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Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Rabbi Bernard "Barry" Freundel Criminal Voyeurism Case

     For 25 years, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Bernard "Barry" Freundel was the spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel Synagogue in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Former U.S. Senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were members of Rabbi Freundel's congregation.

     A resident of O Street in Washington, the 62-year-old rabbi was known for his success in helping women convert to Orthodox Judaism. An expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Freundel held the position of Vice President of the Vaad (Rabbinical Counsel) of Greater Washington. He also worked as a professor at nearby Townson University where he taught courses on Judaism and ethics. As a widely known expert on these subjects, the rabbi was a visiting scholar at Princeton, Yale, and Cornell and regularly presented guest lectures at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

     While Rabbi Freundel enjoyed a sterling reputation in academia and among the vast majority of his congregants, concerns were raised in 2012 regarding his treatment of women undergoing conversion under his guidance. Several women going through the process complained that the Rabbi enjoyed wielding power over their lives. For example, they felt coerced into performing clerical duties such as organizing his files, opening his mail, paying his bills, taking dictation, and responding to emails on his behalf. Moreover, these vulnerable women felt pressured to donate money to the rabbi's favorite causes.

     On October 14, 2014, the roof collapsed on Rabbi Freundel's personal and professional life of privilege and respect when officers with the Washington D.C. Police Department placed him under arrest. He was charged with six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

     Rabbi Freundel stood accused of installing a clock radio equipped with a hidden video camera in a synagogue shower room. He had allegedly filmed women showering before taking their ritualistic purification baths in a large tub called the mikvah.

     Jewish women and women converting to Judaism are required under Orthodox religious law to immerse themselves in the mikvah every month after menstruating and before having sex with their husbands.

     Shortly after Rabbi Freundel's arrest, Jewish authorities suspended him without pay from his position at the Kesher Israel Synagogue.

     On October 20, 2014, a Townson University spokesperson announced that the school had opened an internal Title IX investigation to determine if the rabbi had practiced gender or sex discrimination at the university. The school banned the former Judaism and ethics professor from its campus which is located in Maryland between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

     The Freundel voyeurism scandal triggered a discussion and inquiry into the possible widespread abuse of female converts by Orthodox rabbis.

     Rabbi Freundel pleaded not guilty to the charges and was set free after posting his bail. If convicted of all six counts, he faced up to six years behind bars.

     On February 11, 2015, several of the rabbi's alleged victims met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. The meeting had been called to discuss the benefits of a plea bargained deal in the case. Prosecutors, in discussing the Freundel investigation, said that since 2009 the former rabbi had secretly filmed 152 women. Of these crimes, 88 occurred more than three years ago and therefore couldn't be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations. Prosecutors did not reveal to the media how the victims at the meeting had responded to the idea of a plea bargained deal for the ex-rabbi.

     Freundel, on February 19, 2015, pleaded guilty to having secretly videotaped 52 naked women as they prepared to immerse themselves in the ritual bath.

     On May 16, 2015, after sixteen of his victims--some in tears--addressed the court, Judge Geoffrey Alprin sentenced Bernard Freundel to 45 days on each of 52 counts of criminal voyeurism. That came to just under six and a half years in federal prison. 

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