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.