One of Rabbi Barry Freundel's self-made voyeurism videos was unlike the other 51. Rather than being taken in the mikvah (women's ritual bath), it had the backdrop of an apartment. Who was this woman? Whose apartment was this? And how did Freundel have the access to secretly video record her naked in her most private intimate moments?
Above: Rabbi Barry Freundel
The Washingtonian has a new recounting of Rabbi Barry Freundel's mikva voyeurism case. Much of the material has been previously reported elsewhere, including here on FailedMessiah.com, and some of the article's explanation of halakha (Orthodox Jewish law) is wrong.
All that said, the article focuses primarily on Freundel's victims – he had 52 of them in the three years immediately preceding his October 2014 arrest – and is well worth reading for that and for its explanation of how Freundel, one of the most powerful Modern Orthodox rabbis in the US, came to be arrested.
Here is a brief excerpt that highlights an aspect of the case I don't remember reporting:
…One [of Freundel's self-made voyeurism] video[s] was unlike the rest. Rather than being taken in the mikvah, it had the backdrop of an apartment. [US Attorney Amy] Zubrensky set it aside, in hopes she could unravel the mystery. Weeks later, she received a testimonial that described a different scenario. It came from a Jewish woman who had fled an abusive Orthodox husband. Living in an ultra-Orthodox community where men are extended power over women, she’d found herself ostracized. Desperate for shelter, she contacted a friend in the District who put her in touch with Freundel. The rabbi offered the apartment of a congregant who was traveling. The woman used the three weeks to arrange her escape.
The man she thought had made “a place of peace and an oasis of hope” had set up cameras in the bedroom and in the bathroom.
When Zubrensky connected the face, the name, the dates, and the videos, it felt like a punch in the gut. Unbelievable, she thought. This is at a whole different level.Then she phoned the woman with the horrible news.…
In other words, besides abusing converts, potential converts and students at the universities he taught at, Freundel also abused a battered woman who came to him for refuge.
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the local Washington, DC Orthodox rabbinical council each had multiple complaints against Freundel before the mikva voyeurism case broke. Each arguably failed to take appropriate action. True, those complaints involved exploiting potential female converts in non-sexual ways, acting in inappropriate ways around potential female converts, and spending inappropriate time alone with a female conversion candidate that included sharing a sleeper car with her on an overnight Amtrak train trip.
Somehow there was never enough proof to act strongly against Freundel. Not even encouraging female conversion candidates and female university students to take "practice dunks" in the mikva Freundel controlled was enough to cause the rabbis to crack down – even though in the entire history of rabbinic Judaism, there is no known record of such "practice dunks" ever being taken or encouraged by rabbis.
Arguably, it is the rabbis' failure to act against Freundel that emboldened him and caused even more women to be victimized. No commissions to restructure how conversion is done will ever change that, and it's likely no such restructuring will stop these types of abuses from recurring.
The same, thankfully, cannot be said about Freundel's 6-1/2 year prison sentence or about those who reported Freundel to the only people who ever would have stopped him – the police. And that's the main lesson Jews everywhere should learn, internalize, and act on when necessary. Don't rely on rabbis or community boards to stop crimes against children, women, or anyone else. Call the police.