Rabbi Barry Freundel—-the rabbi accused of secretly taping naked women during a ritual bath—-is officially out of a job at Kesher Israel, the Modern Orthodox synagogue in Georgetown he has led since 1989. Freundel has been suspended without pay since he was arrested and charged with voyeurism in October.
The synagogue’s Board of Directors wrote in a statement today that it decided to fire Freundel last week, saying the decision was made “under extraordinarily difficult and unfortunate circumstances.” Freundel and his family must also vacate the rabbinic residence in Georgetown by Jan. 1.
“This incident has demonstrated that the Kesher Israel community remains larger than any single individual, and we have emerged stronger than we were before. We are an engaged and hopeful community—-united by common faith, beliefs, and communal bond. We will remain strong and resilient,” the statement reads.
Freundel pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts of voyeurism in October, but court documents suggest the investigation extends far beyond those counts. The rabbi is specifically accused of using a hidden camera attached to a clock radio to film women while they showered in preparation for a mikveh, a ritual cleansing bath in Judaism. The film captured at least six partially naked or naked women in the shower area.
But according to an affidavit and search warrant for the synagogue and Freundel’s home, the Metropolitan Police Department says it found that the recording device had more than 100 deleted files in it dating back to February. Some of the files are labeled under the first names of the women. In the preliminary investigation, “numerous” other women, according to the affidavit, told officials they believe they were also recorded changing in the shower area or mikveh room itself.
The National Capital Mikvah Board of Directors also announced in a statement today that it would be removing Freundel from his position on the board as “supervising rabbi.”
“We strongly condemn Rabbi Freundel’s alleged actions,” the statement reads. “They breached not only the sanctity of our holy space, but also the trust placed in him by the NCM Board and our community. From the police reports, it appears that Rabbi Freundel exploited the access to our mikvah afforded by his religious position to violate the privacy of women who trusted him.”
A status hearing is scheduled for the case on Jan. 16. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. has set up a website, hotline, and email address for people who think they may have been filmed or have additional information about the case.
Read Kesher Israel’s full statement below:
Last week, the Kesher Israel Board of Directors terminated the contract of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel. Since the day of his arrest, Rabbi Freundel had been suspended from Kesher Israel without pay. Based on last week’s action by the Board of Directors, his relationship with Kesher Israel has permanently ended. As he is required to do under his contract, Rabbi Freundel has been asked to vacate the rabbinic residence by January 1, 2015.
The decision by the Board of Directors was made under extraordinarily difficult and unfortunate circumstances. The alleged acts leading to this step were a gross violation of law, privacy, halakha, and trust. They breached the high moral and ethical standards we set for ourselves and for our leadership. Our collective heart breaks for the consequences, both seen and unseen, of these alleged acts to all the potential victims and our entire community.
This step is an important moment for our community. As we move beyond the events of last month, our community continues to come together and heal. This incident has demonstrated that the Kesher Israel community remains larger than any single individual, and we have emerged stronger than we were before. We are an engaged and hopeful community — united by common faith, beliefs, and communal bond. We will remain strong and resilient.
We take great pride that our shul has continued to operate without interruption since the arrest, including through the chagim, during recent smachot, and through family losses. We are deeply grateful for the volunteers and community members who have stepped-up during this challenging time and have worked tirelessly on behalf of the Kesher community. We are also thankful to Rabbi Kenneth Brander and Nechama Price for their continued short-term halakhic support. We are committed to finding more long term solutions to our religious needs very soon.
As Kesher continues to move forward, the Board of Directors is committed to listening to the needs of the entire congregation. We encourage members of our community to reach out to the shul’s leadership to voice any concerns, provide input, or even just to talk. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts.
We look forward to continuing to build a vibrant future for Kesher Israel, and to ensuring our community remains a warm, welcoming, and safe place to gather, worship, and learn.
Screenshot via Google Maps