ed note–there is nothing ‘un-Jewish’ or ‘un-biblical’ about the rabbi’s behavior. This kind of stuff has been going on since the days of Lott in the Old Testament who gave his 2 virgin daughters away to a group of rapists from the nearby city of Sodom, instructing them to ‘abuse them as it may please you’.
In the summer of 1974, a girl went on a youth group trip to Israel led by Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a popular New Jersey rabbi who headed the state’s chapter of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.
On each night in Israel, the young rabbi asked a teenager to join him in a secluded area, according to a newly-filed lawsuit. Each time one of the girls, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe #3, was selected, she said Lanner kissed her and touched her breasts.
By the end of the trip, the girl refused to be alone with Lanner or speak to him.
‘Lanner responded by punching her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her,’ the lawsuit said.
When the girl told Lanner’s boss, a prominent rabbi, about his behavior, he dismissed her allegations, saying, Lanner ‘does so much good; it’s important what he’s doing,’ according to the lawsuit.
Nearly 50 years after that summer trip to Israel, five women have filed lawsuits in New Jersey accusing Orthodox Jewish organizations of ignoring allegations for decades that Lanner was sexually, emotionally and physically abusing children.
Lanner, the former principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in Ocean Township, was convicted in 2002 of endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated sexual contact and sexual contact after he was accused of fondling two female students in his office.
The former principal, now 72, was released from prison in 2008 and now lives in Elizabeth, according to the lawsuit.
The five unnamed women — identified in the lawsuits as Jane Doe #1 through #5 — say the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and its New Jersey chapter failed to protect young people from the rabbi.
One of the lawsuits also names Hillel Yeshiva High School, the Monmouth County private school where Lanner served as principal.
The lawsuits, filed earlier this week in Superior Court in Middlesex County, were among the last filed before the deadline of a two-year window that lifted the statute of limitations in New Jersey to allow past victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue schools, religious institutions and other organizations. The change in the law gave alleged victims until Nov. 30 to file lawsuits, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse happened.
‘During Lanner’s 30-year career as a Jewish youth leader and approximately 15-year career as a principal of yeshiva schools, he was able to sexually, physically and emotionally abuse dozens of minor girls and boys,’ the lawsuit said.
Although multiple students made complaints about the rabbi’s alleged abuse, Orthodox Jewish officials did not report him to police or remove him from his positions, the lawsuit said.
‘Rabbi Lanner’s predatory behavior was well known within Orthodox communities,’ the lawsuit said.
A spokeswoman for the Orthodox Union, also known as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said the organization can not comment on pending litigation. Officials from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth and Hillel Yeshiva High School did not immediately respond to requests to comment. Lanner, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits, could not be reached for comment.
However, a letter obtained by NJ Advance Media shows leaders of the Orthodox Union, the New York-based umbrella organization that helps oversee synagogues and youth groups around the country, received the lawsuits and have been discussing Lanner’s past abuse.
‘The resurfacing of this story reminds us of the ongoing pain suffered by his victims, and of our tremendous responsibility to be vigilant and proactive in ensuring the physical, sexual, and emotional safety of every participant in our programs. We may not permit the failures that allowed for the abuses committed by Lanner to be repeated,’ read the letter sent Tuesday to the Orthodox Union’s board and staff.
The groups named in the lawsuit are in the process of hiring lawyers to represent them in the case, according to the letter signed by Rabbi Joshua M. Joseph, the Orthodox Union’s chief operating officer, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the organization’s executive vice president, and Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.
The letter also said the Orthodox Union commissioned an independent investigation after allegations against Lanner were first publicly reported in 2000. That led to apologies for the past abuse, changes in personnel and new policies and procedures to protect against additional misconduct, the letter said.
‘The policies and procedures have been enhanced and expanded on multiple occasions over the years and will continue to be reviewed in the future to ensure they remain as effective as possible. They are fully embraced by current professional and lay leadership, which shares deep regret for the suffering caused by past abuses,’ the letter said.
The Jewish Week, a national weekly news publication, first published a story in 2000 with allegations from multiple people who alleged Lanner kissed, fondled and hit teenage girls and physically abused teenage boys under his care. The story, titled ‘Stolen Innocence,’ led to Lanner’s resignation from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.
Additional alleged victims came forward after the story ran and Lanner was criminally charged with sexually abusing two female students at Hillel Yeshiva High School in the 1990s and put on trial in 2002.
The divorced father of three grown children never admitted in court that he sexually abused the students, but he said at his sentencing that he made mistakes and tarnished the image of God.
He also said he regretted that his mother, a Holocaust survivor, had to watch her son be convicted of a crime.
‘The guilt, shame and pain I have endured, and continue to endure, are ultimately worse than any sentence the court can, in its wisdom, impose against me,’ Lanner said at the 2002 sentencing.
His prison sentence was delayed while he appealed his conviction. He eventually went to prison in 2005 and served three years before being released on parole.
The newly-filed lawsuits provide additional details about Lanner’s alleged abuse. The allegations include:
Jane Doe #1, who lives in Israel, said she was a 13-year-old who had just moved to New Jersey when she met Lanner through her synagogue youth group, according to her lawsuit. She alleged the rabbi kissed and groped her at her house and at weekend youth events at least 20 times over more than two years. When she rebuffed his sexual advances on a trip to Israel in 1974, she said Lanner punched her in the chest.
She said she reported the alleged abuse to a rabbi and a national director of the youth group organization, but nothing was done.
Jane Doe #2, who lives in Israel, said she attended ‘Shabbatons,’ youth events for Jewish teens run by Lanner, in the 1970s while he was overseeing youth groups in New Jersey. At an overnight event in Asbury Park when she was 16, she said Lanner attempted to sexually assault her in the middle of the night. When she threatened to tell his wife, the rabbi strangled her until she was about to pass out, then walked away, the lawsuit said.
Jane Doe #3, who lives in New York, said Lanner convinced her mother to allow her to go on the 1974 summer trip to Israel he was heading instead of one organized by her summer camp, the lawsuit said. After kissing and touching her breasts at least a dozen times on the trip, Lanner punched her in the stomach when she refused to speak to him. Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #3, who were roommates on this trip, eventually began making excuses to avoid being with Lanner.
Jane Doe #4, who lives in New Jersey, was 12 when she met Lanner at a ‘Shabbaton’ event in the early 1980s. Over three years, he regularly called her at home, told her she was special and said he wanted to marry her, the lawsuit said. When she was in eighth grade, Lanner asked the teenager to take her shirt off in a car while driving her home, then began yelling at her to kiss him. She said she eventually told her parents about the abuse and quit the youth group.
Jane Doe #5, who filed her lawsuit separately from the other women, said she was a student at Hillel Yeshiva High School in the mid 1990s when Lanner would regularly call her into the principal’s office and grope her. He would also sexually abuse her at ‘Shabbatons’ in New Jersey, leaving bruises on her thighs, the lawsuit said. When she threatened to go to police, the rabbi expelled her from the high school, she said. She was one of the two women who eventually went to police, leading to Lanner’s conviction in 2002.
All five of the women, who are represented by attorney Brian Kent of Piscataway, are asking for an unspecified amount of money for their pain, suffering and medical costs.
All of the women said they have had emotional, physical or psychological problems resulting from their alleged abuse, including difficulties with intimate relationships, according to the lawsuits. Some of the women also said they were either ostracized in the Jewish community or left the religion due to the abuse allegations.