Beliefs

D.C. rabbi accused of spying on naked women

Kesher Israel (center), located at 2801 N Street, N.W., in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The synagogue is a contributing property to the Georgetown Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Accused of spying on naked women, one of the capital’s most prominent rabbis has been suspended without pay from a synagogue whose congregants include former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

Police arrested Rabbi Barry Freundel, 62, on Tuesday (Oct. 14)  at his Georgetown home, not far from Kesher Israel, the synagogue he has led since 1989. They charged him with voyeurism and indicated that he had spied on women through a camera pointed at the shower used before dipping into the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath.

Kesher Israel (center), located at 2801 N Street, N.W., in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The synagogue is a contributing property to the Georgetown Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

Photo courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons

Kesher Israel (center), located at 2801 N Street, N.W., in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The synagogue is a contributing property to the Georgetown Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

The news shocked Jews in and beyond Washington, making front-page headlines in Jewish newspapers across the nation. Carrie Bornstein, executive director of Mayyim Hayyim, a mikvah near Boston that has spearheaded a national movement to encourage Jews of varying levels of religious observance to use mikvah, said she had never heard of such an incident happening at a mikvah before.

The mikvah, she said, “should be the epitome of a safe space.”

Sharon Shapiro, who writes a blog popular among young Orthodox Jewish women,  wondered about the fate of those camera images.

“Who knows if the recorded footage remained only on Freund’s computer or if he shared it with others online?” she wrote.

Married women in Orthodox Judaism ritually immerse themselves in a mikvah — a small pool with water  — seven days after their menstrual period has ended. The ritual bath is also used at life cycle events, from graduations to divorces to adoptions to conversions.

Kesher Israel leans traditional on the Jewish observance spectrum. But as a modern Orthodox synagogue, it has accepted nontraditional roles for women. Its board of directors is headed by a woman, for example.

That board issued a statement Tuesday suggesting that the synagogue itself led police to Freundel: “Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” the statement said.

“This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community,” the statement continued. “At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.”

Rabbi Freundel’s arrest was the second bombshell to hit the D.C. Jewish community in little more than a week. On Oct. 6, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi of the city’s largest Conservative synagogue, stunned his congregants by announcing that he is gay and that he and his wife, who is also a rabbi, plan to divorce.

The news from Kesher Israel comes in the midst of a busy Jewish holiday season, including the end of the seven-day celebration of Sukkot, the fall harvest festival, and Simchat Torah, which begins Thursday (Oct. 16) at sundown and celebrates the annual completion of the reading of the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.

“As always, Kesher Israel will remain open as a place of learning, prayer, and community, including throughout the remainder of the Sukkot holiday,” the synagogue’s statement concluded.

YS/MG END MARKOE

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

14 Comments

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  • Just when you thought you’ve seen it all….what will be next on the agenda when it comes to religious crimes? Only time will tell!

  • I am not Orthodox, but I went to the Mikveh with a friend. I found it to be a surprisingly spiritual experience. It never occurred to me that some man might be viewing me.

  • Rabbi Freundel was in charge of the Beth Din in Washington DC and handled Beth Din disputes, conversions, and other matters. Also be cautious of using the Beth Din of America for your GET, conversion or other religious issue. Both Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann and Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz have seruv’s against them. Prior judges on this court have had a multitude of problems. Read more about it at thebethdin dot com. Too many Beth Dins and Rabbis are corrupt and dishonest.

  • Religion probably has nothing to do with this story
    in the same way Dentistry has nothing to do with Dentists who are creeps.

    But of course I feel obligated to make some sort of comment
    on everything I read at RNS.

    I finally have nothing to else to say.

  • @ AM.
    “I finally have nothing to else to say”.
    Thank God! What a great answer to prayer!
    @ Barry.
    You should be given a medal and some instruction regarding proper dating practice, at least YOU… are interested in the ladies. The rest of the celibates are still struggling… poor saps.

  • @AM.
    “I finally have nothing to else to say”.
    And you forgot how to type as well… All due respect AM. 🙂

  • What we really need is more politics and less Polly-ogling! This is what happens when you don’t treat life seriously!

    I’m sure if you asked the rabbi he was just conducting an informal survey and didn’t want to embarrass anyone.

    A man of the cloth committing a sex crime?? What is this world coming to? How do you suppose this gent is going to spend his time, now that he’s out of a job? I’m sure with all the loot he’s saved up he can buy his own women’s clothing store, complete with changing rooms!

  • Stop picking on Atheist Max! There are more good and thoughtful comments on this wall than on most others I can think of, and many of them are penned by Max. Who can take care of himself, I’m sure. So now that I’ve insinuated myself into your feed, what do you mean when you say “You should be given a medal”? You’re talking to the rabbi?? That’s kind of sick and politically incorrect, is it not? Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you, I’m just curious. You also say, “the rest of the celibates.” This guy is married, like the gay rabbi, right?

  • For every person or Rabbi like this one, there are thousands of pious Rabbis and Jews who are the epitome of real Orthodox Jewish living that should be admired.

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