HACKENSACK, N.J., Jan. 23 -- The top professional staffer of the Orthodox Union, Orthodox Judaism's leading synagogue umbrella group, has resigned, three weeks after a scathing report revealed that the organization's leading officials were aware of, yet failed to remove, a New Jersey rabbi accused of emotionally and physically abusing teens for nearly two decades. "My decision is intended to prevent the divisiveness and rancor that threatened the mission of the Orthodox Union," Rabbi Raphael Butler wrote in letter in which he resigned as the OU's executive vice president.

The resignation was applauded by many in the Orthodox community, who have been calling for Butler's dismissal. Critics say Butler did little to stop Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who has been accused of molesting girls, kneeing boys in the groin, and emotionally manipulating high school students when he ran North Jersey and national OU youth programs.

Lanner did not return calls Monday, but he has emphatically denied the accusations in the past. He has not been charged with any crime.

Butler's critics call his exit a first step in cleaning up one of the world's most prominent organizations representing Orthodox Judaism. The group, based in Manhattan, represents about 1,000 synagogues and provides synagogue services, adult education, political action, youth work, and the largest kosher supervision label.

"They should have gotten rid of him six months ago," said Ellie Hiller, a West Orange, N.J., businessman who says he was abused by Lanner in the late 1980s. He said his parents complained to Butler in 1987 and that Butler did not do enough to stop the rabbi.

"There are also other people named in the report who must be investigated," Hiller said. "The message needs to go out that anyone who allows such things to happen will not get away with it."

The Orthodox Union's president, Harvey Blitz, said he accepted Butler's resignation Friday with reluctance, noting that some officials wanted Butler to remain at the organization in another capacity.

Butler, who has been a leader in the union for two decades, will remain for a transition period while the organization searches for a replacement. He did not return calls Monday.

Lanner has been accused of abusing teens over a span of 28 years, said a report prepared for the OU by a commission of Jewish professionals and a Manhattan law firm after allegations of abuse arose last summer.

Many of the victims, now in their 30s and 40s, said Lanner kissed, fondled, and hit teenage girls. His accusers also said he attacked a man with a knife. Some of the victims reported suffering long-lasting damage, said the 332-page report.

Lanner, 50, who taught and served as an administrator at The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., in the 1980s and in several other schools in Monmouth County, resigned as an executive of the OU's National Conference of Synagogue Youth in June, after newspaper stories about his conduct appeared.

Prosecutors in Monmouth and Bergen counties are investigating the allegations against Lanner.

The report, released in late December, said professional and lay members of the Jewish organization and its youth arm were aware of Lanner's activities but failed to stop him. Victims said that during the almost nine years Butler was Lanner's supervisor, he did not adequately respond to their complaints about the man known as a charismatic and talented leader in Jewish education.

"This knowledge alone should have led them to take effective action against Lanner at any one of many points in his career," the report said. "The failure of certain members of the Orthodox Union and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth leadership to take any such action allowed Lanner's conduct to continue unchecked for many years."

Listing the numerous programs Butler had implemented within the organization through the years, Blitz said: "He has served this organization for nearly 20 years with distinction and creativity, and people should not judge him solely by this incident."

Blitz has acknowledged that he was also named in the report as one of the leaders who had heard complaints about Lanner.

"I knew of two or three occasions during a period of 20 years when there were red flags," Blitz said. "But I knew nothing about any sexual abuse. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't do more to find out about it."

At the annual OU convention in early January, where Blitz was installed as president, he made a public apology for the abuse.

"These incidents are a stain on the union, and we must acknowledge that and work with the victims, if they so choose, to lessen their hurt," he said.

Blitz plans to restructure the organization. He has promised tighter policies to screen and oversee employees and to be more watchful of the youth programs.

Although many parents and former members said they are confident the Orthodox Union staff will now be more careful in its dealings with children, they are eager to see the results of Blitz's reorganization plans.

Murray Sragow, former youth chairman at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, N.J., which co-sponsors a chapter of the OU's youth organization, said he would be watching.

"The OU still needs to examine the report and figure out what else needs to be done to reorganize the OU so that it can prevent all the problems that led to all of this," he said.

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