The OU’s elections are normally pro forma and candidates usually run unopposed – but not this time, when voters will be be asked to choose between choose between to opposing candidates, current president Steven Simcha Katz and former president Harvey Blitz. Blitz and Katz strongly disagree about how the OU is being run.
Amid Internal Discord And External Threats, The OU Schedules Rare Contested Elections
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization of Modern Orthodox and Orthodox synagogues that also operates the world’s largest kosher supervising agency and runs outreach programs geared toward non-Orthodox teens, has reportedly set a date for its presidential election.
The OU’s elections are normally pro forma and candidates usually run unopposed – but not this time, when voters will be be asked to choose between two opposing candidates, current president Steven Simcha Katz and former president Harvey Blitz. Blitz and Katz strongly disagree about how the OU is being run.
A meeting held between Katz and Blitz on January 15 aimed at settling their differences reportedly ended without doing so.
The Jewish week recently reported that the OU is been gripped by an internal power struggle that has resulted in a wave of recent managerial changes.
A senior OU staffer, wishing to remain anonymous, told The JW the power struggle had left the organization effectively leaderless, and pointed to a story reported first on FailedMessiah.com as proof of that.
The OU's president Simcha Katz had endorsed the Rabbinical Council of America’s public letter supporting the verdict against Satmar pedophile Rabbi Nechemya Weberman. But only hours after signing on to the RCA’s letter having it posted on the OU's website, the letter and the endorsement were summarily removed – allegedly after receiving pressure and threats from Satmar hasidim and Satmar community leaders. Those threats allegedly included stripping the OU’s supervision mark from products produced in the US and even in Israel and other overseas locations that also carry Satmar’s CRC supervision mark and/or the marks of several other closely aligned haredi kosher supervisions.
Among those other kosher supervisions that may have threatened the OU may have been the Israeli anti-Zionist umbrella organization Edah Haredit’s Badatz Yesrushalyim.
Edah Haredit’s rabbinic heads have repeatedly gone to bat for accused and even convicted pedophiles, often basing that support on the claim that the victims are minors or female, and therefore their testimony is invalid in beit din, Jewish court of law. Edah Haredit rabbis have also been known to reject scientific evidence forensically recovered, like DNA, and to reject testimony by psychiatrists and psychologists who have tested accused pedophiles and evaluated them.
If Satmar and its allies were successful in removing the OU’s kosher mark from these products, the OU could lose hundred of thousands of dollars in income. It could also be left without a nationally distributed red meat producer that carried its mark.
Katz followed the retraction of his endorsement by lying to the New York Times about the Weberman case.
The OU was nearly destroyed a decade ago by its own child sexual abuse scandal.
Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a senior OU outreach worker, had sexually, emotionally and physically abused teens participating in the OU’s National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) events for more than three decades. OU staffers from the executive vice president down to clerks and secretaries allegedly knew about the abuse, as did many senior OU lay leaders.
But Lanner was not fired or disciplined, and police were not called.
Instead, the OU acted on what a senior person engaged to help clean up the OU after the Lanner was indicted and the coverups were exposed called a “risk benefit analysis.” Lanner was an incredibly talented missionary with amazing personal charisma. He “saved many more souls” with this talent than he hurt with his abuse. The kiruv, missionary work, “was too good” to jeopardize, and Lanner was allowed to remain in place for decades.
A Jewish week exposé in 2002 eventually exposed Lanner.
Shortly afterward, several female students at an Orthodox day school Lanner also taught at went to police, accusing Lanner of sexual abuse.
He was eventually convicted and served several years in prison.
He is now free and allegedly remarried last year.
No one was fired by the OU in the Lanner affair – not even Baruch Lanner.
Two senior OU staffers close to retirement age were allowed to retire with full benefits.
Another staffer especially close to Lanner who had actively worked to cover up Lanner’s abuse left the OU almost one year later – but only after he was allowed to find a suitable job outside the organization and transition to it.
Even Lanner was not fired.
When he realized the case against him could not be stopped and would definitely proceed to trial, he resigned.
Dozens of OU staffers and lay leaders who knew about Lanner’s abuse and covered it up or remained silent still retain their OU affiliations – and often, their OU jobs, as well.
Even so, the steps that were taken by the OU to prevent another Lanner from abusing children are stronger than any steps taken by other Orthodox groups who have faced similar situations. Those groups, primarily haredi, have done little (and, in the case of some of these haredi groups, have done nothing) to prevent abuse or root out pedophiles employed in their yeshivas and organizations.
However, those steps were not strong enough for the OU to stand in support of Rabbi Nechemya Wberman’s victim and in support of the jury verdict that could get Weberman as much as 117 years in prison for sexually abusing her from the time she was 12-years-old until she was 15.
The New York Daily News reported yesterday that there are at least 10 more girls and women who claim Weberman sexually abused them, as well.
The OU's board will meet at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City on March 10 to choose between iKatz and Blitz. Individual OU members do not have the right to vote.