Prominent Rabbi Arrested on a Charge of Voyeurism

By Michael Paulson (New York Times)
October 14, 2014

An Orthodox rabbi who presides over a prominent Washington congregation was arrested on Tuesday and charged with voyeurism.

Although the police in the District of Columbia confirmed the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, they declined to provide details or a copy of an arrest report for the misdemeanor charge. Rabbi Freundel is accused of placing a hidden camera in a changing area used by women, as well as some men, to disrobe before they enter a ritual bath called a mikvah, according to a person familiar with the allegation who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

The congregation’s mikvah is in a building next to the synagogue, Kesher Israel. The congregation’s board of directors said it had notified law enforcement authorities of its concern about Rabbi Freundel’s behavior, and had suspended him without pay. It called the allegation “a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community.”

“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” the board said in a statement posted to the congregation’s website.

Rabbi Freundel has been the spiritual leader at Kesher Israel since 1989; among the prominent people associated with the congregation have been Treasury Secretary Jack Lew; Joseph I. Lieberman, the former Democratic senator from Connecticut; and Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor at The New Republic.

Rabbi Freundel has been an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and an assistant professor of rabbinical literature and history at the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University.

Rabbi Freundel did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Rabbi Freundel serves on the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, an association of modern Orthodox rabbis, and for a few years was head of its conversion committee. Conversion to Judaism requires immersion in a ritual bath, and many Orthodox women visit a mikvah regularly for purity rites.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America and a longtime advocate for victims of clergy abuse and domestic violence in Judaism, said that his organization had not heard any previous allegations of sexual improprieties by Rabbi Freundel.

“We don’t know the situation, and we’re really operating in the dark, so it’s impossible to formulate any appropriate kind of response,” he said. “That being said, we’re certainly very concerned about any possible victims, and about his family and his own welfare.”