Rabbi Baruch Lanner worked with teenagers for three decades -- much of it for the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), a branch of the Orthodox Union (OU) -- until Gary Rosenblatt's expose of him in the June 23, 2000 edition of The Jewish Week ended his career.
Judy Klitsner says that when she was 16, rabbi Lanner (director of the NCSY's Etz Chaim (N.J.) region, tried to feel her up during a Shabbaton. When she resisted him, "he began to strangle me with all his strength, and it was only when he was that I was losing consciousness that he threw me down and walked away."
Later, she told Lanner she would inform on him. He laughed and told her his supervisor already knew about his immoral behavior.
Many of those claiming to be victims of Lanner's abuse said their complaints about the rabbi were ignored by OU and NCSY leaders.
"Sometimes you have to use fire to clean out impurities," Judaic instructor Marcie Lenk told Rosenblatt. "That's how we kasher things in Judaism."
Lenk said she was abused by Lanner. When OU leaders learned about The Jewish Week article, they pressured Rosenblatt not to publish it. In exchange, they promised him that Rabbi Lanner would not work with kids anymore. OU executive vice president rabbi Raphael Butler supervised rabbi Lanner for 19 years. "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."
Gary offered to share his research with Rabbi Butler who declined to look at it. He said such things should be left for a bet din. He referred to a 1989 bet din (composed of rabbi Yosef Blau, YU religious counselor, rabbi Mordechai Willig, a YU rosh yeshiva, and rabbi Aaron Levine, a YU economics professor) convened over Lanner. After 18-hours of testimony about Lanner's abusive behavior, the three rabbis forced the complainant Elie Hiller to apologize to Lanner.
While rabbi Willig remained a firm defender of rabbi Lanner for more than a decade, rabbi Blau decided soon after the 1989 bet din that Lanner should not work in Jewish education.
"The pattern of protecting Baruch rather than his victims" goes back at least 25 years, said rabbi Blau to The Jewish Week, and it reflects "a broader inability within the Orthodox community to acknowledge improper behavior by rabbis.
"The number of men and women who have been hurt is incalculable. 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."
Lanner focused his attentions on beautiful girls from troubled families. When they were alone with him, he'd sometimes try to kiss and fondle them. He warned them to never tell anyone.
After Rosenblatt's story came out, Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lilith, wrote The Jewish Week:
According to the July 19, 2000 Bergen Record, the editor and publisher of the 15,000-circulation weekly The Jewish Voice and Opinion decided in 1989 not to publish an article about Lanner's abuse of teenagers because she says she was threatened by the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
Susan Rosenbluth said the Council told her that no stores would advertise in her paper if she wrote a critical story on Lanner. Such advertisers accounted for about 90% of her paper's revenue.
The Council denied making such a threat.
In 2002, rabbi Lanner was convicted of two charges of endangering the welfare of a child, one charge of aggravated criminal sexual contact and one charge of criminal sexual contact. He was sentenced to seven years in prison on the endangerment charges and four years for the sexual contact charges.
Rabbi Raphael Butler resigned from directing the NCSY.
Alan Cooperman writes in the Washington Post June 29, 2002:
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.
Rabbi Willig finally apologized February 19, 2003, for his role in the 1989 bet din that humiliated Lanner's critics and allowed Lanner to keep molesting kids. How genuine a repentance Willig made is an open question as he only made it late and under enormous pressure.
Since his speech, which was filled with justifications for his behavior, rabbi Willig's sniped that his colleague rabbi Blau is "obsessed" with rabbinic sex abuse.
As of February 2005, rabbi Lanner was free on bail while he appealed his sentence.