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.