Above: Top Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel pleaded guilty to secretly video-recording 52 naked women as they prepared to immerse in the mikvah (ritual bath) he controlled. Police have evidence Freundel actually videoed at least 152 naked women, but many of the incidents were out of the District of Columbia's statute of limitations.
Jeffrey Shulevitz, husband of Emma Shulevitz, a victim of mikva peeping tom voyeur Rabbi Barry Freundel, writes:
The Deeper Issues
The topic of conversions is a very deeply heated topic in the Jewish world. Growing up in New York City I knew this. However, what I did not know was to what a major extent this was until this past week. There is a famous saying, "you live and you learn". What I have discovered has forced me come out of my silence. I have never written an article as I have always been a very private person. However, with what I have seen from debates on this topic I feel as if I have an obligation to speak out, so here I am.
Last year I relocated from New York City to Washington, D.C, the nation's capital. As D.C is a capital, so is New York City - the capital of the jewish people in the United States. There are approximately 1.1 million jewish people in New York City. Roughly half of that jewish population lives in Brooklyn. There are roughly 40,000 Syrians jews who do not believe that a person born with a non-jewish mom can ever become jewish. This has been their teachings passed down from generation to generation and this has become their tradition.
Sadly, there are many others living in the Brooklyn community who share the same ideology on conversions. In researching this subject matter I asked someone living in Brooklyn the question on how converts are treated in Brooklyn? Here was her response. "From what I've seen and heard it's disgraceful to have a convert marry in to your family".
This topic is a very important topic in the jewish world. When people are discussing about conversions people tend to have their opinions already set. All the reasoning and explanations to them will not change their stance. This is also the case with the topic of racism. When one is racist no matter how intelligent they are, there is no changing them. Here are two statements of those against conversions.
"Think about it ? Judaism is a religion or a people? If it is a religion then you can convert but if is a people then it does not make sense ,it is like saying you want to become an Italian .You can't, however if being an Italian is a religion then you can .Its just simple math".
"Conversion laws should be STRICTER a lot stricter pursuant to the Torah ESP for women as Judaism is based on the mother. Too many non jewish women convert wanting rich jewish men and later leave the religion if there is a divorce or they get bored . According to Halacha like Ruth they need to be dissuaded and cut off from their prior life totally. Rabbis cannot even assess someone's motives for converting woman converts should be very limited and screened very carefully".
Barry Freundel was born and bred in brooklyn. In Psychology it is known that childhood is where all people learn the basics of adult behavior. These learned behaviors from childhood are reenacted when becoming an adult. I presuppose that young innocent Barry was taught the norms and ethos of those who thought down on converts. As a result he believed that it was all right for him to mistreat those in the sacred process of conversion. I spent much time deliberating whether Freundel began working with conversion candidates with a genuine intent. I was taught from my early childhood from my studies in Yeshiva that one must give an individual the benefit of the doubt. Bernard Madoff entered my mind-perhaps of having the commonality of sharing a first name- it has been disclosed that the notorious Bernard Madoff began his career with the intent of helping others before he was caught up in his ponzi scheme.
As my wife Emma was a victim of Freundel she knew many others from Kesher. I have heard many of their stories. One common repeated theme was that he always flaunted the "my conversions are the only fully accepted in Israel." This was the leash used by Freundel to keep control over his conversion students.
There has been some courageous woman who have gone public with their stories. Until now all that has been discussed in the media is the voyeurism that took place at the Kesher mikvah. I would like to introduce a new class of victims- the men- who Freundel turned away from the conversion process. One such account is from a 25 year old from Venezuela. His attempted journey to judaism reminds me of that of our forefather Abraham in the bible. Upon completion of law school he decided to relocate to Washington, D.C in order to convert to judaism. Before I continue relating his story, I suggest you take a moment to act as if you are this person.
Upon arriving in D.C he began to explore the ideal way to make his dream a reality. He wanted to convert with the intent of one day moving to Israel. His parents have observed many jewish traditions at home. His family speculated that they were of Sephardic ancestry and thus jewish. However they were unable to authenticate and therefore he was required to undergo the conversion process.
After exhaustive research he determined that Rabbi Bernard Freundel was his first-rate choice. He decided that he would attend Shacharit services at Kesher and discuss his intentions of become a jew. During their initial meeting he was advised by Freundel to attend Shacharit prayers and to study a book list. He did exactly as instructed. Whenever Freundel saw him he would surprisingly ask him with, “do I know you?” His understanding was that it was a "custom" to reject the conversion canidate and so as a result he thought that this was the norm. He said, “but after months doing that, I saw that something was wrong.” In the interim he realized that if he was going to follow through to achieve his goal that, he would have to work with Freundel or find another Bet Din. All of a sudden he had an idea to research Yeshivot that he can attend. He researched Yeshivot that were capable of preparation for all the requirements and more which had the capacity to sponsor with a Bet Din. He found the Yeshiva which met all his criterion. He applied and was accepted with the condition that the Rabbi in his city would sponsor him. He returned to D.C and he excitedly made an appointment to discuss this matter. At the meeting he excitedly informed Freundel that he was accepted to a yeshiva and that he needed Freundel to sponsor him. This required Freundel to call the yeshiva administrator and disclose to him his know-how of judaism. Freundel replied, “I'm not gonna convert you and I don't work with illegals”. He stood up and said, “thank you Rabbi.” At that moment he was unable to withhold his tears and he left Kesher with his head slumped down as tears poured out of his eyes.
Loving the convert is the one mitzvah in the Torah that is commanded repeatedly. This precept is penned 36 times in the Torah. Hashem is telling us that this is what he wants.
Freundel took advantage of his power and Hashem was not pleased. My wife once asked Freundel, what is the fitting punishment for Lance Armstrong? He replied, "he already has been stripped of his titles and honors, that is enough."
Hashem does not directly communicate with mankind. However in this instance it is clear that Hashem spoke very loudly and clearly to declare His disgust with the mistreatment of converts. We must be thankful for the "open miracle" of Freundel getting caught. Freundel was arraigned in court, in front of the judge. This past year on Hoshanah Rabah, which is the seventh day of holiday of Sukkot. On October 15th, 2014 -aka- Hoshanah Rabbah, my wife Emma and I were sitting in the courtroom in Superior Court in D.C and witnessed firsthand Freundel in front of a judge in shackles. He was shaking from right to left and left to right. His arms and feet were shackled. The sound of the shackles will leave a permanent impression on me. Then my wife pointed out to me the timing of this. Chills went all over my spine. I knew that what she said to me made sense. Again you can see how my wife has an elevated soul and was able to comprehend the "true" picture. Hashem has declared ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. There must be change.
To evaluate this complex equation - which not even a Phd in Mathematics, can decipher, damages caused. We have to put aside what we see with our bare eyes and put on a "Kabbalistic Lens." There is a Midrash those yearning to convert to judaism are born with jewish souls. If these souls were turned away from their destiny, they may have to return to in their next reincarnation to a jewish body. Will these men and women have to return to this world again? There is no algorithm that can calculate the costs of such damages.
Reformation of the conversion system is needed. Placing blame on the RCA will not solve these problems. These victims have been through a Terror Attack of the soul infiltrated by Freundel. Freundel clearly received his divine punishment. We must isolate what the source of the problem is and then treat it.
Conversions should not be exclusively decided by men for men are not emotionally equipped as women to deal with it. Companies hire human resources personnel in order to screen out potential employees because they recognize that women are born with an instinct to appraise others. We have just celebrated Purim. Mordechai was a scholar and was aware of his limitations. He knew that Esther would be able to understand the emotions of the king and that she would be able to save the jews by having her speak to the kings emotions. He was correct and the jews were saved. In the jewish community, woman should be partnering up with the rabbi’s. The RCA has begun these changes and others should follow suit. There is a precedent of woman acting in leadership positions. Devorah the Prophetess was a judge/Dayan of the jewish people almost 3000 years ago. She successfully led the jewish people to the war and served as Dayan/Judge. She was handpicked by Hashem. There is concept from the Talmud of “Yeridat Hadorot”, which means that every generation after Sinai is considered both spiritually and academically inferior from the generation before.
There has been much criticism against the RCA, Kesher, Georgetown and Towson University. These institutions have been sued by some victims. This may remedy the victims for damages caused by Freunel. However, that is a short-term fix to this problem which will at best serve as a “band-aid”. There should be a long-term fix that will serve to protect future conversion canidates.
As stated earlier, the acceptability of conversions in Israel is important to converts. Outside of Israel and here in the United States we are privileged that there are many rabbis. Yet, there are only a few rabbi’s who have the ability to administer conversions acceptable in Israel. As a result, a conversion canidate is forced to go to a rabbi who he may not be a good fit to work with. Should someone turn to a therapist for the mere fact that that person is a therapist? This is the sentiment of many conversion canidates.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is in charge of deciding which Bet Dins are able to conduct conversions that they deem acceptable. According to ITIM’s website,(http://www.itim.org.il/en/recognized-rabbinical-courts-for-conversion/s) there are about 20 Bet Dins in the United States that can administer these conversions. The conversions of Reform and Conservative jews are not on the list. There is big outcry by many who seek to change the system.
There are prophecies that before Mashiach arrives that the lost 10 tribes of Israel will be return to Israel. This prophecy appeared impossible for 2000 years and we have now begun to miraculously witness the fulfillment of these prophecies. Should the Chief Rabbinate have the power to annul the wishes of Hashem? Furthermore, according to a Midrash, “there are 70 faces to the Torah” The Chief Rabbinate has not mastered all 70 “faces” of the Torah. Accordingly, they should not be authorized to turn away our lost brothers and sisters. We cannot allow anyone to halt the Mashiach process. May we be blessed that we live to see the arrival of Mashiach! Amein…
Personally, I think Freundel was cool – or rude – to many male potential converts simply because he wasn’t interested in seeing them naked.
As for the idea that the Syrian position on conversions somehow swayed him and swayed all of Brooklyn, I find that highly doubtful.
As I’ve reported for years, all you need is the standard rabbinic anti-gentile statements found in kabbalah. midrash and other places combined with the powerful incentive caused by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and a history of some very questionable conversions by some haredi rabbis to get a conservative (small c) approach to conversions.
And the fact is, most non-Syrian rabbis I know of ridicule the Syrian position on conversions.
As for the comversion process needing reform, I think that is something almost everyone (who isn't haredi) can agree to.