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(09/27/2002)                      Send this articlePrint this Article                  Send this articleSend this article
Lanner Gets 7-Year Prison Term
Eric J. Greenberg - Staff Writer

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, once one of America’s most prominent Modern Orthodox youth leaders, was sentenced Friday to serve seven years in a New Jersey state prison for sexually abusing two teenaged girls.

The rabbi, 52, 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 young grandchild.

“The room was so quiet you could hear the click of the handcuffs,” said an observer who was in the courtroom.

“I am not a monster,” Rabbi Lanner declared, according to published reports.

He admitted to having poor judgment but stopped short of apologizing to the two victims.

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 actual sentence was for 18 years but the rabbi is to serve four sentences concurrently, meaning he would spend up to seven years in jail. He must spend at least a year and 10 months in prison before being considered for parole.

Rabbi Lanner, a divorced father of three from Fair Lawn, N.J., 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 were routinely ignored by teachers and other rabbis, many of whom supported Rabbi Lanner and praised his charismatic 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 declaring his innocence. He refused to talk to the media during the trial in June.

On Friday, Rabbi Lanner for the first time publicly spoke about the case before being sentenced by Superior Court Judge Paul Chaiet.

“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.”

He 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.

See more complete story in the Oct. 11 Jewish Week.

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