If the charges brought against a Washington, D.C. rabbi are true, the stain against him and the shadow cast by the accused wrongdoing will be long and hard to remove.
The rabbi of the Modern Orthodox Kesher Israel, also known as the “N” Street shul, has been charged with installing an electronic camera in the mikveh building and using or intending to use the camera to see the women as they prepare to immerse themselves monthly in the ritual bath as is commanded in the Torah. The mikveh is also used on certain occasions by men.
Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel was suspended without pay by Kesher Israel’s board of directors after he was arrested and charged with voyeurism, allegedly using cameras to spy on women in the mikveh.
A police report obtained by the Washington, D.C. Fox affiliate alleges that Freundel was installing a camera hidden in a clock radio above a shower at the mikveh. The rabbi allegedly told the person who caught him that he was fixing the shower’s ventilation system.
The Washingtonian reported that police carried computers and other objects out of the rabbi’s home, which is a few blocks from the synagogue.
If there is anything positive to make of such a story, it is that upon learning of the reported inappropriate conduct, the congregation alerted the authorities, rather than try to sweep the ugliness under the rug. Too often certain religious communities turn inward at such a time and deal with the situation by removing the alleged transgressor from its midst, which simply exports the potential evil to another community.
The board of directors of Kesher Israel released the following statement on Tuesday, Oct. 14:
This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community. At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.
Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials. Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.
After today’s arrest of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the Board of Directors suspended him without pay. As always, Kesher Israel will remain open as a place of learning, prayer, and community, including throughout the remainder of the Sukkot holiday.
This is a very difficult time for all of us. We respectfully request that our community be granted privacy. Any further questions should be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Freundel, 62, has been the rabbi at Kesher Israel for 25 years. He is also the vice president of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington and is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Freundel is scheduled to appear in court in Washington today, Wednesday, Oct. 15.Lori Lowenthal Marcus