The Washington Jewish community has been rocked by allegations against leading Rabbi Barry Freundel of the Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown. Freundel is accused of using a secret camera to film Jewish woman engaged in the ritual bath known as a Mikva.
Freundel (shown above from a YouTube clip), is now criminally charged. He is viewed as one of the leading experts on Jewish law and ethics and “an intellectual giant” in the Jewish intellectual circles. Freundel heads the conversion committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and is vice president of the region’s Vaad, overseeing kosher dietary laws at Jewish institutions. He has a law degree and a doctorate and is affiliated with several area universities, including Georgetown University’s law school, the University of Maryland and Towson University, north of the Baltimore.
Ironically, the synagogue is part of Judaism’s modern Orthodox movement that has tried to accommodate the rise of women in leadership. His wife, Sharon Freundel is the leader of Kesher’s monthly women’s study and prayer group as well as the director of Hebrew and Judaic studies at the Jewish Primary Day School. She was in the courtroom with one of their three children for the arraignment.
One alleged victim, Emma Shulevitz, 27, said that she was warned by Freundel not to move the digital clock setting on a sink — a curious concern but she said that Freundel was worried that it would be moved in any way. She said that Freundel said that Shulevitz should not hesitate to “take as many practice dunks as I needed.” However, a convert to Judaism, Shulevitz was not concerned until she read that congregants had accused Shulevitz of having a hidden camera in the clock.
The Mikva requires women to be naked and fully submerge under the water while reciting a blessing: “…asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al hatevilah, ….who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us on immersion.” Only one attending woman can be present who by Jewish law is charged with making sure that the woman is totally submerged.
Prosecutors say that a witness contacted police when Freundel was seen plugging in the clock in the shower area of the ritual bath. The witness said that Freundel said it was for ventilation. They identify the clock radio as the “Dream Machine” with a motion activated camera as well as a storage component. It is described as a “self-contained surveillance device.”
Freundel is charged with six counts of voyeurism and faces up to six years in prison. My guess is that we will see a superseding indictment with more charges to try to force a plea deal, which would seem likely. The greatest risk for his defense is that the prosecutors are still looking into whether some of the pictures showed girls. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Marcus Kurn stressed that “He violated the laws up in the heavens and down.”
The synagogue posted the following statement:
This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community. At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.
Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials.
Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.
After today’s arrest of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the Board of Directors suspended him without pay. As always, Kesher Israel will remain open as a place of learning, prayer, and community, including throughout the remainder of the Sukkot holiday.
This is a very difficult time for all of us. We respectfully request that our community be granted privacy. Any further questions should be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Source: Washington Post