreh Nevuchim III:49.

23. B'reishis 38:14-16.

24. S'forno 38:26.

25. B'reishis 38:26.

26. Sotah 7b, Rashi s.v. "Yehuda."

Lanner Bet Din Rabbi Apologizes
by Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - Feburary 20, 2003

Rabbi Mordechai Willig, speaking for himself and on behalf of a 1989 bet din critics felt was too lenient toward Rabbi Baruch Lanner, has acknowledged the religious court "made errors in judgment and procedure that caused unnecessary pain" and accepted "responsibilities for those mistakes."

The highly respected rosh yeshiva at University offered a full and highly personal apology before hundreds of students and others at Yeshiva University on Wednesday night.

Rabbi Willig had come under heavy criticism in recent weeks from a group of victims of Rabbi Lanner and their supporters. The group mobilized after Rabbi Willig began making public presentations about parenting without addressing his role in the bet din that appeared to absolve Rabbi Lanner of serious wrongdoing while censuring Elie Hiller, a former NCSY employee who sought communal action against Rabbi Lanner.

First speaking for the bet din, Rabbi Willig said that its members now believe Rabbi Lanner to be "unfit for communal and youth work," and endorsed the findings of the Orthodox Union special commission report of December 2000 that found Rabbi Lanner guilty of widespread and long-term sexual, physical and psychological abuse of teens while helping to lead the OU's youth arm, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Rabbi Willig's critics faulted him for not speaking out over the years against Rabbi Lanner's behavior, adding to the impression that the youth leader was innocent of abusive behavior. Rabbi Lanner was convicted of abusing two teenage girls in the 1990s and was sentenced in June to seven years in prison; he is currently free pending an appeal of the conviction.

In his personal comments, Rabbi Willig acknowledged that he had "blind spots" over the years that "represent mistakes in judgment for which I bear responsibility. These mistakes continued after 1989 as well," he said, apologizing to Hiller and his family and all Lanner victims. He said he "bear[s] no grudge against any of my critics, be they victims, supporters or journalist, and I wish them bracha v'hatzlacha [blessings and success], and I beg, even command, that my talmidim [students] do the same.

He said it was only very recently that he realized that "what I insisted and believed was true was objectively untrue." Further, Rabbi Willig faulted himself for not speaking to Lanner victims and their supporters until last month. He credited his colleague, Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual adviser to students at YU and one of the three members of the bet din, for speaking to and empathizing with the victims for many years. Now, Rabbi Willig said, "I realize the terrible pain that my deeds, or words, inflicted on Elie Hiller and other victims as well.

"My soul is broken," he continued, "and I pray that he [Hiller] finds a place in his heart and soul and forgives me."

Hiller, who was not at the talk, told The Jewish Week on Thursday he would like to "thank Rabbi Willig, on behalf of my family and me, and I accept his apology and hope it was meant for the other 14 witnesses as well" who testified against Rabbi Lanner at the bet din.

At the time, Hiller was castigated by Rabbi Willig, and later by Orthodox rabbis in Bergen County, N.J., for going public with his complaints about Rabbi Lanner's behavior.


Top Rabbi Admits Errors In Handling Lanner Case
By Nacha Cattan, Forward Staff
The Forward (NY) - FEBRUARY 28, 2003

A revered Orthodox rabbi accused by critics of withholding information about convicted sex-abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner apologized last week in front of hundreds of students at Yeshiva University for his "mistakes" and "blindspots."

Rabbi Mordechai Willig, head of a prestigious post-rabbinical institute at Yeshiva University's rabbinical seminary, addressed a packed religious study hall February 19 in Manhattan to "beg forgiveness" from Lanner's alleged victims. Willig came under fire in recent weeks by alleged Lanner victims and their families for keeping from the public for more than a decade a ruling of a 1989 rabbinic tribunal that found Lanner guilty of abuse. Willig's critics accused him and the two other members of the 1989 rabbinic tribunal, or beit din, of perpetuating the misconception that Lanner was innocent while Lanner continued to have contact with children.

"I regret any pain my actions, or inactions, caused," Willig told some 400 students in his 45-minute speech. "Until very recently, I did not realize that what I insisted, and believed was true, was objectively untrue."

In a statement issued on behalf of the 1989 rabbinic tribunal, Willig said, "we made errors in judgment and procedure that caused unnecessary pain and aggravation. We accept responsibility for those mistakes."

Several alleged Lanner victims and their families said they were satisfied with, and even moved by, Willig's apology. But some said Willig did not go far enough, and they protested Willig's assertion that abuse be reported to Jewish authorities and only "at times" to secular authorities.

Observers, however, noted the significance of the publicity-shy rabbi admitting his mistakes to the future rabbis of the Orthodox community regarding so controversial a subject. It is especially momentous, said some at Y.U., at a time when critics claim the school's spiritual leaders are increasingly seen as flawless and divinely guided, a sign, critics say, of a rightward shift at Modern Orthodoxy's flagship institution.

In his statement, Willig said: "Perhaps my experience will assist you, my talmidim [students], especially those of you who will become rabbanim, to try to eliminate the blind spot of self-denial."

"Rabbi Willig's apology has the educational value of teaching students that great people make mistakes, acknowledge them and grow from them," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, who served on the 1989 rabbinic tribunal with Willig but has since become a vocal opponent of Lanner. "It's certainly a statement of responsible leadership that doesn't claim infallibility, which some have accused [Y.U.] of moving in the direction of," said Blau, who is a counselor to students at Y.U.'s rabbinical seminary.

Lanner, a former leader of the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth, was convicted in June 2002 of sexually abusing two teenage girls during the 1990s, while he was their principal at Hillel Yeshiva high school in Ocean Township, N.J. Lanner was sentenced to seven years in prison by a Monmouth County court but is out on bail pending an appeal.

A report prepared in 2000 by a special commission appointed to investigate the O.U.'s role in the Lanner affair stated that Lanner had sexually abused women and teenage girls and physically abused boys and girls while he was a leader at NCSY. The report also cited the failure of members of the O.U. and NCSY leadership to take effective action, allowing Lanner's conduct to "continue unchecked for many years."

The commission was chaired by Richard Joel, international director and president of Hillel, who will succeed Rabbi Norman Lamm as president of Y.U. and its rabbinical seminary in June.

"What [Willig] did was terrific," said Elie Hiller of West Orange, N.J., an alleged Lanner victim whose public accusations about Lanner's behavior sparked the 1989 rabbinic tribunal. "Rabbi Willig clearly articulated that child safety precedes all other concerns whether they be halachic or otherwise," said Hiller, whom Willig named in his apology as the primary victim of Willig's "sin of the soul."

But some family members of alleged Lanner victims were less than satisfied with Willig's apology.

"I see no reason to put Willig on a pedestal and offer him absolution just because he figured out at this late date if he wants a future he better speak up," said Laurie Kurs of East Windsor, N.J., whose son was allegedly abused by Lanner when he was a student at Hillel Yeshiva. Kurs told the Forward it is too late for Willig to apologize, but "not too late to clear up mistakes. He needs to call up people who are victims and call the court and say Lanner" was not exonerated by the beit din.

But other critics of Lanner said Willig's motives should not be questioned and that although not perfect, Willig's statement was revolutionary.

"Was it everything it should have been?" asked Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, associate dean of the Jewish Educational Center school system in Elizabeth, N.J. "No. The comment about reporting to Jewish authorities hurts. Deeply. But there was an admission of movement on [Willig's] part. Of acknowledging his personal mistakes," Teitz wrote in an e-mail. Teitz is a member of the Parental Oversight Committee of the Etz Chaim region of NCSY in New Jersey, a group formed in response to the Lanner affair.

Another member of the parental oversight committee, Murray Sragow, praised Willig's speech but added that the community, and particularly the Y.U.'s rabbinical seminary, should take follow-up steps to ensure Willig's message is not lost. Sragow said the seminary should instate sensitivity training courses on sexual abuse.

The dean of seminary, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, said the rabbinical school offers courses and mandatory lectures that tackle abuse detection and intervention. "We continue to review and update our rabbinic training program in all subjects, including sexual abuse," Charlop added.

Willig said in his speech that after the "primary goal" of protecting children, his next goal is to "restore shalom in our yeshiva and beyond."

Several observers said the remark pointed to rifts between Willig's students and supporters and those who spoke out against Lanner, such as Blau.

Willig did not return phone calls seeking comment.


Learning From Rabbi Willig
By Gary Rosenblatt

Jewish Week - February 26, 2003

An e-mailed Letter to the Editor received last Tuesday from a student of Rabbi Mordechai Willig at Yeshiva University was addressed: "Dear Inspector Javert," a reference to the villain of "Les Miserables," the obsessive policeman who spends years tracking down the play's innocent hero.

I realize that in calling on Rabbi Willig to apologize for his behavior in conducting a 1989 bet din that appeared to absolve Rabbi Baruch Lanner of serious charges of abuse, a group of critics and I were perceived as unfairly hounding the highly respected Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva and Riverdale spiritual leader.

But a day after Rabbi Willig's detailed, emotional apology for his actions at the time, and for his subsequent silence on the Lanner matter (see story, page 8), I received a letter expressing regret from another YU student who had earlier criticized my reporting. "Rabbi Willig's talk tonight was moving and inspiring," he wrote. "I hope it will initiate a wave of healing both in the community and on our campus."

To which I can only add, Amen.

The impact of Rabbi Willig's act of contrition — on his students and many others who revere him for his scholarship and good works — cannot be overestimated. He not only made an important statement in endorsing the findings of the Orthodox Union special commission report of December 2000, that Rabbi Lanner was guilty of physically, sexually and psychologically abusing youngsters in his charge over many years, but he offered up a powerful first-hand lesson in the act of teshuva, or forgiveness.

Here was a leading Orthodox rabbinic figure publicly acknowledging, in front of hundreds of students and others at Yeshiva, that he had, until "very recently," a "blind spot" that led him to deny the truth. Who could not be moved to hear him apologize to the whistle-blower in the case and plead for his forgiveness?

Beyond the particulars here, Rabbi Willig was underscoring that rabbis — even Torah scholars — are human, make mistakes, and are accountable to the community. This is a vital message for Modern Orthodox Jews, some of whose leaders have moved closer to the haredi concept of Da'at Torah, the belief that a rabbinic authority's views must be followed on virtually every issue, not just those dealing with halacha, or Jewish law. Rabbi Willig was instructing, by example, that we are all fallible and prone to poor judgment at times. No one is beyond reproach.

Part of the problem, we recognize in hindsight, is in equating Torah scholarship with exemplary ethical behavior. But that, alas, is a mistake. Many of Rabbi Lanner's rabbinic colleagues, aware of his brilliance and depth of knowledge, assumed that a man of such faith and Talmudic expertise simply could not be guilty of the accusations made against him. They were dazzled, and blinded, by his rabbinic standing. They need to follow Rabbi Willig's brave example in implicitly acknowledging that reverence for a rabbi's erudition can be a stumbling block to the truth.

There is a lesson here as well for Jews of all denominations who have seen a few rabbinic leaders violate the sacred trust of their congregants and yet be protected by the great reluctance — well meaning but misguided — of followers to take appropriate action against clergy, even to safeguard their children and community.

To suggest, in the 21st century, that rabbis are only human may not seem like a great revelation. But at a time when segments of the Jewish community remain in denial over cases of rabbinic failure, and even abuse and criminal behavior, it is time to confront these issues directly.

Let me be clear here. Rabbi Willig was, at worst, an enabler. But there are still abusers at large, and we must ask ourselves: Are we any better prepared to deal with the next Rabbi Lanner than we were three years ago? Too often the pattern is to spirit away the perpetrator, allow him to leave his pulpit or school quietly so as to avoid a scandal rather than alert the authorities. But the result, inevitably, is that he reappears somewhere else, perhaps with another name but with the same compulsions that led him to abuse in the first place. And it is only a matter of time until he repeats the behavior that got him in trouble at the outset.

To allow this to happen — for a community to fool itself into thinking it has solved the problem when in fact it has only diverted it toward another unsuspecting group of innocents — is short-sighted, selfish and unethical. Unless and until the pattern is stopped, we will have learned nothing from the pain of past abusers and victims.

We should take a page from the medical and legal professions, which have established healing programs for doctors and lawyers who have gone astray. A lengthy article in The New Yorker several years ago, entitled "When Good Doctors Go Bad," describes a program that evaluates physicians with addictive behavior, recommends them for treatment in long-term care facilities, and establishes criteria that must be met before they can return to their profession.

The Jewish community needs such a program for clergy, as evidenced by the latest reports of rabbis in trouble with the law for sexual deviancy, alcohol or gambling. Harriet Rossetto is ready to offer her services toward "prevention, intervention and redemption" in dealing with troubled rabbis. She is the director of Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles, the only Jewish addiction rehabilitation program for adults in the country, where at least three of its current 100 residents are rabbis.

"The more you hide it, the worse it gets," says Rossetto. She was speaking of the yetzer hara, or evil inclination, which according to Jewish teachings struggles constantly with the yetzer tov, the positive spirit, within each of us. But her adage could apply as well to the danger of keeping these issues under wraps.

In his talk at Yeshiva University last Wednesday night, Rabbi Willig went a long way toward clearing the air, redirecting us toward teshuva by describing his own struggle and encouraging his students and followers to learn from what he called his mistakes. He cited the Talmudic comparison of King David and King Saul. They each sinned, but David was forgiven; he kept his throne while Saul did not. The difference, Rabbi Willig noted, was that Saul justified his behavior while David realized his mistake and confessed fully.

One can only hope our community will be more open and honest in acknowledging our blind spots. We must recognize that the only way to resolve our problems is to confront them with sensitivity and humility, knowing full well that to ignore them is to sentence the next generation to untold shame and suffering.


Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi Efrat, Israel - Letters:  Sexual Abuse
Jewish Week - April 11, 2003

In accordance with the bedikat chometz ("cleaning," literally and metaphorically) that is proscribed during this pre-Passover season, as well as the Rabbinic IQ that my beloved friend and mentor Victor Geller translates as integrity quotient — and because of a spate of disturbing incidents that have occurred of late in Israel regarding the sexual abuse of students — I would like to share a memo I sent out about a year ago to the principals of our schools.

Nearly a decade ago, I was approached by a major outreach Jewish organization to host a Torah camp in Efrat for the summer. The leader of the program was slated to be a brilliant, charismatic rabbi whom I knew and respected from as far back as my student days with Rav [Joseph B.] Soloveitchik, but about whom there were persistent rumors concerning inappropriate behavior, especially toward female students.

Even though I — or rather my institutions and the city over which I preside as chief rabbi — was not the one who employed this individual, since I was to be his host and "sponsor," as it were, I realized that I could not protect myself by hiding behind the actual employing organization.

Since his "case" supposedly had been adjudicated by a bet din, or rabbinical court, whose members I knew and respected, I met with two of the judges and received full assurances that he had not been found guilty of improper conduct. Feeling greatly relieved, I made all the necessary preparations to enthusiastically welcome the Torah camp as well as its leader.

But then two young women, both of whom I had known and respected for many years, separately told me of shameful and shaming experiences they had endured under his tutelage. I asked if there had been actual physical advances. When they responded in the negative, I decided to go along with his appointment.

In retrospect I made the wrong decision. I have come to understand that one can take terrible advantage of young people — even ruin their lives —without necessarily touching them physically. I have also come to believe that if more than one young woman complains about an authority figure the way these women did to me, their word must take precedence even over a "respected" bet din. The individual who has suffered deserves the more serious consideration.

Hence, if one individual complains about any form of sexual abuse, as the chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone I must be informed immediately. If two individuals complain, the perpetrator in question must be suspended immediately until a final judgment is issued

Shlomo Riskin
Chief Rabbi - Efrat, Israel


New NCSY Chief: Lanner `Behind Us' - Critics of youth group call Zale Newman `naive
Stewart Ain - Staff Writer
The Jewish Week - July 11, 2003

The sex abuse scandal that rocked the Orthodox Union's National Conference on Synagogue Youth three years ago is "now behind us," insists the group's newly appointed national youth director, Zale Newman, who has announced a major recruitment effort.

Newman, a 35-year veteran of NCSY activities — almost all on a volunteer basis — is retiring from a lucrative financial services business in Toronto to assume the top post of the youth organization, which focuses on outreach to teenagers.

He said he plans to use his creative and business skills to expand the number of teens in NCSY, which currently serves 15,000 in North America and another 2,000 in Israel.

"Right now NCSY is in a giant renaissance," said Newman, 47. Summer programs in North America and Israel are up from 450 teens last year to 1,000.

OU officials praised Newman as the right person for the job. David Luchins, a longtime NCSY officer, said Newman "combines the best of what NCSY has produced and is creative about the future."

The only surprise, according to several OU leaders, is that the post was filled by an insider — Newman went through NCSY as a teen and has remained active as a lay person for many years— rather than someone from outside the organization.

In an interview at the OU offices here, Newman, whose appointment was announced this week, said his recruitment plans include making extensive use of market research and the Internet. To help keep teens in NCSY, he plans to use computers to track their development and involvement in the program and to help structure their activities into areas they would find most rewarding.

"One of our goals here is to connect young American Jews to Israel," Newman said. "We have five different summer experiences in Israel this year. ... Kids' activities go in trends and you have to follow the trend. NCSY is very much in the trend of kids today. Kids know they are Jewish and that there is anti-Semitism, but they don't know what it means to be Jewish and they don't know about Israel and very little about Judaism."

Newman, known as one of the Toronto Jewish community's most active lay leaders, stressed that NCSY is "all about values — Jewish values, family values, societal values. We are more than anything teaching teens to take responsibility and to fulfill their obligations within the family, within the community and within the Jewish people."

Regarding the sex abuse scandal involving Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the former NCSY regional director who was sentenced to seven years in prison in October for sexually abusing two teenage girls at a New Jersey day school he served as principal, Newman said many safeguards have been put in place "to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Though he was imprisoned for crimes at the day school, Rabbi Lanner allegedly abused NCSY teens — boys and girls — throughout his nearly three decades with the group.

"There is no organization I'm familiar with in the field of education and youth work that does not experience similar problems," Newman said. "But the response here is the most extensive I've seen. There is the pre-screening of all staff, constant in-service training, an ombudsman system to handle calls made anonymously to make sure they are dealt with at the highest levels of the organization, and a standards committee that meets once a month to review any issue."

Asked if he believed there are parents who are still hesitant about their children joining NCSY because of the Lanner scandal and cover-up that followed, Newman said: "People understand that we dealt with it and that we are moving on. And I am from the outside — I'm from another country — and was not involved. So I'm not coming with baggage from the past.

"It has been dealt with and dealt with properly," he said. "Now we can put it behind us and move to the future."

But a critic of the OU's handling of the Lanner case, Elie Hiller, a former victim, described that comment as "naive at best."

"I'm not sure where his optimism comes from," Hiller said. "I haven't heard of any substantive changes in personnel at the OU, personnel who were responsible for letting this go on" during Rabbi Lanner's NCSY tenure.

"There are people who were aware of [the repeated allegations of sexual abuse against Rabbi Lanner] and who are still in place," he added. "So I'm not sure that this is all behind us."

Murray Sragow, a member of an NCSY oversight committee, said there are still those in senior administrative positions of NCSY who were there during Rabbi Lanner's tenure and who today "have a cloud over them."

"It can easily be removed simply by saying that they know [NCSY] used to operate in a manner that was not appropriate and that it won't anymore," he said. "But nobody to my knowledge has said that. ... I'd be reluctant to say that this has been put behind us. I'd prefer to think of it as something that is in the back of everyone's mind all the time."

Harvey Blitz, president of the Orthodox Union, said he believes the Lanner scandal "is behind us — not in the sense of not having a lasting effect on the way we do things, but that we are able to move forward and don't have to have it hovering over us at every moment."

Blitz, who was not the OU president when the scandal was uncovered by The Jewish Week in June 2000, praised Newman's creative abilities to work with teenagers.

"He is focused on making sure that every kid is treated as an individual and that we do the best for him that we can," Blitz said.

Mark Bane, chairman of the OU's national youth commission and chairman of the search committee, said Newman was chosen because of his understanding of the programmatic challenges ahead, as well as his extensive business experience that can help NCSY grow.

Newman succeeds Rabbi David Kaminetsky, who left in June 2002. Shira Reifman, who has served as interim director of operations for the last year, will continue in that post on a permanent basis.

Married and the father of three, Newman first became involved with NCSY when he joined as a student at the age of 18 in Toronto. After earning his bachelor's degree in economics from Yeshiva University, he worked as regional director of NCSY's Canadian region from 1976 to 1978 while studying for his master's degree in marketing and corporate strategy from York University in Toronto.

Since then, he has served as co-chairman of NCSY Canada, a volunteer position.

Newman started working in his new post part-time July 1. He will assume his duties full-time Jan. 1, when he will leave as a partner with Panfinancial, a financial services firm in Toronto in which he specialized in taxes and estate planning.

Although his financial work has been lucrative, Newman said his first love is his work in the Jewish community.

"To now get paid for your passion feels really weird," he said.

A talented musician, Newman worked as the record producer who helped Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach record 115 songs and 40 stories on nine sets of albums. And in 1979 he was the creator of the Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men series, which produced 15 music albums, six videos and 10 live concerts for children aged 2 to 8.

Newman said he was the voice of Uncle Moishy on the albums. The series was designed to teach the major principles of Judaism to children.

Reliving The Lanner Affair
Jewish Week - January 30, 2004

In his forthcoming autobiography, the president of the Orthodox Union during the Baruch Lanner scandal maintains that he was "kept in the dark" and knew nothing of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth leader's abusive behavior with teens.

Mendy Ganchrow writes that as president, he took full responsibility for "the nightmare" that threatened to destroy the largest Orthodox organization of its kind but makes clear that he felt betrayed by the group's professional leadership.

On learning details of what went on, "I felt as though I had been assaulted," he writes, adding that "I had been played for a fool by our top professionals and was thereby denied the chance to deal with the Lanner matter in a way that might have limited the enormous damage the OU finally absorbed."

Had he known of Rabbi Lanner's activities, Ganchrow told The Jewish Week, "I would have acted decisively."

Rabbi Lanner was forced to resign in June 2001, following the publication of a Jewish Week report alleging that he had abused teens in his charge in the OU youth group for some three decades. He was convicted in 2002 of abusing two teenage girls and his case is being appealed.

The executive vice president of NCSY, Rabbi Raphael Butler, resigned under pressure in January 2001.

In a 35-page chapter on "the Lanner affair" in his autobiography, "Journey Through The Minefields: From Vietnam to Washington, an Orthodox Surgeon's Odyssey" (Eshel Books), the usually blunt Ganchrow does not comment directly on his role in Rabbi Butler's leaving office, or how he felt about it. But he does note that "from the very day the first Jewish Week story broke, I had a strong feeling that at the end of the process the OU top professionals who had supervised Lanner and allowed him to remain in a high position at NCSY with access to young people would themselves have to go if the Union was to rebuild its credibility." He also mentions several times that not one lay leader was forced to step down from the OU as a result of the scandal.

The book, which Ganchrow began five years ago, describes in compelling terms his harrowing experiences as a surgeon in Vietnam, operating under difficult conditions and coming under a rocket attack while celebrating a seder with 400 fellow Jewish soldiers. The narrative follows his career from medicine to increasing interest in Jewish communal affairs, culminating with his election to head the OU. During his six-year tenure, Ganchrow met many world leaders and focused on strengthening the group's political ties in Washington and lobbying on Israel's behalf.

Ganchrow, now executive vice president of the Religious Zionists of America (Mizrachi), tells of the enormous pressure on him during the Lanner affair and his efforts to keep the organization from going under by commissioning a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the abuse charges.

Though Ganchrow says he still has great affection for the OU, he writes of how he was "cold-shouldered" by a few key lay leaders after he became chairman of the board, following his term as president.

Still, he said he is proud of the role he played. "I believe that the decisions I made saved the Orthodox Union by stabilizing a terrible situation," he writes.

The Lanner Affair
Journey Through the Minefields: From Vietnam to Washington, an Orthodox Surgeon's Odyssey

by Mandell I. Ganchrow and Mendy Ganchrow

I will never forget the moment the nightmare began. The scene was the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington on June 21, 2000. I had just stepped off a shuttle from New York and was engaged in an animated chat with Stephen Solender, head of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) as the two of us walked briskly through the arrivals area. Steve and I were on our way to Blair House, opposite the While House, as part of a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that was going to hold an extended discussion that day with the King of Morocco. We were looking forward to querying the King forcefully about a downward trend in his country's previously warm relations with Israel. My phone rang.

It was Fran Breiner, my secretary at the Orthodox Union, alerting me that the internet edition of the New York Jewish Week had just posted a major story regarding Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the Director of Regions at the OU's National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). The story concerning Lanner, who worked at OU headquarters in the NCSY offices, and who I saw around the office nearly every day, would be appearing the following day in the print edition of The Jewish Week. With a circulation of over 100,000 The Jewish Week is extremely influential in the Jewish community. I was shocked to hear even the barest outline of the story over the phone. Yet I was preoccupied by our business in Washington that day and did not attain a full appreciation of how huge was the scandal about to envelope the Union. The following morning I came to the office bright and early to read the massive 5000-word article in the Jewish Week.

What I read made me nauseous. In the lengthy special report entitled "Stolen Innocence" by the newspaper's editor in chief, Gary Rosenblatt, that began on page one and extended through four more pages, Rabbi Lanner was accused of mental, physical and sexual abuse of scores of male and female teenagers over a period of nearly three decades. This occurred at the OU's National Council of Synagogue Youth and at the Hillel High School in Deal, New jersey, where he served as principal. The story carried accounts of alleged male and female victims, who charged Lanner had kissed and fondled scores of teenage girls and frequently kicked boys in the groin.

In the story, Rosenblatt asserted that "a number of rabbis, OU professionals and lay leaders sought to downplay Rabbi Lanner's behavior over the years" and had nevertheless promoted him to a higher position at NCSY. They had allowed him to continue working with youngsters, including attending NCSY shabbatons (weekend retreats) around the country, and leading NCSY groups to summer kollels in Israel.

The article said, "Rabbis Butler and Stopler (Executive V.P. and Senior Executive, respectively) say they never heard [of] specific allegations [against Lanner]" but they heard rumors for many years. Butler was quoted as saying that trying to track down the truth of the many "rumors" against Lanner was like "chasing shadows," but he had nevertheless decided, apparently in response to the renewal of the charges, that Lanner would not take part, as usual, in the OU kollel in Israel that summer. Calling this decision "a devastating loss" for the kollel program, Butler said that he had instead decided to move Lanner into adult education, a job in which he would work with college students, but not with those in high school. For his part, Stolper acknowledged that he had heard several complaints years earlier from young women about "improper behavior" by Lanner, but that he had found "no real substance to the charges." He had such a magnificent impact "on so many young people" said Stopler. In Lanner's defense Stopler said, "Despite some sickness that is not sexual but has to do with needing to be in control." Rabbi Stopler was also quoted as saying he cannot think of anyone "who has suffered as much as Rabbi Lanner."

Rosenblatt reported that several weeks before the article "two influentual lay leaders of the OU met personally with Rabbi Butler and urged the organization to remove Rabbi Lanner from working with youngsters."

Butler asserted in the article that a special Bet Din (court of Jewish law) had been convened in Teaneck, New Jersey at Lanner's request in 1989 over a dispute centering on Lanner and a young man named Elie Hiller who made a number of accusations against Lanner. The Bet Din had cleard Lanner of all charges made against him. According to Butler, the Bet Din has been consulted periodically and had permitted his youth work to continue. In reality, as Rosenblatt pointed out, the bet din had not really cleared Lanner, but rather ruled that Hiller had not proven his case. One of the three members of the Bet Din, Rabbi Yosef Blau, believed that the assertion that the OU followed the guidance of the Bet Din regarding Lanner was technically correct. However, "it does not address many missteps along the way." He was quoted as saying that Rabbi Lanner "is unfit to work in Jewish education" and stressed; "The lack of action by the OU until now is a statement to the many victims that the Orthodox community condoned Baruch's actions and that they were the problem."

While Lanner had not returned his calls asking for an interview, Rosenblatt wrote, "a number of OU leaders and friends and colleagues of Rabbi Lanner" had called on his behalf and offered a deal whereby Lanner would promise to cease working with youngsters and instead go into adult education if the paper would withhold the article. As I read that, I felt stunned and infuriated to learn that even as these unnamed OU leaders engaged in frenzied behind-the-scenes lobbying on Lanner's behalf over a period of weeks, not one of them had breathed a word of any of it to me, as President of the Union or to Marcel Weber, our Chairman. Had I known what was going on, I would have immediately called an emergency officers meeting for the purpose of firing Lanner and would have taken other decisive steps to preserve the moral integrity and credibility of the Union. Yet because I was kept completely out of the loop, the scandal over Lanner had exploded in the most damaging way possible, and was now threatening to besmirch not only the reputations of some of our leading professionals, but the good name of the Orthodox Union itself.

The moment I finished reading the article, I got on the phone and began calling an ad-hoc group of former OU presidents, senior vice presidents, former chairmen of the board and asked them to come to the Union headquarters a few hours hence to grapple with a crisis unlike anything we had ever confronted.

Our Public Relations Department was being deluged with calls from major media ranging from the New York Times to WCBS television. Many of our professionals were receiving calls, faxes and e-mails from grass roots supporters of the Union, especially in the northern New Jersey region where Lanner had been active as a NCSY leader for decades. The callers were expressing outrage at the shocking revelations and some were threatening to quit the OU unless we moved immediately to fire Lanner.

As I grappled with this onslaught, I was chagrined to read the Proposed text of an official statement prepared in the words of the Jewish Week "by top OU professionals" the day before as part of a press release. I realized immediately that this proposed statement seemed more concerned about the fate of Lanner than with that of the youngsters he was alleged to have abused.

After ordering that the statement be brought before our officers' group, I convened an emergency meeting of our ad-hoc leadership group at about 12:30PM. About fifteen of our top lay leaders had managed to rearrange busy schedules in order make it to Union headquarters on short notice. One or two were on a phone connection. My first order of business was to insist that Lanner, who, unsurprisingly, had not come to work that day, should either resign immediately from his position at NCSY or be fired by the end of the day. They unanimously agreed with my position that Lanner must go immediately. Rabbi Butler left the conference room for a few minutes and later informed us that Lanner had agreed to resign effective immediately, and was faring us a letter to that effect.

We then concluded that the text of the proposed press release was totally unacceptable and a revamped statement was released immediately after the meeting. The statement noted that Lanner had tendered his resignation after the Union concluded that "in light of the seriousness of the allegations made against him that he can no longer continue in his position with NCSY and its parent body, the Orthodox Union." The statement affirmed that NCSY had "a policy of zero tolerance of any inappropriate behavior," and that the OU was "initiating a thorough review of our existing procedures for monitoring our personnel" and would "immediately make such changes as the study may find necessary."

I returned to Monsey that night feeling sick at heart. 1 was deeply disturbed that, contrary to standard operating procedure in the fifth estate, Gary Rosenblatt had never called me for a comment before publishing his bombshell Lanner report. In fact, he did not call me until two weeks later when he was already preparing his second follow-up piece in the Jewish Week. I told him then that I would speak to him only on an off-the-record basis. I then asked why he had never called me or mentioned that there was an impending story in the works when we had lunch together about two months before the first Lanner story ran. Gary responded that he did not have the story at that point and that once he did have it, he was under the impression that was aware of the impending release of the Lanner story.

One thing was clear; Rosenblatt had obviously vetted his article thoroughly before going to press. Nowhere in the article or in the accusatory follow up pieces that ran during the next several weeks was my name ever mentioned (except for having released the statement announcing Lanner's resignation), and there was not the slightest intimation in any of the Jewish Week articles that I had advance knowledge of the numerous charges of abuse against Lanner. In addition, I had never served either as a member or the chairman of the youth commission which oversees NCSY. This, at least, helped to convince many people that had not been aware of the longstanding abuse charges against Lanner and had not been involved in protecting him.

Still, 1 was heartsick because I understood only too well that the eruption of the Lanner scandal six months before ! was scheduled to complete my third term as president of the OU and step down from office, would almost certainly mean that my remaining time in office would largely he consumed with the scandal. I realized too that the Lanner Affair threatened to obscure much of the positive work I had done over six years to streamline the operation of the OU and to raise the profile of the organization within the councils of American Jewry, in Washington and in Israel. Angry and chagrined at the situation, I wracked my brains trying to understand how I had managed to miss telltale signs that there was something seriously amiss with our talented director of regions at NCSY.

Some people have painted a similarity between the Lanner case and the far more extensive sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. Looking back at Lanner Affair from nearly two years removed, 1 believe such comparisons miss some essential differences. Intrinsic to the Church's problems are the complex issues of celibacy and homosexuality. Neither of these apply in our case. Nor was Lanner ever accused of statutory rape, but rather of physical, psychological, and sexual contact, as well as of language with sexual connotations and innuendos that were wrong, inappropriate, threatening, immoral and inconsistent with Torah values.

The Lanner case represented a tragic but isolated case in the sense that no other professional in NCSY or the OU was accused of any such acts. That there were people at the Union who failed the test of leadership had more to do with his perceived value as a professional. It was a failure to appreciate the severity and repetitions nature of the charges against him or a belief that his accusers lacked credibility. While none of these excuses is acceptable, they represent lapses regarding one individual and not a problem deeply rooted in our institutional culture.

At the time of the publication of the story in the Jewish Week, Baruch Lanner had been a prominent figure in the Orthodox community for nearly 30 years. A brilliant Talmudic scholar as a young man, he had been an ardent follower and student of the late Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, who was recognized in the late 20th century by all as the greatest leader of modern Orthodoxy in North America. From an early age, Lanner impressed all who knew him as a highly charismatic person and a mesmerizing teacher and youth leader. To listen to Baruch weave a story; lowering his voice and then raising it abruptly to deliver the greatest emotional impact, was to recognize an accomplished practitioner of an art form that fewer and fewer people master any more. Wherever Baruch went to give a lecture, his audiences marvelled at his spell- binding speaking ability, his deep knowledge of Torah and evident talent as a teacher and a motivator. He was especially effective among teen-agers, and, over the years, had influenced large numbers of youngsters from non-religious backgrounds and troubled homes to embrace Torah Judaism.

Lanner worked his way up the ladder of leadership of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), and became one of its stars. He exhibited great skills as a planner and an innovator. He oversaw not only the regional directors of the youth movement, but also our Israel summer camps. Yet his influence within the Union extended far beyond NCSY. If one of the member synagogues of the OU complained that it was paying dues hut receiving little from the Union in return, we would send Lanner there to be the scholar-in-residence over a Shabbat and weekend. Invariably he wowed his audiences and many of them came to consider themselves his "hasidim" (followers). Lanner was like a pinch hitter, ready to jump into the fray at moments when the organization had a lot on the line, and belt a home run for the greater glory of the Union--and of his own growing legend.

Lanner was known within NCSY as someone who demanded loyalty from his subordinates. Unfortunately, as we found out once the Jewish Week story broke, Lanner also demanded "love" from the children in his care. For his part, he was extremely loyal to his superiors at the Union.

My presidential tenure started in November 1994 long after the Teaneck episodes took place. In general, I was content to leave youth affairs in what I presumed to be the capable hands of Rabbis Butler and Stolper and the youth commission. Without anyone even whispering to me any accusation against Lanner it is difficult to imagine what I could have done differently. My sons, Ari and Elli, both leaders in our local NCSY, never heard of one complaint against Lanner of the type mentioned in the Jewish Week.

Everything I heard from the NCSY leadership during my five and half years as OU president reinforced my impression that Lanner was doing a superb job as NCSY Director of Regions. In fact, I was so impressed by what 1 heard of Baruch's performance that I had suggested to Butler early in my term as OU president that NCSY should honor him at one of its dinners. Several days after I broached that idea, he informed me that he had checked with Lanner and the latter had told him that he and his wife did not want to be honored. 1 was a little surprised by Lanner's refusal, but it seemed to me at the time to be a Sign Of modesty. I even called Lanner and his wife at their home and urged Baruch to accept the award, but they told me emphatically that they were not interested.

Certainly, if I had even an inkling of the truth about Lanner, I would never have suggested to Butler (as 1 did in 1999), that we consider Lanner for the top position at NCSY. Butler immediately responded that this was a bad idea, and I dropped it, assuming that he must have his reasons--perhaps concern over Lanner's unpolished demeanor. Never did it occur to me that those reasons might have anything to do with allegations of improper behavior.

From the very day the first Jewish Week story broke, I had a strong feeling that at the end of the process the OU top professionals who had supervised Lanner and allowed him to remain in a high position at NCSY with access to young people would themselves have to go if the Union was to rebuild its credibility. Yet after consulting with a few of my closest friends and advisers as to whether I was in a position to clean house at the Union by firing the people in question, I quickly came to the conclusion that I could not follow that path. First, we could not be sure at that point what was true and false in the welter of charges against Lanner or as to which OU leaders had known of his pattern of abuse and had covered for him. Certainly, people who had given many years of dedicated service to the Union deserved due process. Secondly, as a practical matter, I simply did not have the political strength at that moment to make a move that would surely divide the leadership. Yet, I also understood that if the OU were to have any hope of regaining the trust of the public, I would have to do far more than simply assign a few senior officers to investigate the Lanner affair. It was clear that under the circumstances we could not afford to be perceived as investigating ourselves. Rather, it was clear we would need to appoint an independent commission. They would require a mandate to undertake a "let the chips fall where they may" investigation that would pass the "reasonable man" standard--namely that a reasonable person would accept the commission's findings as fair and objective.

Before I could turn my attention to the crisis on a full-time basis, however, I had to leave for Israel on June 24 for the annual meeting of the Jewish Agency in Israel. Normally, I relish these meetings, but on this occasion I was badly distracted. 1 spent almost all of my time on the phone to New York with OU Chairman of the Board Marcel Weber and other Union officers. We discussed strategies for the creation of the independent commission. They reported that the situation was continuing to deteriorate as people inside and outside the Union denounced us for an unforgivable lapse of moral responsibility. Amidst this crescendo of bad news, Sheila and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary in Jerusalem on June 26. Even a dinner I had planned for the two of us at one of our favorite restaurants was interrupted by several urgent transatlantic calls from OU officers in New York. Sheila was not pleased to have our privacy intruded upon in that way, but the dire situation necessitated that 1 take those calls.

If any of our officers had any doubts that we urgently needed to appoint an independent commission to get back on toy of events, they fell by the wayside when the June 30 edition of the Jewish Week hit the newsstands with a second Lanner story. This one, also penned by Rosenblatt, reported that the newspaper had received hundreds of letters, e-mails and phone calls in the week since the publication of the first story. The article expressed outrage with the OU for keeping Lanner in a leadership position for so long and allowing him to continue working with youngsters. It also noted that several days earlier Congregation Beth Aaron, a large and influential Orthodox synagogue in Teaneck, N.J., the town where the Lanner bet din had taken place, had voted overwhelmingly "to immediately withhold all monies to be paid to the Orthodox Union and to national and regional NCSY." This would be done until the synagogue's membership was satisfied that provisions for supervision of young people at NCSY events were improved. One board member at Beth Aaron said he believed other OU-affiliated synagogues in the region were considering similar steps. "The mood of the congregation was fighting mad. The OU and NCSY have zero credibility around here," he noted.

Meanwhile, the article reported, a split was developing within the OU between lay leaders who argued that only the resignation of top OU personnel would adequately address the crisis of credibility, and "top professionals" who staunchly opposed any personnel changes. The latter expressed the belief that the Lanner Affair would eventually abate once the headlines surrounding the case died clown. Specifically, the professionals were said to oppose any firing of toy personnel.

During that hellish week in Jerusalem, I had my eyes opened in a particularly jarring manner as to how pervasive Lanner's history of abuse had been.

On the very morning of my arrival in Jerusalem, I received a call from a young American dentist, a former NCSY'er who was angry and indignant. I asked him what was the matter, and was stunned when this young man responded emotionally that he had been abused by Baruch Lanner as a teenager, and that other members of his family had likewise been victims. I expressed shock and immediately arranged to meet with him. When we met, I assured him that there would be no cover up and that the special investigatory commission planned to appoint in the coming days would have real independence to follow whatever leads emerged. He was interviewed about the Lanner controversy soon thereafter in the Jerusalem Post. The paper quoted him as angered over the abuses being "allowed to go on for so long." "I'm very disillusioned with the OU especially the two people who were responsible for NCSY."

For my own part, I was so shaken during that stressful week in Jerusalem, by my encounter with this young man and the stream of bad news I continued to receive on a daily basis from our office in New York, that I cancelled a vacation to Egypt that Sheila and I had planned after the end of the Jewish Agency meetings. realized that 1 needed to get back immediately to the lion's den in New York and tie up the appointment of the independent commission. Before leaving Israel, 1 released a public letter in which i promised that such a "blue ribbon commission" would be set up within a few days and that the members of the commission, including "some now involved with the OU (and) others totally independent of it," would have "carte blanche to pursue their inquiries in any manner and any direction they wish." In the same letter, T noted that the OU, at my direction, had set up a toll-free phone line for members of NCSY. They could call and discuss their concerns or report negative personal experiences with Lanner to an independent professional counselor or rabbi. But as a sign of the low level of trust in the OU among Orthodox youth in the wake of the Lanner revelations, Kedma, an association of observant college students, set up a separate 1800 phone line to deal with anyone wishing to call for counselling.

Meanwhile, both the Jewish and mainstream media were focusing their lenses on the Lanner story. WCBS radio in New York seemed to be giving the story hourly mention. The New York Times ran two articles on the Lanner Affair and the story was also covered in the Los Angeles Times and other major dailies around the country. Several exhaustive articles appeared in New Jersey papers, particularly in the Bergen Record, which is the major paper of Bergen County, where Lanner resided. As noted, the Jewish Week ran a second story filled with accounts of new charges against Lanner, and subsequently a third story which cast a critical light on what it presented as the pressure tactics on teenagers to become more observant allegedly used in some kiruv programs (bringing non-observant Jews into a halachically observant lifestyle) by Lanner and some other NCSY leaders. Finally, the Lanner Affair became a big story in the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media, as a number of olim from the U.S. came forward with stories of how they had been abused by Lanner.

No doubt Lanner's apparent lack of remorse contributed to the sense of outrage in OU-affiliated synagogues and NCSY chapters. It was worse in New Jersey, where Lanner had served for many years, not only in NCSY but also as the principal of the Hillel Academy in Deal. Yet the outcry spread as far as Los Angeles. Ad hoc groups of NCSY parents were not only calling for meetings to discuss Baruch Lanner, but also sending out notices over the Internet and preparing resolutions calling for specific actions by the Union even before the meetings they called had met. In Washington three rabbis sent me a public letter. They charged that despite our statements of horror and stated determination to allow an independent investigation to go forward, the Union actually intended to carry out a cover-up. 1 never had a chance to discuss the charges with the rabbis, because they released the letter to the newspapers even before I received it.

The sensational quality of the charges against Lanner seemed to stir up a lamentable tendency among many people to play to the press. Quite a number of rabbis castigated the Union harshly in comments to the media, and then, after we complained about the unfairness of some of their charges, claimed to us that they had been misquoted. One rabbi at an OU-affiliated synagogue in New Jersey orchestrated a public meeting to which he invited the press. He subsequently turned around and disinvited them when I insisted that such a sensitive discussion should first he held within the Jewish community.

Needless to say, our public relations department was under severe pressure. With some outside assistance from Howard Rubenstein Associates, David Olivestone, our communications director, Stan Steinreich, lay chair of ourm public relations department and Sharyn Perlman, our public relations director, tried as best they could to reassure the public and the press. Yet the clamor kept getting worse. Not only was the media having a field day with the story, but, as noted, we were faced with a number of determined and irate individuals who were making expert use of the Internet to whip up synagogues and rabbis against the Orthodox Union and NCSY. It was clear that the only way to staunch the bleeding was to get the Special Commission up and running as quickly as possible.

The moment 1 arrived back in New York from Israel, I went into consultations with my ad-hoc group of OU wise men to commence an all-out-effort to assemble a commission that would be perceived as independent. Yet what sort of people could we find who would transmit that sense of independence? I was getting a wide range of advice on that question, both from OU insiders and from a wide spectrum of important outside figures in the Jewish world whose opinions I respected. Some argued that the commission should be made up exclusively of people with no ties to the OU or Orthodox Judaism, or "gentiles" as one advisor half-jokingly put it. Upon reflection, however, I decided that to do their difficult jobs fairly and judiciously, commission members needed to be knowledgeable of Orthodox doctrines that were central to the Lanner case such as kiruv. As much as we were determined to form a commission that was committed to finding the truth, we also wanted one that would endeavor to strengthen and rehabilitate the Union, rather than destroy it. At risk was the survival of a 100-year-old organization that had done so much to preserve and enhance orthodox Jewish life in the United States. Therefore, 1 decided that the composition of the commission should be a mix of top leaders of the OU and 'outsiders' who happened to be observant Jews.

When we began the process of vetting names, I was surprised to hear that quite a few people, including some prominent politicians who happened to be Orthodox, were eager to serve on the commission. From the beginning, I had a gut instinct that we should not select any individuals who were eager to be chosen. 1 also realized that politicians anxious to serve on the commission might have their own agendas.

In our search for quality people to serve on the commission, we sought to attain a mix of men and women and to find people known for their accomplishments in fields like finance, law, education, psychiatry, and pediatric medicine. We readily acknowledged to those to whom we reached out that serving on the commission would be a thankless and time consuming job, but appealed to their commitment to public service and to the well being of the orthodox community. Some of those we wanted to serve respectfully declined our offer, whereas others laid down conditions for serving which we endeavored to meet. The selection process took about two weeks. Finally, we had a commission we believed lived up to the stringent criteria we had set.

As chairman of the NCSY Special Commission, we selected Richard Joel, the national director of Hillel. Joel is a veteran Jewish leader with considerable experience in youth work, education and the administration of a large organization. 1 knew him to be tough but fair and extremely competent. Chosen to serve as members of the commission were Fred Ehrman, vice chairman of Brean Murray & Co., honorary president of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, co-chairman of the Orthodox Caucus, and a senior vice president of the OU; Allan Fagin, a partner and co-chairman of the labor and employment law department of Proskauer Rose LLP, and an OU officer; Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D., founder and medical director of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center and associate professor of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh; and Susan K. Schulman, M.D., attending in pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Schulman had done a great deal of study concerning the problem of molestation of children in the Orthodox community.

Completing the list of those selected to serve on the commission were Jacob Yellin, vice president and counsel of the Walt Disney Company in charge of Disney's worldwide ethics compliance program; Matthew Maryles, a prominent investment banker who is active in UIA-Federation; Jules Polonetsky, a former New York City Commissioner of Consumer Protection, Mrs. Suzanne Stone, professor of Law at Cordoza Law School of Yeshiva University and Lydia Kess, an attorney who resigned on October 10, 2000.

Before we were able to announce the appointment of the Special Commission and the names of its members, however received a call from Richard Joel in which he said that he and other prospective commission members had caucused and had decided that in addition to appointing the Commission, the OU should also select a law firm. To conduct the actual investigation the commission would issue a public executive summary at the conclusion of the investigation. Richard asserted that this was the only way for the commission to assure the public of its independence. He told me explicitly that he and the other members would refuse to serve on the commission unless their demands were met.

Joel said he and the other members of the still-to-be-officially announced Special Commission had decided upon the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton to represent them. To undertake the investigation, they wanted Bruce Yannett, a senior member of Debevoise and Plimpton and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, who had earned a sterling reputation as a staff member of the [ran-Contra investigation. Yannett estimated that the total cost of the investigation would be $210-222,000, a hefty amount, but less than might be expected since the firm planned to use a large contingent of summer interns who would work pro-bone. Yannett told me the report would almost certainly be ready by Labor Day.

I knew that there would be plenty of grumbling about these demands from some members of the OU leadership. Yet after discussed the matter with Marcel Weber, and other leaders, we came to the conclusion that we had no choice but to accede. Obviously, high-profile resignations from the commission by Joel and the other members would be a public relations disaster for the OU, and would almost certainly mean that we would not be able to obtain the services of other individuals of prominence.

Meanwhile, the Union had taken the precaution of choosing our own legal representative for matters related to the Lanner Affair. He was Charles Stillman, a well-known criminal attorney who in the course of a long and distinguished career had defended Clark Clifford and Mayor David Dinkins---the latter after he was charged with negligence by the Crown Heights Jewish community in the wake of the 1991 riots there that left a Torah scholar, Yankel Rosenbaum, dead. Stillman was known as "a lawyer's lawyer," but he was not only bright, talented and on top of the legal game, but he also possessed real common sense and mentschlichkeit (good character).

After my discussions with Richard Joel, Marcel and I were painfully aware that we needed to move forward immediately with the announcement of the special commission. While the two of us were in a position to speak and make policy in the name of the Union, technically we needed the endorsement of the Executive Board for the appointment of the special commission and for our agreement to also appoint a law firm to investigate the charges, as Joel had insisted upon. The Executive Board was to meet just before the July 4th holiday, and some 90-100 people, virtually the entire membership of the Board, were set to attend.

The word around the OU offices in the days immediately preceding the meeting was that members of the old guard faction, were angry at my insistence that the special commission should operate independent of Union control. Although Marcel and I knew that many members of the Executive Board would agree with the steps we had taken, including accepting the commission's insistence on bringing aboard Yannett and his law firm--with the attendant hefty price tag, we could not be certain that the overall Executive Board would endorse our position. At all times Marcel and I consulted with and kept our senior leadership up to date on our progress.

Knowing that time was of the essence, I therefore placed an ad in the upcoming issue of the Jewish Week announcing the creation of the commission and giving the names of its participants. That Internet edition of the paper was to appear on the afternoon of our meeting, only hours before the all-important Executive Board meeting. Waiting to place an ad until after the Executive Board meeting would have meant losing a valuable week (since the deadline would have passed) in public relations. We felt that the hemorrhaging must stop immediately and thus as soon as the commission was formed we announced it publicly. I felt then, as I do now that we had no choice. The survival of the Union was at stake.

The Executive Board meeting, which lasted nearly five hours, was not an easy affair. Rabbi Butler made an emotional speech. Afterwards, several members of the Executive Board invoked halacha in order to condemn lashon ha'ra (speaking ill of people) and rechilut (gossip). Others said we should ignore the press and simply hunker down in support of our staff. I noticed that not a single person discussed the implications of the gross violation of halacha involved in protecting those who abuse children.

Sentiment in the room was sharply divided and there seemed to be no guarantee Marcel and I would get even a bare majority of those present to support the steps I had taken. Finally, I took the floor and dropped my bombshell, explaining that I had placed an ad in the Jewish Week announcing the appointment of the commission and the Internet edition was already out. As I sat down I could hear a general hubbub as many expressed anger and incredulity at my action.

Yet after a few minutes of discussion, it became clear that my statement had taken the wind out of the sails of the opposition. Even those dead set against the commission realized that now that the commission had been officially announced by the President of the OU, they had no choice but to back me up. Soon a motion was made and passed unanimously supporting the establishment of the special commission and its use of a legal team. Certainly, as unhappy as many board members were about my decision to allow an independent commission to delve into the inner workings of the Union, none of them wanted to be on the record as appearing to support a cover-up. Some were less than pleased that the commission would deliver a public summary. My opponents realized that, at least for the moment, they had lost control of the debate.

I was pleased and more than a little relieved. The course that Marcel and I set had been sustained. We were able to announce to the public that we had an independent commission in place to investigate the Lanner Affair. I had also made clear to the top leadership of the OU that as long as I remained President, I would not tolerate an investigation that would amount to a whitewash. I felt that we had shown decisive leadership in getting the special commission up and running and ensuring that there would be a full and open investigation. Perhaps we could now get on top of the scandal, instead of always being in a reactive mode.

As a student of scandals going back to Watergate in the 70's and Tylenol in the 80's, I realized that if an organization in which there has beenwrongdoing endeavors to come clean and get out the facts, the public will accept it, whereas those that go into a cover-up mode are the ones that end up getting clobbered. Yet for me, the obligation to undertake a "no holds barred" investigation was hardly only a matter of good public relations, but also our solemn moral obligation to root out wrongdoing. In the same statement announcing the establishment of the commission, I had pledged, "As a father and a grandfather, I promise that I will not rest until I am satisfied that our house is in order and NCSY's reputation is restored."

Yet while we had quelled the fires inside the Union leadership for the time being, we still had to contend with harsh criticism from the grass roots. We had hoped that the evident high quality of the commission members would bring praise even from our critics, but Instead there were charges from many quarters that the commission was not independent enough because two members were OU officers and one was the wife of an OU board member--albeit a professor of law in her own right. Thankfully, the attacks abated after the Jewish Week ran an editorial in July urging that the commission should be judged by its actions, rather than on the connection of some members with the Union.

For my own part, I responded to such criticism by arguing that it would be next to impossible to find Orthodox community leaders who were totally removed from the Orthodox Union-people who hadn't written for us, spoken at a conference, or had some relatives who served on one of our boards. I pointed out that the commission was not a jury of the sort from which a woman might be excused from a malpractice case if her husband is a doctor. I argued that simply because someone had served in the positions of authority in the Orthodox community did not mean he or she could not honestly and fairly investigate the OU. I noted that former Senator John Danforth of Missouri had served in government for decades before he was appointed by President Clinton to investigate the FBI action at Waco that had resulted in the deaths of many Branch Davidians. Yet because of Danforth's reputation for ironclad integrity, no one charged that he had a conflict of interest and could not honestly investigate the U.S. government.

As part of my effort to quell the ongoing firestorm and to remind the public that the Union and its work far transcended the Lanner Affair, I wrote an op-ed article in the August 4th edition of the Jewish Week. In that piece, I wrote that the men and women we selected to serve on the special commission had "impeccable credentials" and were "respected for their honesty and integrity." I noted that the OU had instituted "a new and vigorous anti-harassment code in NCSY," that the NCSY staff would be receiving sensitivity training and NCSY was developing immediate plans to integrate the parents of NCSY members into decision-making and oversight capacities. I reminded readers that "the Orthodox Union is much more than that which is reflected in recent headlines, but was a vast network of people and programs for people of all ages and circumstances administered "by some 1000 talented, dedicated and ethical employees worldwide, supported by hundreds of committed lay leaders who devote their talent, time and energy to the betterment of the community."

Nevertheless, I pointed out, "There will always be individuals who act unethically and who will push the limits of their authority. "

"Sometimes those in authority may fail the test of leadership by not acting decisively when confronted with the evidence of the improper actions of trusted colleagues. However, the true test of an organization's mettle is what it does when it learns of improper conduct by any of its employees. Does it deny the charges? Does it cover up the facts? Or does it act responsibly to investigate the matter and not rush to judge or condemn, while ensuring that the charges are brought out In the sunlight and that both redress and preventive measures are instituted? The latter is the course we have set for ourselves."

In conclusion, I appealed to the community "not to abandon (its) partnership" with the Orthodox Union, and said, "in return, we promise that we will do whatever it takes to regain your trust. Jewish tradition and moral imperative demand no less." Several events that took place in July served as a vivid reminder as to just how serious was the moral imperative confronting the OU. On July 9th, I received a letter from Mrs. Shayndee Hiller. Her late son Jonah was the boy who Lanner had allegedly assaulted with a kitchen knife on August 7, 1987. This incident eventually led to the convening of the Bet Din two years later. In her letter, a copy of which was dispatched to the commission, Mrs. Hiller claimed that on August 9, 1987 she and her husband immediately contacted the Union after the alleged attack by Lanner on their son. On August 10, 1987 she received a call back from Rabbi Butler. Hiller said that Butler "acknowledged the severity of the situation," but said that before taking action he needed to corroborate their version of events. She said that he soon called back to say he had indeed "confirmed their story" and asked them what they wanted the Union to do. Hiller wrote me that she and her husband insisted that Lanner "should have no further contact" or involvement in NCSY in the Etz Chuim (northern New Jersey) region. (Lanner had long served as Regional Director for the New Jersey region, which included Etz Chaim).

Hiller said that the OU eventually agreed to these conditions. However, subsequently she claimed, "the OU reneged on the deal," allowing Lanner to speak at an NCSY weekend retreat in Livingston, N.J. Hiller also said that "the incident that occurred on August 7 was denied" (by the OU). As a consequence, the Hillers' attorney, Sharon Stein, sent a tough letter to Butler on December 1, 1987, threatening to bring criminal and civil charges unless Lanner resigned as director of the New Jersey region by January 1, 1988. Stein wrote: "in preparation for litigation I will contact other youngsters who have informed the Hillers of physical and verbal abuse inflicted upon them by Rabbi Lanner." Hiller said the family then received a phone call from a high official of the OU Youth Commission, today in the top echelon of the Union lay leadership, advising her and her husband that "the Union had Alan Dershowitz on retainer should the family decide to continue with legal action." (The OU official in question denies he ever mentioned Dershowitz and therefore 1 do not mention his name). The Jerusalem Post in an article by Elli Wohlgelenter on February 8, 2001, quotes from the Sharon Stein letter which they possessed.

In any event, the Hillers, due to their son's recurrent illness and other family matters, decided not to push forward with their threat to sue Lanner. However, two years later, after the tragic death of Jonah Hiller from a chronic disease, his brother Elie, who had resigned as Director of Outreach Programs for New Jersey NCSY in outrage over what he felt was the OU's apparent coverup of Lanner's attack on his late brother, learned that a synagogue in nearby Teaneck was strongly considering Lanner as their rabbi. Elie Hiller then sent out a letter to the Teaneck Jewish community accusing Lanner of physical and verbal misconduct. That letter effectively put the kibosh on Lanner's chances of being hired by that or any other synagogue in Bergen County and caused Lanner to go to the Bet Din in a desperate effort to restore his good name. The Bet Din, after an eighteen hour session, concluded that most of the charges were not proven The findings were never made public. Elie Hiller was told to make a public apology to Lanner, which he did. Rosenblatt reported that the Bet Din found some of Lanner's actions "were deemed inappropriate."

On July 21, Gary Rosenblatt ran another front page story in the Jewish Week. He wrote about a former female student at the Hillel High School, a co-ed yeshiva in Deal, N.J. where Lanner served as principal for 15 years until leaving in 1997. The girl gave a gut-wrenching account of how Lanner allegedly sexually molested her on multiple occasions in his office during 1995 when she was only 14. The girl said that the abuse she endured at Lanner's hands caused her to turn away from Judaism and get involved in drugs and juvenile delinquency. The girl who used a pseudonym in the article filed a criminal complaint against Lanner.

Meanwhile, a new crisis had erupted involving the Joel Commission. In late July, Joel called and asked for a meeting. When we met, he informed me that the investigation was becoming far more complicated than expected and would require considerably more time and money than had been anticipated a few weeks earlier. Richard explained that whereas the commission had originally expected to interview thirty witnesses, several hundred individuals had contacted the commission in less than a month to say they had information to give concerning the Lanner case. Also, new allegations--some involving alleged financial improprieties by Lanner with OU and NCSY funds- were coming to the forefront. Finally, he said the commission had determined that it would also require the services of a forensic accountant. He said that if we did not agree to that condition and to expand the commission's budget, the commission would be forced to discontinue its work. Joel emphasized that the commission members did not want their names associated with an investigation that was incomplete or which was not given the opportunity to root out all the facts.

As much as I was determined to give the commission full latitude to do its investigation, 1 was deeply distressed by what Joel told me. It appeared that he was raising the nightmare spectre of an open-ended investigation. After a good deal of back and forth, Joel and I agreed informally that there would be a reasonable cap on what the commission could spend on its investigation.

Nevertheless, 1 explained to Joel that I did not have the authority on my own to sanction such a payment by the Union. I therefore asked Richard if he and the other commission members would be willing to make a presentation to a group of seven or eight of the most senior people in the Union, including the treasurer and officials of the Finance Committee, to explain why the commission had concluded it needed more money than expected. The meeting, which was held in secret, was a success. The OU leaders, having been convinced by the commission of the need for a much wider investigation than originally expected, agreed to all of the commission's demands including the cap as a maximum cost for the investigation.

When word inevitably leaked out about our decision to sanction a much wider and more expensive commission investigation, a number of members of the Executive Board who had not been invited to the private meeting with the commission were angry with me. These were among the same people who wanted to end the independent investigation of the Lanner Affair Frustrated by their inability to stop me from taking steps in support of the commission that they felt exceeded my mandate, a number of these leaders stridently criticized me. One sent a letter to each member of the Executive Board claiming that my decision to pay for the commission's legal counsel "could jeopardize the OU's financial ability" and force cancellation of programs" and asserting that appeared to be "more concerned about (my) personal legacy than about the interests of the OU itself." A copy of the letter found its way into the Jewish Week. In response, I wrote each Board member a chronological outline of all the moves that I had made since the affair came to light and whom I had consulted at each step. I cited our constitution to show that I had not taken any steps that deviated from it. I asked for the support of the members and urged them to avoid personal attacks at a time of maximum tension. never mentioned my attacker by name.

Given everything that was going on, it may seem remarkable to some that Rabbi Butler and 1 managed to maintain a collegial relationship and work together fruitfully to keep the day-to-day operations of the OU functioning despite our very different perspectives on the Lanner Affair. As in past years, our professional collaboration worked well because we were both committed to the well being of the OU and both were effective administrators and policy-makers. There was a certain sense of deja vu in the atmosphere. Only one year earlier Butler and I had forced the resignation of our top Israeli administrator because of a scandal that occurred on his "watch." In any case, I was satisfied to leave any personal decisions until after the Special Commission had thoroughly investigated all aspects of the Lanner Affair and had given us their report and recommendations.

Meanwhile, as the Union does evert year a month or so before the High Holidays, we had sent out our membership renewal forms. Within a week, we were receiving an alarming number of responses from long time members informing us that they would not renew their membership until they were convinced the OU was doing a serious job of investigating Lanner and those inside the organization who had protected him. One long time supporter wrote: "As of this date, I have seen no accountability for the Baruch Lanner cover-up. No definite action has been taken. No one has been fired. Until there is definite, positive corrective action taken, we will not contribute anything to your organization. The 'one bad apple' rotted many other leaders. Shame on you!"

A couple from Maryland wrote, "We received the annual membership renewal form recently and will rejoin the OU once the OU comes clean on the 'Lanner Affair.' What is puzzling and most disturbing about the entire situation was his continued involvement with NCSY for the past several decades and the deafening silence from the OU."

Another couple wrote that they would honor a pledge they had already made to support our Torah Center in Kharkov, Ukraine, but added, "Please be informed that this is the last money we ever intend to give to the OU because you have demonstrated that your organization values protecting "its own" above protecting children. This is unconscionable.

"A woman from Los Angeles wrote that she considered Gary Rosenblatt's decision to publish the Lanner story to have been "both brave and according to Jewish law."

I realized that no matter how many statements I and other OU leaders madeexpressing contrition for what had occurred and promising that we would conduct an honest investigation, we would be unable to quell the continuing public clamor until the commission's report was finally delivered and made available to the media and to our membership. Unfortunately, because of the greatly expanded scope of the investigation, the commission's original deadline of Labor Day for delivering its report came and went without a clear sense of when they would actually finish their work. Those who at the time criticized the cost of the investigation never came forth and suggested "cleaning house" by firing four or five professionals and asking for a few lay resignations. This might have obviated the need for a commission. The alternative was to put our head in the sand and make believe that we were upset and proclaim that eventually we would get to the bottom of it. In essence saying let the public be damned.

Meanwhile, I like all the top lay and professional leaders of the OU, had given testimony to the commission, which, in my case, lasted approximately five to six hours. Their questioning of me was extremely thorough and professionally done. For my part, I endeavored to be as open and honest as possible and give the fullest, most detailed testimony that I could. It turned out that much of what the commission asked was background material or corroboration of the stories and testimony of other witnesses. At the same time, the commission members attempted to shock me with a set of facts they knew I was unaware of, a technique they also apparently used with a number of other witnesses--primarily senior officers of the Union--to impress on them the gravity of the situation. It seemed that the commission felt that OU senior officers still did not fully appreciate the seriousness of the charges against Lanner.

Did I know, they asked, that Rabbi Lanner frequently slept overnight on the couch in my office? 1 was shocked. 1 frequently took 15-to 20-minute catnaps in the afternoon to refresh myself-a custom I had indulged in since my days as a resident in obstetrics and when I used to stay up all night providing emergency medical services to badly wounded G.I.'s in Vietnam. But where did Lanner get off thinking he had free run of my office?

Was I aware, they asked, that in May 2000, two lay leaders presented a written firsthand narrative of Rabbi Lanner's abuse to a senior OU professional and that after the meeting that professional phoned a group of senior OU lay leaders of which neither Marcel nor I were included? I answered in the negative. When Bruce Yannett asked how I felt about senior union officials not sharing their knowledge of Lanner's conduct with me. I answered that I felt as though "I had been assaulted." I had realized from the time of the first Jewish Week story that 1 had been kept in the dark concerning Lanner by our professional staff. Still, it was quite a shock and a cause for chagrin to have the commission explain to me the extent to which 1 had been played for a fool by our top professionals and was thereby denied the chance to deal with the Lanner matter in a way that might have limited the enormous damage the OU finally absorbed.

By mid October we had managed to assure that the Joel Commission would continue its work and definitely deliver a report. 1 had to do some hard decision-making about how the OU should respond to the report once it was finally ready and the process necessary to reach that goal.

As I mulled these difficult questions, was acutely aware I was personally in a no-win situation. On the one hand, were 1 to try to play down the charges against Lanner and those who had supported and protected him inside the OU, I would he attacked by the families of the alleged victims, the community, and the press for whitewashing the very serious acts that had been committed. If, on the other hand, I followed my conscience and pressed for an honest and thorough Commission report and decisive OU response to its conclusions, would be antagonizing a significant group of officers. It was a journey through a minefield. But I was determined to act in a clinically objective fashion. The patient, in this case the Union, must be saved and brought back to health. Only the truth could accomplish this.

The ongoing delays in the delivery of the Joel Commission report; first from Labor Day to November and finally to early December undercut my own position and those of others at the OU who insisted that the organization would need to make fundamental changes, including replacing top administrators, in order to begin the process of putting the scandal behind it. This was especially true given that my term as President would come to an end on December 31, 2000 and the organization was scheduled to install a new president and new set of officers at our year-end convention. Many of us were acutely concerned that we should have the information from the commission as to whether some of the people being considered for officer positions had been implicated in protecting or supporting Lanner so our nominating committee could remove them from consideration. As it turned out, the nominating committee chairman stalled as long as possible. By late November, with the commission report still undelivered, he had to go forward with the organization's official nominations for officer positions.

Sensing the potential for disaster, some highly placed individuals came to me and asked me to consider whether we could amend the constitution so I and the slate of officers serving with me, could stay on for six to twelve months beyond the end of my term. After a period of introspection, I realized that such a step would not only violate our constitution, but would further aggravate the growing rifts within the Union. My main goal was to insure that continuity be preserved.

My preference was that in a short period of time after the coming election an entirely new slate of officers not connected to Lanner or the Youth Commission should be elected in a special election. I was concerned with the effect of individuals closely associated with the Youth Commission and NCSY leading the Union in post scandal period. This was not easily achieved. I could find no support for such an idea.

As I struggled with how best to move forward during those autumn days, I also had to deal with the fact that the Joel Commission had rebuffed my oft-repeated appeal that they not only lay out the facts in their report, but also to offer specific recommendations as to which personnel within the Union, if any, should be forced to resign as a result of their actions in regard to Lanner; which should be publicly censured, and which absolved of any involvement. The commission members emphatically rejected that approach; insisting that the evidence would speak for itself and that anyone who would read the report would come to the correct conclusions as to what needed to be done. I believed then they were wrong and was proven to be correct when, after the release of the report in late December, bitter debate ensued within the OU leadership, despite the tough language in the report.

Given all of these complex factors, I decided that I needed to create a high level group of thirteen senior officers that would accept and evaluate the Joel Commission report and make recommendations for a course of action. The group represented a cross-section of opinion on how the Union should respond. This included several people who were ardent supporters of Rabbi Butler and had been critical of my handling of the Lanner Affair.

I believed that the report would prove to be so definitive regarding Rabbi Lanner and the Union that this group would join in a unanimous report which the board would support. This would obviate the need for the full report to be released either to the board or the public.

I went ahead and set up the Committee of 13 without fanfare at the beginning of November 2000. As noted, I tried hard to make the Committee of Thirteen a balanced group, but inevitably I was attacked for not including each former living president and senior vice presidents. Others blasted me for not appointing any women or pulpit rabbis to the committee. Unless the thirteen managed to reach a unanimous decision as to how to respend to the Joel Commission report, we were in for a rocky road. I believed this group could do it.

The commission had committed itself to releasing an executive summary to the public, but not the report itself. The executive summary would not include names of Lanner's victims, nor of every rabbi and NCSY professional who had crossed Lanner's path over 30 years. We were concerned that if we released the full report that completely innocent people who had worked with Lanner in projects over the years but had no idea of his abusive activities would find their names unfairly blackened. The summary would also not include the sort of sexual specifics that had made the Starr Report on President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky read like a smutty novel.

I was convinced that we could unmistakably define the nature of Lanner's activities without going into degrading details. Yet within a few weeks I came to realize that I had made a profound mistake in believing that an executive summary would have enough punch to force personnel changes highly unpopular with many in our hierarchy.

At last the Joel Commission concluded its report. On December 7, 2000, three weeks before the opening of the OU annual convention and the end of my administration, the commission delivered to me, via our attorney, Stillman, a 332-page report with 104 exhibits. The Committee of 13 agreed that neither the report nor our notes would be allowed to be taken out of Stillman's office and would not be released to the Executive Board or any other group unless there was a vote by the board to overturn this decision.

The Joel Commission had been extremely thorough in covering events from 1972 to the present. They identified 800 potential witnesses and interviewed more than 175 of them. The Debevoise team had used over 6,000 hours to investigate and prepare the report. Even though I thanked them publicly, I privately sent each of the members of the commission a letter in appreciation of their commitment. I truly appreciated firsthand the seriousness and thoroughness of the report. In addition, 1 released a statement to the media, affirming; "We are distressed that behavior like this could have occurred within our organization. We sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering these young people experienced as a result of Rabbi Lanner's actions. We also want to apologize to the families of these young people who entrusted their children to us. We promise to use this sad event as an opportunity to ensure that behavior such as this will never again occur within this organization."

The report and executive summary put an end to any speculation or discussion that the Commission's efforts would be a cover-up or whitewash. The report concluded that Lanner had "engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and abusive behavior, emotional, physical, and sexual, towards a number of NCSY students, causing enormous pain and suffering." The report further reached the conclusion that though Lanner alone had engaged in a pattern of abuse, some members of the lay and professional leadership of the OU and NCSY "made profound errors of judgement in their handling of Lanner throughout his career with NCSY." The report gave twelve examples of what it called "red flags" that should have warned the Union leadership of serious problems. No cover-up was found, but the report contended that Lanner's "inappropriate and crude behavior" should have led to his firing, yet there was no investigation.

The Joel Commission found that "a senior official misrepresented the 1989 Belt Din as being an affirmative approval for Lanner to continue his employment at NCSY." The commission further stated, "The description of the belt Din (September 1989) ... as a complete exoneration ... was simply nottrue....These inaccurate representations ... continued over the course of the next ten years." It was suggested that the bet din was monitoring Lanner's employment. "In fact," said the commission, "the bet din, which ceased to exist as an institution after sending its psak (rabbinic ruling),did not have any continuing jurisdiction over the matter." In the commission report obviously the senior official was named.

The commission found that, over the years, the Union's professional staff had become the repository of accumulated information about Lanner and did not share it in a relevant manner with the lay officers. Different lay leaders knew bits and pieces, but there is no evidence to show that they were informed of the situation by the professionals. The report found:

Lanner engaged in emotional, physical and sexual inappropriate behavior toward NCSY students causing them "pain and suffering."

Ten women testified that Lanner engaged in sexually abusive behavior toward them during his NCSY career.

Lanner operated an unauthorized bank account in New Jersey, which he used for his sole discretion. He instructed donors that he solicited for NCSY programs to send the checks to his home. The report did not determine what became of the money.

During working hours and with full knowledge of his superiors he engaged in financial transactions involving other OU employees and NCSY advisors and students through which he stood to profit personally.

Members of the OU leadership knew or should have known of his conduct but took no effective action. This included four incidents in 1972, 1977, 1984 and 2000, when OU and NCSY officials were informed of specific sexual misconduct.

The commission report did offer some specific recommendations. It urged the organization to take "decisive and appropriate action" against those it specified as being responsible; and address "serious weaknesses" in the area of "overall management structure; procedures for staff selection, development, training, supervision and evaluation; procedures for financialaccountability and internal audit; and lay oversight."

The committee of thirteen had two weeks to read and study the complete unabridged report. The Joel Commission planned to place the executive summary, which was fifty four pages long on the Internet on December 21. Our goal was to come to the executive board with specific recommendations before that date.

The commission refused to meet with us regarding the report until we had it in our hands. They maintained an extreme arms-length relationship with us, fearing that otherwise they would be accused of having been compromised in their conclusions. In truth, the only thing missing in the Executive public summary that was in the full report were the names of the OU personnel involved in their investigation and the narrative of salacious material. The multifaceted issues raised by the Lanner episode carried many ethical ramifications under Jewish law, especially with regard to making the report public and engaging in possible "gossip" or "speaking ill of people." The Commission members were extremely concerned about these ramifications. They consulted with a noted OU rabbi, scholar, and professor of law, Yitzchak Breitowitz, who provided halachic guidance. He read the completed draft of the report and agreed to allow his name to be used in this regard.

One Executive Board member who opposed the work of the Commission publicly challenged me on at least two occasions to produce an opinion by a halachic leader concerning the issue of the possible spread of gossip about OU employees or lay leaders. Marcel Weber and I were equally concerned about that possibility, but were no less troubled by the fact that no Union leader had publicly considered the halachic implications of tolerating year after year of alleged abuse of children. During the long run up to the release of the Joel Commission report, Marcel and had discussed these issues with my own Rav and spiritual adviser, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University. Tendler knew about the Lanner Affair in considerable detail; from newspaper accounts and through his relationship with former students, who were now coming forward with information.

Rabbi Tendler agreed to write a halachic opinion, which basically stated that when individuals had "knowledge of physical or sexual abuse of NCSY participants (they) cannot remain in the organization." Similarly, he found that employees who "violated their fiduciary obligations should given the opportunity to resign," and then the Commission findings should "be sealed." During the course of the deliberations of the committee of thirteen, Avi Blumenfeld, a member of the group, and I met with an advisory panel of the Monsey Belt Din that in essence reinforced the goals laid down by Rabbi Tendler.

Despite these strong feelings, which I fully shared, those of us in the committee of thirteen decided during our study of the commission report that it contained no smoking gun, at least in the sense that there was nothing there that could be the basis for action against any former or present member of the Union professional staff, except, of course, Lanner himself. As for the two principal players, Rabbi Stolper was about to retire, so his situation was basically moot. The big issue was whether or not Rabbi Butler should be allowed to continue as executive vice president given the circumstances concerning Lanner that had taken place under his professional command. The committee of thirteen was not able to agree on a course of action concerning him.

The committee of thirteen did decide that there was nothing in the report that disqualified President-elect Harvey Blitz, a former youth commission chairman, or any of the new officers from assuming office on January 1, as planned.

While Butler's partisans were putting up a stiff fight from within the Union to help him retain his position, we were coming under tremendous pressure from the outside to take a decisive act to show that someone inside the organization was accountable for what had happened. Every day in the wake of the release of the executive summary, 1 was receiving dozens of emails, letters, and phone calls. Some were unsigned, but all were extremely angry. Their anger was directed at the OU, but more specifically, at our two senior employees, Butler and Stolper. The Jewish Week ran a front page article by Gary Rosenblatt entitled "Fate of Top OU Leaders In Limbo," speculating as to whether Butler or any other OU leader would be dismissed as a result of the findings.

For my part, I was determined that these public demands not be the cause for irrational or unjustified actions against Rabbi Butler or any other individuals, but also that we look the facts as presented by the Joel Commission and do what was best for the organization. Yet try as I could to complete the deliberations of the committee of thirteen by December 31, the late issuance of the report and the closeness to the biannual convention, which ran from Dec 28-30 in Rye Brook, NY, made that impossible. Furthermore, as noted, my hopes that the committee of thirteen would be able to come to a unanimous decision proved naive, as did my hopes that we would be able to keep our deliberations secret.

Had this occurred in private industry probably four or five professionals and a few lay people would have voluntarily submitted their resignations or be fired as soon as the newspaper story came out. However, absent specific Joel Commission recommendations, such was not the case.

In the end no lay person was ever asked to retire and the committee of thirteen wound up discussing two main issues the fate of Rabbi Butler and the fate of the full report. As I noted Rabbi Stolper retired December 31, 2000.

While I initially felt that it would not be in the interests of the Union or the general community to release the full report I was concerned that the total failure to hold any top professionals accountable would cost us dearly.

There was talk of a compromise with Rabbi Butler taking on a new role. However, 1 realized no new top administrator could enter the Union and function with Butler holding the title of Executive Vice-President as was suggested by some.

The Jewish Week and other payers kept up the pressure for a change in leadership. "If OU leaders stay, critics may leave" was the January 5, 2001 headline. Some of Butler's friends allegedly were whispering in his ear to hang tough. If so, believe they misled him. They felt that once I left the presidency the story would die down. However, it was not that simple.Synagogue groups, rabbinical groups and the press maintained the pressure incessantly via e-mail, phone and community meetings.

On January 3, 2001, Murray Sragow, a leader of the New Jersey region of NCSY and an activist in an e-mail campaign told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency "I don't think that this philosophy (of turning a blind eye because of Lanner's ability to inspire) is going to change as long as Rabbi Butler continues to be around." He continued,"I'm very concerned that at the end of the day, it's all going to be like moving deck chairs on the Titanic." The discussions and caucusing within the committee of thirteen continued throughout the biennial convention and beyond as I assumed the title of Chairman of the Board.

I looked upon my role as president not in a personal sense but as one who had at the end of the day to answer to the broad Orthodox Jewish community, and, specifically, to the leadership of the synagogues and individual members of the OU. My job was to save the Union and not allow further chilul Hashem (desecration of God's name). I could not allow my personal feelings to absolve me of my responsibilities. I cannot say everyone followed that approach.

As the convention ended and my presidency over, I was sad that we did not complete the task of reporting to the Board. The committee of thirteen was deadlocked.

Finally I went to a member of the Joel Commission and asked bluntly "could the Union survive the publication of the entire report?" He answered affirmatively.

On January 6, 2001, hours before leaving on a long-delayed two-week trip to Hong Kong with Sheila, I finally bit the bullet. I sent a fax to each member of the committee of thirteen, calling for the immediate release of the full Joel Commission report. It made clear that if the committee of thirteen refused to take that step I was prepared upon my return from vacation to make a formal presentation either to the Executive Board or to the Board of Directors, which I now headed.

In the fax, I noted that I had received two anguished phone calls from a woman who had two children who had allegedly been abused by Lanner. The woman had informed me that despite being devoutly Orthodox and a supporter of OU-affiliated institutions in her community, she had agreed to be interviewed by an ABC video magazine about what Lanner had done to her children and had decided to join in legal action against the OU unless there was a change at the top of the professional staff of the Union.

By the time I returned to New York two weeks later, Rabbi Butler had resigned as executive director. Butler's resignation took the steam out of the political pressure the new President faced, thereby making it possible for the OU to avoid releasing the full commission report.

In his letter of resignation, Rabbi Butler wrote, "I firmly believe that the appropriate recommendations of the NCSY special commission must be implemented within a movement wholly united in its resolve to rise above the fray. The pursuit of that resolve must begin at the top." Butler said that his decision to resign was intended "to prevent the divisiveness and rancor that threaten the mission of the OU. To my mind, the mission is paramount and far outweighs any personal considerations."

The small cadre of top officers running the show at the OU after January 1, 2001 were furious at me firstly for forming and supporting the Joel Commission and for Rabbi Butler's subsequent resignation. They quickly moved to make me pay a steep personal price for what many considered my treachery in going public with a call for full disclosure. They did this by cold-shouldering me for the next two years and preventing me from exercising any responsibility at the OU. Even though I had just officially become chairman of the Board of Directors, a prestigious post that is customarily given to OU presidents upon their retirement, I quickly discovered that for two years I had been almost totally cut out of the OU organizational loop. I was never informed of a single committee meeting, nor consulted on any but a few issues in which I happened to have been involved in before.

Many of my friends who had worked closely with me and supported the work of the Joel Commission during the frenzied final six months of my presidency, such as Marcel Weber, were similarly isolated. This would not have mattered so much if the new leadership had shown vision or leadership. Unfortunately, after witnessing Butler's resignation, the new leaders seemed animated by a desire for revenge against those long time loyal backers of the Union who had supported the Joel Commission and urged leadership change if the organization was to survive. I was number one on that list.

Several days after meeting with Blitz in February 2001, in which I offered to undertake any assignment he required for the Union, I sent him a letter that read: "I am disturbed by our conversation in which you point out the hard feelings of a group of officers regarding Rabbi Butler's disposition. While I acknowledge this problem, I believe it is your task as our president not to (divide) the Union leadership into two camps, but to force everyone to work together for a common goal. The war is over... The world must see a united, vigorous Union leadership working on reorganization and the strengthening of programs." In the wake of Butler's resignation, there was no effective professional leadership at the helm of the OU for twelve months and little evident sense of urgency about finding someone. Initially, when I first approached Blitz and asked whether in my role as chairman of the board and former president, I could join the search committee for a successor to Butler, he agreed. But in mid-March, when I told him--as a courtesy--that I had been selected to be executive vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, and would assume that position on July 1, 2001, he responded that he had already been informed of this by others. They had also recommended that I should not be allowed to serve on the search committee, since this would constitute a "conflict of interest."

I asked Blitz if the people who made that statement had wanted me to serve on the search committee before my choice as RZA executive vice president. He answered candidly that they had not. Nevertheless, I was taken off the committee, even though its report was initially intended to be ready in six weeks--long before I began my tenure at RZA. As it happened, when the new executive vice president, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of Baltimore, was finally chosen in January 2002, I was not informed about the selection until hours before the announcement ran in the Jewish Week.

At the May, 2001 meeting of the Executive Board, two senior officers stood up and asked that I resign as chairman of the board of the OU because of the conflict with my new position which I was to assume July 1, 2001. When I asked what the conflict was, since I had not been given a single assignment by the OU president that could possibly conflict with that position, they had no answer. Julius Berman took the floor and totally demolished the arguments of the two individuals, who dropped their planned onslaught against me. Therefore, I remained as Chairman of the Board even though much of the top leadership of the OU continued to refuse to have any contact with me beyond saying "hello." At the annual Orthodox Union Dinner in May 2001, honoring our dear friends Naomi and Harvey Wolinetz, my sole assignment was reading the plaque to the Wolinetzes--at their request. I felt like singing out loud, "What a Difference a Year Makes." At the previous annual dinner, held May 21, 2000, I had been the guest of honor and Keter Shem Tov awardee and received numerous accolades from the dais. It was only one month later, on June 23, that the Jewish Week article entitled "Stolen Innocence" started a chain of events that turned the Union and many lives topsy-turvy in retrospect, I consider the two steps I took: a) the appointment of the Joel Commission, and b) faring the fateful memo to the committee of thirteen on January 6, 2001 to have been well worth the price I have had to pay. I have the solace of following the dictates of my conscience. I know in my heart that I did the right thing; not only for myself but for the whole Orthodox community. This was especially true for those young people who were physically violated by Lanner and the much larger number of people whose faith in the moral integrity of the OU was shaken by the terrible revelations in the Jewish Week.

As I look back over the last tumultuous six months of my presidency, I feel both sadness and pride. I believe that the decisions I made saved the Orthodox Union by stabilizing a terrible situation. Though many will never completely trust the Union again, others will come back and get involved. I know that the thoroughness and openness of the commission's report enabled many angry individuals, including some exposed to Lanner, to greet the report with a sense of closure and to look to the future in a new light. Wherever I go in the orthodox or non-orthodox community, the secular or chasidic world, people I barely know come over to me to congratulate me and thank me for living up to my conscience as President of the OU and saving it. Ultimately, I would rather be ethical than popular. People are incredulous when told that the current leadership has treated me thusly.

I believe NCSY has the potential to be a much-greater organization than it has been in the past. From the very beginning, as soon as news of Lanner's alleged misconduct came to the fore, we instituted new guidelines and set up committees to train our personnel properly at every level. Within weeks, we had a new set of codes and guidelines for our summer camps regarding the interaction of counselors and teachers with students at every level. We also began arranging our programs so that students would have an ombudsman--and be able to complain immediately and on an ongoing basis should they feel they've been harassed.

On the financial level, the Lanner Affair motivated us to hasten the centralization of our fiscal program for all our regions. This process had been worked on even before the scandal broke, but after it did I was determined that the process be completed. No longer would an individual have a checkbook that he or she could control without the knowledge of the national office.

While some charges against Lanner and some in the OU hierarchy who knew of his behavior were reasonably proven, it was saddening to witness the reactions of a large section of the public. They were prepared to attack a major organization with a hundred year record of accomplishment on the basis of innuendo and a newspaper story without waiting for clarifications or the other side of the story. Despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of young people had come through NCSY better people, and despite all of the major accomplishments of the Union, one or two stories in the Jewish Week caused people to turn against us and for sources of major funding to dry up. The public showed little willingness to allow individuals or the larger organization to prove their innocence or to have their day in court. The written word in our society has the ability to charge, indict, and convict--and there is a certain sadness to that.

The Union is made up of so many wonderful people and volunteers who give their time for a worthwhile cause at great personal expense in time and finances. They surely deserve better. I do not know how many institutions, Jewish or secular, private or public, could have undergone the scrutiny we did for eight months--to have a team made up of individuals such as Bruce Yannett going through bank records and conducting 6,000 hours of examination of witnesses, against a backdrop of newspaper articles attacking us with innuendos and half-truths. Despite it all, I believe the Union came out tarnished but whole. There is no doubt in my mind that had we not appointed the Commission, we would have been left with a festering sore that would have made it all but impossible for the OU to function.

On March 21, 2001, Rabbi Lanner was indicted by a grand jury in Monmouth County, N.J. Two female students charged that he sexually molested them while principal at the Hillel High School in Deal. Nothing in the trial related to his function at NCSY or the OU. As I write these words in late June 2002, Lanner has just been found guilty of endangering the welfare of both girls, the most serious charge. In addition, he was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact and sexual contact against one of the girls, but was acquitted of those charges against the other.

He is now awaiting sentencing as well as the outcome of appeals in the case. He faces a maximum of twenty years in prison on the two endangering convictions, as well as up to $300,000 in fines. However, court experts said they expect Lanner's eventual prison term will be considerably less, given that this is a first offense and given his standing as a clergyman. As the sentencing date comes closer, I hope that Lanner, an individual with a troubled personality, will not receive a sentence that is harsher than warranted because of the impact of the Catholic Church scandals.

Meanwhile, at the OU, not even one lay leader has been forced to give up his or her position as a result of the Commission report. It seems to me that the appointment of Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of Baltimore in January 2002 as new Executive Vice President presents the organization with an opportunity for healing and coalescence, provided that the new top professional moves quickly to bring together the various factions, including those made outcasts since the 2000 convention.

Weinreb must reverse a downward cycle begun in 2001 characterized by a marked drop in contributions to the Union. During that year, the Development and Public Relations departments lost their directors, and as noted before, a number of gifted and renowned lay people resigned from leadership positions at the OU and NCSY. How rapidly Weinreb masters the professional bureaucracy will determine whether he is successful. The fiscal success of the Union these past two years is predicated on Kashruth income rather than individual contributions.

Certainly Weinreb has a tough road ahead of him although his talents as a psychologist and a master teacher may help smooth his way. Sadly, he has so far chosen not to speak with me assumably out of a sense of "Union political correctness" regarding Union issues even though as president for six years 1 have much knowledge and insight about the organization. He has concentrated on issues that he feels are his strengths such as "parenting" and "family values." Perhaps we will have to wait until a future OU administration realizes that its mandate must include confronting the issues that only a national organization such as the OU can undertake, ie Jewish Unity, Israel, World lewry, and the future of Orthodoxy (to name a few). Their leadership and vision is critical for the success of the our people. For the Orthodox Union, the jury is still out but the clock is rapidly ticking.

Normally immediate past presidents are nominated and elected for three two-year terms as Chairman of the Board. I chose not to stand for re-election in December 2002, for it would have been ludicrous to serve under the conditions that existed in 2001-2.

New Jersey Department of Corrections
Entry - 2003 

Offender Search Details

SBI Number: 000652003C

Sentenced as: Lanner, Baruch

Race: White     Ethnicity: White     Sex: Male

Hair Color: Brown     Eye Color: Hazel     Height: 5'6"    Weight: 230 lbs.

Birth Date: October 20, 1949     Admission Date: October 4, 2002

Current Facility: Released from CRAF     Current Max Release Date: N/A     Current Parole Eligibility Date: N/A

Incarceration History

Date In-Custody Date - October 4, 2002

Out-of-Custody - October 10, 2002

Current Prison Sentence

Offence: 1 count of 2C:14-3A*3 Criminal Sexual Contact -Aggravated /3 

Offence Date: April 30, 2001

Sentance Date: October 4, 2002

County of Committment: Monmouth

County of Order: 01-03-0563

Minimum Term: None  Maximum Term: 4 Years

Offence:2 counts of 2C:24-4A*2 Endngr Welfare/Child:Abuse/Rspon Adult/2

Offence Date: April 30, 2001

Sentance Date: October 4, 2002

County of Committment: Monmouth

County of Order: 01-03-0563

Minimum Term: None   Maximum Term: 7 Years

Offence:  1 count of 2C:33-4 Harassment

Offence Date:  April 30, 2001

Sentance Date: October 4, 2002

County of Committment: Monmouth

County of Order: 01-03-0563

Minimum Term: None  Maximum Term: 30 Days

Lanner Appeal Decision - By Murray L. Sragow
Feb. 10, 2005 - 11:52 AM (EST)

Lanner's Appeal decision was announced today. I do not yet have all the details, but I am told the following so far:

  1. Lanner's appeal was successful only in removing one of his seven year sentences, that being the one for sexual assault. Since he was to serve them concurrently, however, this does not reduce the jail time he should expect.
  2. The decision has not been published.
  3. Lanner is continuing his appeal. The Supreme Court must decide whether top hear his appeal in 45 days, otherwise the ruling of the appeals court stands.
  4. Lanner has petitioned to remain out of jail in the interim, as he is in poor health and has been well behaved since his conviction.

Opinion Notices Released For February 2005
State of New Jersey - February 10, 2005




Appeals panel dismisses 1 charge against rabbi
By A. Scott Ferguson - Staff Writer
Asbury Park Press - Feburary 11, 2006

The former principal of an Ocean Township religious school should not have been convicted of endangering the welfare of one of his students, but the rest of his conviction on criminal sexual contact charges can stand, the state's Appellate Court ruled Thursday.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, now 55, was convicted in 2002 of two charges of endangering the welfare of a child, as well as one count each of aggravated criminal sexual contact and criminal sexual contact. He was facing six counts involving two teenage girls who attended Hillel High School between 1992 and 1996.

While the three Appellate Court judges unanimously upheld three of the charges, they ruled that the one endangerment charge should be thrown out because the jury did not convict Lanner of having criminal sexual contact with one of the two students he was accused of assaulting.

The court's decision will not affect how much time Lanner will eventually have to spend in prison because the trial judge sentenced him to a concurrent seven-year term. He will also have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

Barring additional legal appeals by his attorneys, Lanner, who lives in Fair Lawn and has been free on bail during the appeal of his sentence, must return to court on Feb. 23 for sentencing, the state Attorney General's Office said.

Each side claimed that the ruling was a victory for their case.

"We're very satisfied with the results," Monmouth County Prosecutor John A. Kaye said.

Because Lanner still faces seven years in state prison, Kaye said, the court's decision to drop one charge did not affect the core of the case against Lanner.

One of Lanner's attorneys, Victoria Eiger of New York City, issued a prepared statement that said the decision vindicated her client.

"Rabbi Lanner is pleased that he was vindicated by the appellate court on the one charge brought against him by one of the complainants," Eiger said in the statement. "He will continue until he is vindicated on the charges brought by the second complainant."

While Eiger declined to discuss whether any more appeals were being considered, Kaye said he expected Lanner's attorneys to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Deputy Attorney General Leslie Justus, who argued the case for the state, said that her office disagreed with the court's ruling to overturn the one endangerment conviction and that her office would review the decision.

Officials with the Hillel school could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

In March 2001, Lanner, who was then principal of the high school, was indicted on charges of criminal sexual contact with two female students, who were younger than 16 at the time. The two are now in their 20s.

The charges came after one of the girl's stories appeared in a New York Jewish Week article that looked into allegations that Lanner abused students before he came to Hillel in 1982.

Lanner left Hillel in 1997.

During his trial in Monmouth County, Lanner's attorneys told jurors that the two girls were doing poorly in school at the time and they blamed Lanner for their failures.

The jury later convicted Lanner of having criminal sexual contact with one of the girls but acquitted him of sexually abusing the second student.

The jury found him guilty on the two counts of child endangerment, the most serious charges that carried a possible 10-year prison term. In October 2002, Judge Paul F. Chaiet sentenced Lanner to seven years in prison on the endangerment charges and four years on the sexual contact charges.

The sentences were to run concurrently.

In part of their appeal, Lanner's attorneys argued that because the jury did not convict Lanner of sexually abusing the one student, the child endangerment charges could not stand.

The Appellate Court agreed.

"We recognize that M.C. did testify that defendant called her repeatedly at home, telling her that he loved her and that she would be his wife," the justices wrote in their decision. "That alleged contact, however, was not included in the court's charges as "sexual conduct which would impair or debauch' her morals. The court's instructions confined the claimed endangerment solely to the asserted physical contact."

The state argued that since Lanner was found guilty of harassment, the endangerment charges should stand because the harassment involved "offensive touching."


Convicted rabbi gets one count dropped
JTA - February 14, 05:40 p.m.

A court dismissed one of the counts against a U.S. rabbi who had been convicted of molesting two teenage girls at a New Jersey yeshiva. On Feb. 10, an appeals court in New Jersey threw out one of the charges against Baruch Lanner for endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1996, when he was the principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. Despite the ruling, Lanner still faces sentencing Feb. 23 for his conviction for endangering the welfare of another girl and for one count each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct and criminal sexual conduct.

The case rocked the modern Orthodox world because Lanner was a longtime leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox youth group.

Split Ruling On Lanner Appeal: 
One charge dismissed, another upheld in abuse case of N.J. rabbi.

By Stewart Ain - Staff Writer
Jewish Week - Feburary 18, 2005

Lawyers for Rabbi Baruch Lanner, above, plan to appeal last week's ruling to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Star-Ledger of Newark

In a split decision, a New Jersey appeals court dismissed one of two child endangerment charges against Baruch Lanner, the rabbi who was convicted of sexually abusing two girls at Hillel, the Ocean Township, N.J., yeshiva high school where he was principal from 1982 to 1997, but upheld the rest of the conviction.

Barring successful appeals, Rabbi Lanner must still serve a seven-year sentence and be registered as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

The three-member Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled Feb. 10 that Rabbi Lanner, 55, should not have been convicted of child endangerment involving the younger of two students, known as M.C., who testified against him.

The judges said in their 32-page decision that because the jury acquitted Rabbi Lanner of sexually related offenses with regard to the teenager — she was 14 at the time in 1996 — it could not then convict him of endangering her welfare.

Although the office of state Attorney General Peter Harvey argued that the jury convicted Rabbi Lanner of "harassment by offensive touching," the court said the jury was not presented with anything that would lead it to conclude that "offensive touching" also constituted "sexual conduct."

M.C. had testified that Rabbi Lanner repeatedly called her home to say he loved her and wanted to marry her, but the appeals court said the trial judge "confined the claimed endangerment solely to the asserted physical contact" and not the phone calls.

The court dismissed arguments that the two cases against Rabbi Lanner should have been tried separately, that the judge had given the jurors' improper instructions and the judge had erred as well in permitting the state to call a rebuttal witness to undermine the testimony of a defense witness.

Both sides claimed a degree of victory this week, with prosecutors noting that the guilty charge of criminal sexual contact had been upheld and the rabbi still faced a prison term of seven years. But in a statement, Victoria Eiger, a New York City attorney representing Rabbi Lanner, said the decision "vindicated" her client of one charge and "he will continue until he is vindicated on the charges brought by the second complainant."

Nathan Dershowitz, another of Rabbi Lanner's lawyers, said he found "serious factual errors" in the appeals court decision and would file a petition asking for reconsideration. He insisted, for instance, that the rebuttal witness should never have been allowed.

Rabbi Lanner is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 23 for sentencing.

Dershowitz said he would seek a delay and a continuation of bail for Rabbi Lanner's pending appeal. The attorney also said he would seek permission from justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey to appeal the conviction to them.

In addition, Dershowitz said he would be asking the trial judge, Paul Chaiet, to reconsider the seven-year sentence he imposed "because clearly the judge considered as part of his sentencing process the fact that there were two victims and not one."

Rabbi Lanner has been free pending the results of the appeal since a few days after he began serving his prison sentence in October 2002 following a trial that stemmed from a series of articles in The Jewish Week.

The articles alleged that the rabbi had abused young people in his charge during his three decades as a top official of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an arm of the Orthodox Union. One article focused on M.C.'s allegations while a student at Hillel.

In addition to the two charges of child endangerment, Rabbi Lanner was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact and criminal sexual contact with the older of the two students.

John Hagerty, a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General's office, said his office is "reviewing the decision to determine whether there will be an appeal" of the dismissal of the child endangerment charge.

Both sides have 45 days to seek an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The parents of M.C. issued a statement to The Jewish Week.

"It is unfortunate that the people with access to very high-priced attorneys can manipulate judgments on legal technicalities," the statement said. "However, we remain confident that justice has been served and that the Jewish community remains protected."

"We are all granted opportunities in life to right wrongs and improve the world," they wrote. "That is an important part of the concept of tikkun olam [repair of the world]. Two very courageous young ladies took that opportunity to heart not only to improve the world but to protect the Jewish community. Each had her role to play and each accepted her responsibility. It took the efforts of both of them, together, to rid our community of this serious problem. The world is a better place and Jewish children are safer today because of their actions and we are so very proud of them both. They are heroes to us and should be considered the same by the entire community."

Several alleged victims told The Jewish Week they are more concerned that the courts continue to declare that Rabbi Lanner is guilty of a crime than that he actually serve time in jail.

"It's not about revenge," one woman said. "I just don't want him coming back to the community claiming he's been vindicated."


Lanner Back In Prison
Jewish Week - Feb. 23, 2005

Rabbi Baruch Lanner back in prison (2005)
Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the former youth leader and yeshiva high school principal convicted of sexual abuse in 2002, was taken into custody and returned to state prison Wednesday to resume serving a seven-year sentence, according to Peter Boser, a Monmouth County, N.J., prosecutor.

Rabbi Lanner, 55, served less than a week of that sentence before being freed in October 2002 pending the ruling on his appeal.

In a 3-0 decision earlier this month, a New Jersey appeals court upheld one charge of criminal sexual contact with a young woman, then a teenage student at Hillel, the Ocean Township high school where Rabbi Lanner was principal from 1982 to 1997. The judges dismissed another charge of child endangerment involving a second female student at the school.

Lawyers for Rabbi Lanner had sought a delay and continuation of bail pending a further appeal of the conviction, but Judge Paul Chaiet ordered Rabbi Lanner back to jail. An appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court is pending. Sources say the rabbi could be eligible for parole in about two years for good behavior. He is registered as a sex offender under Megan's Law.

The case was prompted by a series of investigative reports by The Jewish Week that began in June 2000.


Rabbis who go off the rails
By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester

Jewish Chronical (London) - July 6, 2006

Is it wrong to shop a straying rabbi to the authorities? And should he be treated as an outcast if he falls from grace? Rabbi Gideon Sylvester on how to cope with errant clerics

Rabbinical scandals are rare, but the religious world has been shaken in recent years by the conviction or impending trials of several high-profile rabbis on charges of sexual abuse. When a community learns that the person who taught them Torah, shared their joyous moments and comforted them through their crises stands accused of immoral conduct, they face difficult dilemmas.

Should they give credence to stories that could destroy his life or dismiss the accusations, risking further assaults and causing pain to those who came forward to report the misdemeanours? If the rabbi is found guilty, then the trauma for his followers is magnified as they find themselves re-evaluating every moment that he spent with them, sifting the genuine from the sham, and trying to understand what it means to have their spiritual leader exposed as a criminal.

Although the Talmud openly discusses the mishaps of rabbis who occasionally yielded to temptation, our sources reveal little precedent for recent falls from grace. The closest we come is the conduct of the first-century scholar, Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya — a brilliant man who became a bitter heretic and found horrific ways to vent his anger.

Once Elisha ben Abuya lost his faith, he would visit schools and disrupt lessons, using his charismatic personality to persuade pupils to abandon their studies and seek work elsewhere. On one trip, Elisha invited students to recite biblical verses. One by one, they related passages declaring that there was no hope for the wicked. For Elisha, these citations sent a clear, personal message; he could never repent and would never return to the fold. Frustrated by his situation and exasperated by the innocence of the children sitting before him, he knifed a young boy and carved his body into pieces.

While other versions of the story suggest that he only threatened, but did not carry out, these gruesome acts, the Jerusalem Talmud amplifies his guilt, stating that he murdered several promising students. Whichever version is correct, Elisha had become a cruel, manipulative man with a malign effect on the community.

Once they had dealt with the trial and punishment of Elisha, the rabbis faced a dilemma. Elisha ben Abuya had been their teacher and their inspiration. Now that he had been exposed as a dangerous criminal, how were they to view the Torah he had taught them? Should they discard all his ideas as the misguided thoughts of a dangerous heretic, or could something be salvaged from his teachings?

Sensitive to those who had based their faith on this man, the rabbis responded that the words of a scholar could be compared to a nut which fell in the mud: its shell was tarnished, but its contents uncontaminated. Though a scholar may sin, his Torah remained pristine.

At the same time, the rabbis issued clear instructions about choosing a teacher. Analysing a verse which describes a priest as an angel of the Lord, they advised: if your teacher is like an angel, then learn from him, but if he is not, then don't make him your mentor. Jewish study is not purely academic and we have a right to demand that our rabbis and teachers live according to the highest standards of morality and religious observance.

But if you think that your rabbi is up to mischief, is it right to report him to the police? The biblical command, "Do not to stand idly by your brother's blood" (Leviticus 19:16), means that, if we see someone who is being viciously attacked, we must use all possible means to save them (Talmud Sanhedrin 73a).

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, a leading authority on the beth din of Jerusalem, wrote an extensive responsum on child abuse. Basing his opinion on this verse, he ruled that it would include our obligation to protect people from sexual abuse. Although historically, Jewish law was reticent about handing over Jewish criminals to the non-Jewish courts, where they might suffer injustice and antisemitism, in a country with a fair and effective judicial system, one must report all such crimes to the police.

Preserving human dignity and honouring scholars are important religious principles. But Jewish tradition is clear that even concern for the status of rabbis cannot override our duty to deal with outrages and shield the innocent. Where a crime is committed, religion is brought into disrepute: all concern for the honour of scholars must be put aside.

The story of Elisha ben Abuya reminds us that the Torah recognises human fallibility. Even biblical heroes and outstanding scholars are susceptible to temptation and to mental illness, which can twist and pervert their minds. No one is exempt from the dangers. That is why the rabbis warned all of us: "Do not be complacent about yourself until your dying day."

When there are indications that someone working for the community has succumbed to his worst instincts and poses a public danger, it is the duty of all who are aware to make appropriate inquiries and contact the authorities. This does not create a carte blanche for gossip, but it does mean we must do whatever necessary to ensure that potential victims are protected.

By dealing openly with the few cases of rogue rabbis, we can have confidence that the overwhelming majority of our teachers remain righteous, upstanding spokespeople of the Torah.

Roll of dishonour

  • Rabbi Baruch Lanner, dynamic head of America's National Council of Synagogue Youth, was sentenced to seven years in 2002 for molesting girls in his school. He was initially released after five days, pending appeal, but was sent back to prison in 2005.
  • Rabbi Mordechai (Marc) Gafni left the Bayit Chadash Synagogue in Tel Aviv this May in the wake of allegations by several women of sexual misconduct. He returned to the USA, admitting he had a "sickness."
  • Rabbi Ze'ev Kopolevitch, principal of the prestigious Netiv Meir Yeshivah High School in Jerusalem, was jailed for three-and-a-half years in 1999 for molesting boys.

Gideon Sylvester is an adviser on diaspora affairs in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.


Inside the eruv: Are some Orthodox discreet or closing their eyes?
By Eugene L. Meyer and Richard Greenberg
JTA - January 10, 2006

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a former National Conference of Synagogue Youth regional director, who is now serving a seven-year prison sentence for abusing teenage girls while he was principal of a New Jersey yeshiva.

NEW YORK (JTA) Within Jewish circles, much of the focus on sexual predators has centered on the Orthodox community, particularly its more fervently religious precincts, where some contend that clergy sex abuse is more hidden and possibly more widespread than elsewhere.

Whether or not those contentions are true, the problem in that community was spotlighted by two recent episodes. They are among several incidents, emanating from across the denominational spectrum, that JTA examined in this six-part investigation of the Jewish community's response to clergy sex abuse.

The first of two episodes that JTA tracked in the fervently Orthodox, or haredi, community involved a fierce debate over remarks by a haredi rabbi who reportedly suggested that his community sweeps the issue "under the carpet." The second involved the arrest of a haredi rabbi and teacher, who was charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.

On Thanksgiving, at the annual national convention of Agudath Israel of America, a haredi advocacy organization, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, a featured speaker, ignited a controversy with his discussion of the haredi response to clergy sex abuse.

Salomon, a dean of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., one of the world's largest yeshivas, said, according to an Agudath Israel spokesman, that haredim are indeed guilty of "sweeping things under the carpet."

What he meant was open to interpretation. Salomon declined comment, but according to the Agudath Israel spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Salomon meant that rather than ignoring or covering up sexual misconduct, as detractors maintain, haredi officials deal with it discreetly to protect the dignity of the families of perpetrators and victims.

The response to Salomon's remarks was swift and often heated, with several Web site and blog contributors arguing that the rabbi's comments should be taken literally that is, haredi officials often look the other way when clergy sex abuse takes place in their midst.

Shafran, who accused the online detractors of making glib and sweeping generalizations without corroborating evidence, termed the comments "abhorrent."

Other communities were criticized as well on one Web site.

"Denial, secrecy, and sweeping under the carpet are not unique to charedi, Orthodox, or Jewish institutions," wrote Nachum Klafter, a self-described "frum psychiatrist," in a Nov. 26 posting on the Web site "They are typical reactions of well-intentioned, scandalized human beings to the horrible shock of childhood sexual abuse."

Eleven days after those remarks were posted, a haredi rabbi, Yehuda Kolko, was arrested and charged in connection with the alleged molestation of a 9-year-old boy and a 31-year-old man, both former students of his during different eras at Brooklyn's Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah. Kolko, 60, had long served the yeshiva as a teacher and an assistant principal.

Kolko, meanwhile, is named in at least four civil suits filed over the past eight months by his alleged victims, including the 9-year-old boy. The most recent litigation, which seeks $10 million in damages from Torah Temimah, was filed in New York state court the day before Kolko was arrested. It alleges not only that Kolko molested the 9-year-old during the 2003-04 school year, but that the school administration covered up the rabbi's pedophilia for 25 years.

The suit charges that Rabbi Lipa Margulies, identified as the leader of Torah Temimah, knew of many "credible allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against Kolko," yet continued to employ him as an elementary school teacher "and give him unfettered access to young children."

Avi Moskowitz, the attorney representing Torah Temimah, said: "The yeshiva adamantly denies the allegations in the complaints and is sure that when the cases are over, the yeshiva will be vindicated."

Another one of the lawsuits brought against Torah Temimah was filed in May by David Framowitz, now 49 and living in Israel. In that $10 million federal litigation Framowitz, who was joined by a co-plaintiff also seeking $10 million, alleged that he was victimized by Kolko while he was a seventh- and eighth-grader at Torah Temimah.

Although the lawsuit, which named Kolko as a co-defendant, referred to Framowitz only as "John Doe No. 1," he has since dropped his anonymity and gone public with his story.

"That's the only way that people would believe that there's actually a problem, if they knew that there's a real person out there who was molested," Framowitz told JTA in a recent telephone interview. "There are many other victims out there, and I want people to know that this really exists."

Framowitz grew up in part in fervently Orthodox communities in Brooklyn where rabbinic sex abuse, he said, is rarely reported. And when it is reported, he added, rabbinic courts seldom have the expertise or the inclination to deal with it effectively.

After his own reports of abuse were met with disbelief and inaction, Framowitz said he chose to "deeply bury" his painful memories of the alleged incidents.

"I never really got over it," he said, "but I was able to get on with my life."

An accountant by trade, Framowitz made aliyah several years ago, and now lives in the West Bank community of Karnei Shomron with his wife and four adult children. They have one grandson.

Framowitz said he decided to speak out publicly about his experience after he learned through the Internet in the fall of 2005 that Kolko was still teaching young boys. He said he is relieved that Kolko has been arrested and charged, although in connection with reported incidents unrelated to his alleged victimization.

"It's a relief knowing that the story is finally out there," Framowitz said, "and that maybe Kolko will be prevented from being around other kids."

JTA tried unsuccessfully to reach Kolko, who along with Framowitz was the focus of a May 15 New York magazine story that said "rabbi-on-child molestation," according to several sources, "is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and one that has been long covered up."

Attorney Jeffrey Herman, who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits stemming from Kolko's alleged misconduct, was quoted in the New York magazine piece saying that the clergy abuse situation in the haredi community "reminds me of where the Catholic church was 15 or 20 years ago. What I see are some members of the community turning a blind eye to what's going on in their backyards."

Sifting the evidence

Hard numbers are not available to determine if clergy sex abuse is more widespread in haredi communities than in other Jewish locales. However, several insiders said there is anecdotal evidence that abuse often goes unreported there. The reason, they said, is that many individuals in those communities, which are noted for their insularity, resistance to modernity and reverence for religious leaders, are loath to confront rabbis for fear of being publicly shunned.

Shafran said he doubts that clergy sex abuse is more prevalent in the fervently Orthodox world than elsewhere. Asked whether victims there are afraid to report abuse, he said, "I hope it's not true. But it's easy to see how someone would be reluctant to publicly report such an issue."

He said modesty, which is prized by many haredim, might preclude the open discussion of matters "that are part of the average radio talk show agenda."

Others believe that underreporting of clergy sexual misconduct may in fact facilitate abuse.

"Offenders have learned to hide behind" the reluctance of victims to speak out, said Brian Leggiere, an Orthodox Jew and a psychiatrist in Manhattan who has treated both perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. He added, though, "The situation is changing for the better, but very slowly. Each community is different, so it's hard to generalize."

In some neighborhoods, Leggiere pointed out, public safety is beginning to gain traction as an ideal worth defending, as is the notion that professional therapy or other forms of treatment for sex abuse victims, as well as for perpetrators, should not be stigmatized.

Judging the judges

Among many Orthodox Jews, the preferred forum for adjudicating communal disputes is a beit din, a rabbinic court. But critics say such panels often try to dissuade sex abuse victims from pursuing their complaints, a charge vigorously denied by Shafran. But, he added, "In cases where there is some degree of doubt, the beit din has a responsibility to counsel against going to authorities until there is proven criminal activity."

Mark Dratch, a modern Orthodox rabbi who chairs the Rabbinical Council of America's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties, said that if the beit din "is used to make the community safer, that's appropriate. If that relationship is used to bypass the justice system, I think that's wrong, particularly in cases of suspected criminal activity.

"The problem in the ultra-Orthodox community is people go to the beit din and not to civil authorities. There is a very complicated relationship between rabbis and civil authorities," he said. "It doesn't always work appropriately."

Dratch, who now directs JSafe, a nonprofit organization addressing abuse in the Jewish community, said he has "pleaded with members of Agudah to expose the dangers of clerical and familial abuse. I said if you don't expose, victims have no place to turn."

Agudath Israel has not promulgated anti-abuse policies for its affiliated congregations, Shafran conceded, "nor have there been complaints" of sexual misconduct at Agudath Israel-affiliated congregations. But he added, "I wouldn't rule out that one day there would be such guidelines. The Talmud teaches us that we should stay away from even the appearance of impropriety."

Agudath Israel does have binding behavioral guidelines that apply to its youth groups and its five summer camps, which serve about 2,000 youngsters, according to Shafran.

Yehuda Kolko worked at one of those camps, Camp Agudah in Ferndale, N.Y., decades ago, according to Shafran, apparently long before the behavioral guidelines existed.

The federal lawsuit filed in May states that while Kolko was at Camp Agudah, he repeatedly molested Framowitz, who was a camper there in the summers following his seventh- and eighth-grade years at Torah Temimah.

Framowitz's co-plaintiff "John Doe No. 2," an adult male living in the United States alleged that he also was abused by Kolko, but only at Torah Temimah. The lawsuit contends that the administrations at both the camp and the school knew Kolko was a pedophile and did nothing about it.

Shafran declined comment on the litigation, which is being divided into two complaints, one for each plaintiff, according to attorney Herman. The complaint initiated by Framowitz has been dismissed on the plaintiffs initiative but will be refiled, Framowitz and Herman said.

An attorney representing Kolko in the federal litigation declined comment on behalf of his client.

Elsewhere in Orthodoxy

The modern Orthodox community was deeply scarred by the sex abuse scandal involving Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a former regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, a branch of the centrist Orthodox Union.

Lanner was sentenced in 2002 to seven years in prison for sexually abusing two female students during the 1990s while he was their principal at a yeshiva high school in New Jersey.

However, a 2000 report by a special O.U. commission found that Lanner had also sexually abused women and teenage girls, and physically abused boys and girls while he was a leader at NCSY. The case attracted widespread attention, in part, because the report said some O.U. and NCSY leaders had failed to take action for several years to halt Lanner's misconduct.

Ultimately, according to organization insiders, O.U. Executive Vice President Rabbi Raphael Butler resigned under pressure in the wake of the scandal.

Both the O.U. and the NCSY have upgraded behavioral guidelines and enhanced anti-abuse training programs, according to officials at both organizations. The NCSY policies, which cover 17 pages and were revised most recently in October, are binding on at least 25,000 individuals, including NCSY professionals, volunteers and program participants. The guidelines spell out prohibited conduct in detail, and include step-by-step instructions for filing an abuse complaint.

Both O.U. and NCSY officials said they are not aware of any complaints of sexual misconduct toward youths since the NCSY guidelines were upgraded a few years ago.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has no written conduct guidelines applying specifically to its estimated 4,000 global emissaries, known as shluchim, or its approximately 3,000 multi-use facilities that double as synagogues and are usually referred to as Chabad Houses.

However, many Chabad Houses have adopted behavioral policies originally formulated for the movement's schools, according to movement spokesman Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.

In addition, according to Shmotkin, shluchim must strictly abide by the Shulchan Aruch, the 16th-century code of Jewish law that prohibits non-married or unrelated adults of the opposite sex from being secluded with each other.

On the school front

Some of the denominational policies examined by JTA are designed to guard against situations that could result in inappropriate contact with minors, regardless of their sex. They mandate, for example, that at least two adults be present when a child is receiving private religious instruction.

A non-seclusion requirement is among many anti-abuse provisions included in mandatory school behavioral policies adopted by Chabad about five years ago. The policies cover approximately 2,000 personnel at some 350 Chabad schools attended by about 24,000 students.

The policies also instruct school officials to consult two recognized rabbinic authorities one Chabad-affiliated and one not regarding the centuries-old Jewish legal injunction known as mesirah, which in some instances prohibits Jews from reporting Jewish perpetrators to non-Jewish authorities.

Mesirah has been blamed for the reticence of some Orthodox sex abuse victims to go public with their complaints. In a spring 2004 article in the anti-abuse publication Working Together, Dratch of JSafe said that in cases of child sex abuse, "the consensus of contemporary Jewish religious authorities is that such reporting is religiously mandatory."

Three years ago, several safeguards were adopted by Torah Umesorah-The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, a service organization the largest of its kind in the United States that provides religious educational materials for nearly 200,000 Orthodox students spanning that denomination's ideological spectrum.

The Torah Umesorah guidelines, which were presented to school principals, warn teachers and other staffers to refrain from sexually immodest behavior or speech and from inappropriate touching. They also prohibit school personnel from being secluded with students.

But the guidelines are nonbinding because each of the hundreds of schools served by Torah Umesorah are self-governing.

"We're a service agency, not a governing agency," Rabbi Joshua Fishman, the organization's executive vice president, told JTA.

Elliot Pasik, a New York attorney and children's rights advocate, said the way in which the guidelines were distributed calls into question Torah Umesorah's commitment to protecting students from sexually predatory teachers and other staffers.

The guidelines were accompanied by a Sept. 24, 2003, cover letter signed by Fishman that said in part: "This document should be maintained with a sense of confidentiality. It should only be shared with your educational administrative and teaching staff."

Perhaps as a result of that directive, Pasik said few, if any, parents he knows with children attending schools serviced by Torah Umesorah were told about the rules unless they called the Torah Umesorah national office in Manhattan. Pasik's children have attended yeshivas affiliated with Torah Umesorah.

Furthermore, he added, "I have personally spoken with several teachers and they knew nothing about these guidelines."

Asked to respond, Fishman declined comment, except to say, "We believe that molesters should be reported."

Pasik said the situation shows the need for a centralized governing body perhaps a state or federal agency that can hold schools accountable for the safety of students.

"It's hard for people in any organization to govern themselves," he said. "We're not being patrolled or governed by anybody."

Pasik recently lobbied for passage of legislation in New York that authorizes non-public schools to require fingerprinting and FBI background checks for prospective employees. The measure was enacted Aug. 16.

The larger issue of child molestation in the Orthodox community was addressed in a one-page statement accompanying the Torah Umesorah guidelines.

Issued by the organization's rabbinical board, the statement says in part that "a small number of individuals have caused untold pain to many children. In addition to the sins which they have committed, they have created painful memories in the minds of their victims, memories which can have a devastating lifetime impact."

The statement urges "everyone to use every means to stop these violations of children, including, at times, exposing the identities of the abusers and even their incarceration. At times, our primary intent may not be to punish the perpetrators, but rather to help them. Therefore, it is preferable, wherever appropriate, to force them to undergo appropriate professional therapy."


New Jersey Department of Corrections
New Jersey Sex Offender's Registry - December 31, 2007

  Offender Details

Rabbi Baruch Lanner (2007)
SBI Number: 000652003C 

Sentenced as: Lanner, Baruch

Race: White

Ethnicity: White

Sex: Male

Hair Color: Brown

Eye Color: Hazel

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 200 lbs.

Birth Date: October 20, 1949

Admission Date: February 10, 2005

Current Facility: SWSP

Projected Max Release Date: November 23, 2009

Projected Parole Eligibility Date: January 10, 2008

Current Prison Sentence
Offense    Offense Date    Sentence Date    County of Commitment    Commitment Order    Mandatory Minimum Term    Maximum Term
1 count/merged count of :
2C:14-3*4 Criminal Sexual Contact /4

June 30, 1994    February 23, 2005    Monmouth    01-03-0562    None    1 Day
1 count/merged count of :
2C:14-3A*3 Criminal Sexual Contact -Aggravated /3

June 30, 1994    February 23, 2005    Monmouth    01-03-0562    None    4 Years
1 count/merged count of :
2C:24-4A*2 Endngr Welfare/Child:Abuse/Rspon Adult/2

June 30, 1994    February 23, 2005    Monmouth    01-03-0562    None    y7Years
1 count/merged count of :
2C:33-4 Harassment

June 30, 1994    February 23, 2005    Monmouth    01-03-0562    None    1 Day

Incarceration History
Date In Custody    Date Out of Custody
October 4, 2002    October 10, 2002
February 10, 2005    Currently In Custody


No Aliases available

South Woods State Prison
215 Burlington Road South
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
(856) 459-7000

 Lanner To Be Released From Jail Next Week
by Gary Rosenblatt
New York Jewish Week - January 3, 2007

Former NCSY leader will have served three years of seven-year sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage girls.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, in a New Jersey state prison for three years, will be on parole for four years. New Jersey Department of corrections

After serving nearly three years for sexually assaulting two teenage girls in his charge in the mid-1990s, Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the former yeshiva principal and a longtime leader of the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth, is scheduled to be released from a New Jersey state prison next week, The Jewish Week has learned.

The rabbi, 58, was sentenced to up to seven years and has been in custody at Southwoods State Prison in Bridgeton for 35 months, following his conviction for criminal sexual contact.

The charges leading to his arrest and imprisonment came from two former students who attended Hillel High School in Deal, N.J. where Rabbi Lanner was principal.

He was tried and convicted in 2002, then released after less than a week in jail pending an appeal. He was returned to serve his sentence on Feb. 10, 2005, after his conviction was upheld, and will now be released "to parole supervision for the balance of his sentence," according to Neal Buccino, public information officer for the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Allegations that the rabbi had sexually and psychologically abused scores of teenagers in NCSY had been made over a 30-year period, but no action was taken until his behavior was first reported in The Jewish Week in June 2000.

The rabbi was terminated the day after the article was published, and the OU commissioned an extensive study that found "profound errors of judgment" among the leadership of the organization and called for sweeping reforms.

Major personnel changes were made at the OU, and stricter policies regarding parental supervision of and involvement in youth activities at NCSY were put in place.

The Orthodox Union declined to comment on Rabbi Lanner's impending release.

But Richard Joel, who chaired the independent OU investigation when he was head of international Hillel and is now president of Yeshiva University, noted that "the system of justice has worked, he [Rabbi Lanner] has served his time, and I hope he gets on with his life — in another field — and builds something with it because he is a very bright man.

"This whole matter is not just about Baruch Lanner," he continued, "and it has made our community more aware, more vigilant," and made people recognize that "the responsibility for the welfare of our children rests with each of us."

The parents of the younger of the two girls who brought charges against Rabbi Lanner and testified in his trial, and whose names were not made public to protect their privacy, told The Jewish Week: "We hope that what happened will serve to educate the community. These situations must be dealt with forthrightly and not be swept aside," they said.

Elie Hiller, who worked with Rabbi Lanner for four years at NCSY and later testified against him at a bet din in 1989, said he and others who have been following the case for years "knew this day was coming," when the rabbi would be released.

"I expect some of the victims will have a bit of anxiety, but I hope they realize that his release does not change the fact that he has a criminal record and remains on the Megan's Law list," which makes public the names of sex offenders in New Jersey and requires them to register their whereabouts with authorities.

Hiller said he hopes those who were abused by Rabbi Lanner "are at a place in their lives where they are making their lives whole and that they won't feel intimidated. At the very least," he said, "people will now be reminded that he has been in jail and that the brave ones who spoke out had a real effect" on Jewish communal life.

Hiller added that he is hopeful that Rabbi Lanner will not be given another position, here or in Israel, that would put him in contact with young people.


Convicted Sex Offender, Rabbi Baruch Lanner (2008)
National Sex Offender Registry
February 13, 2008

Individual Information


Sex: Male

Race: White

Height: 5-07

Weight: 220

Eyes: Hazel

Hair: Blond

DOB: 10/20/1949   AGE: 58

Tier: 2-Moderate

Date Published: 01/22/2008

Image Date: 02/13/2008


Distinguishing Marks: SCAR ABDOMEN, SCAR FOOT

Address Information


Address 363 WEST END AVENUE APT 105, ELIZABETH, NJ 07201

Offense and Disposition Information


Date of Disposition: 06/27/2002   Place of Disposition: MONMOUTH

Victims: x - Under18 x - Female


Date of Disposition: 06/27/2002   Place of Disposition: MONMOUTH

Victims: x - Under18 x - Female


Date of Disposition: 06/27/2002    Place of Disposition: MONMOUTH

Victims: x - Under18 x - Female

Modus Operandi / Significant Event Details: OFFENDER WAS THE PRINCIPAL AT VICTIM'S SCHOOL

Motor Vehicle Information:

Year - 1994   Make - FORD

Model - TAURUS     State - NJ

License Plate - JTV24V   Color - BLACK


The Awareness Center - June 15, 2008

The goal of this warning is to protect any more children from becoming the next victim of a convicted sex offender. If you spot any children or teenagers near Baruch Lanner call 911 immediately!

Warning To Parents

Convicted Sex Offender, Rabbi Baruch Lanner (2008)
Rabbi Baruch Lanner was released from prison back in January of this year. He is currently residing in Elizabeth, NJ. There has been some concerns from community members who keep spotting Lanner hanging out at a local Dunkin Donuts "with several the kids from the local school". Please warn your children to stay away from this man (see photograph below). If you spot any children or teenagers near him call 911 immediately!

Allegations surrounded Rabbi Baruch Lanner for years. The allegations include kissing and fondling scores of teenage girls in the 1970s and '80s, repeatedly kicking boys in the groin, and reports of taking a knife to a young man in 1987, and propositioning girls in 1997 at the yeshiva high school where he was principal for 15 years. He was convicted back in 2002.


The Awareness Center - October 19, 2008

Convicted Sex Offender, Rabbi Baruch Lanner (2008)
The goal of this warning is to protect any more children from becoming the next victim of a convicted sex offender. If you spot any children or teenagers near Baruch Lanner call 911 immediately!

Rabbi Baruch Lanner was released from prison back in January of this year. He is currently residing in Boca Raton, FL. Please warn your children to stay away from this man (see photograph below). If you spot any children or teenagers near him call 911 immediately!

Allegations surrounded Rabbi Baruch Lanner for years. The allegations include kissing and fondling scores of teenage girls in the 1970s and '80s, repeatedly kicking boys in the groin, and reports of taking a knife to a young man in 1987, and propositioning girls in 1997 at the yeshiva high school where he was principal for 15 years. He was convicted back in 2002.


Florida Sex Offender Registry
National Sex Offender Registry - October 16, 2008

Convicted Sex Offender - Rabbi Baruch Lanner (2008)
Designation: Sexual OffenderName: BARUCH LANNER
Status: Released - Required to Register 

Department of Corrections #: Not Available

Date of Birth: 10/22/1949

Race : White    Sex: Male   Hair: Blond    Eyes: Hazel

Height: 5'06"   Weight: 210 lbs

LANNER is registered as a Sexual Offender.  Positive identification cannot be established unless a fingerprint comparison is made.

Aliases  Not Available

Scars, Marks & Tattoos  Not Available

Address Information

Out of State:  Elizabeth, NJ 07202-1332, Union COUNTY

Source: Registration

Received: 10/16/2008

Type of Address: Permanent Address not mappable

Crime Information - Qualifying Offenses

Adjudication Date  06/27/2002


Court Case Number Not Available

Jurisdiction & State "MONMOUTH, NJ

Adjudication: Guilty/convict

The following information reflects only those vehicles and/or vessels registered to or owned by the specific offender or predator. Please be aware that this individual may drive or operate vehicles or vessels other than those listed here.

Vehicle Information  No Registered/Owned Vehicle Information On File For This Subject

Vessel Information  No Registered/Owned Vessel Information On File For This Subject


Florida Department of Law Enforcement - Sexual Offender / Predator Flyer
Picture of an Offender or Predator
Date Of Photo: 10/01/2009
Click Here to Track this Offender
Designation:Sexual Offender
Status:Released - Required to Register
Department of Corrections #:Not Available
Search the Dept of Corrections Website
Date of Birth:10/20/1949
Race :White
Weight:210 lbs
LANNER is registered as a Sexual Offender.
Positive identification cannot be established unless a fingerprint comparison is made.
Scars, Marks & Tattoos
Not Available
Address Information
AddressAddress Source InformationMap Link
Out of State
Elizabeth, NJ 07202-1332
Source: Registration
Received: 10/16/2008
Type of Address: Permanent
Address not mappable
Crime Information - Qualifying Offenses
Adjudication DateCrime DescriptionCourt Case NumberJurisdiction & StateAdjudication
Victim Information
Gender:Female  Minor:Yes