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Jewish Bulletin - News

O.U. scandal: Top official resigns

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The executive vice president of the Orthodox Union has resigned -- apparently under pressure -- in the latest development in a case that has gripped the centrist Orthodox group for months.

Rabbi Raphael Butler had come under fire for not disciplining Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a high-ranking professional in the O.U.'s youth group who has been accused of sexually harassing, molesting and physically abusing scores of teen-agers.

Lanner, who had served as director of regions for the O.U.'s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, resigned in July, shortly after an article detailing the allegations against him appeared in the New York Jewish Week.

Butler, who became the O.U.'s top professional in 1994 after more than 13 years of work in the organization, submitted a resignation letter last Friday.

High-level Orthodox officials said Butler had the support of a majority of the O.U.'s executive committee, which was to vote Feb. 4 on his employment status.

But the Orthodox rabbinic arm and the O.U.'s immediate past president exerted strong pressure to push Butler out, the officials said.

Butler's resignation came three and a half weeks after an O.U.-appointed commission released an executive summary of a report that found "profound errors of judgment" in the way the organization's leaders dealt with Lanner.

O.U. officials have apologized for Lanner's behavior, and hosted a public forum on the topic at the organization's biennial convention over New Year's weekend.

Butler's departure is the first concrete change at the Orthodox Union since the completion of the report, which was based on interviews with 175 people.

Butler will remain for a transition period while the board searches for a replacement. O.U. officials would not disclose details of Butler's severance package.

A number of people in the organization, as well as some of Lanner's alleged victims, have argued that the commission's executive summary implicates Butler for not responding to red flags, though it does not mention names.

Butler's resignation letter, which was released to the public, does not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

It indicates that he is leaving "to prevent the divisiveness and rancor that threaten the mission" of the Orthodox Union.

In a short letter "reluctantly" accepting the resignation, O.U. President Harvey Blitz praised Butler for work that has "resulted in the exceptional growth and development" of the Orthodox Union.

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