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A top Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says it knew since 2012 of concerning allegations against the Georgetown rabbi charged last week with voyeurism, though the allegations were not sexual in nature.
Rabbi Barry Freundel, the rabbi of Kesher Israel synagogue, pleaded not guilty to six counts of voyeurism last week for allegedly filming naked women without their knowledge in his congregation while they were preparing for a mikveh—-a ritual cleansing bath. A mikveh is used for a variety of religious purposes, including as part of the conversion process.
The Rabbinical Council of America says in a statement that in 2012, some conversion candidates reported they felt pressure to perform clerical work at Freundel’s home—-the synagogue does not have an office—-and to give money to the synagogue. He was also the co-signer on a checking account with a conversion candidate. The council investigated the allegations and confronted Freundel about them. He assured the council the practices would stop.
At the time of the allegations, Freundel served as the chair of the council’s Geirus Protocol and Standards conversion system—-a network of rabbis that works to establish uniform standards to ensure the validity of all conversions. He served in the position from 2006 to 2013.
Freundel’s attorney, Jeffrey Harris, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
“A committee of rabbis and lay leaders determined that while Rabbi Freundel’s actions were inappropriate (and were a violation of his position) they did not rise to a level that required him to be suspended from the RCA or to be removed from his work with converts, as long as they did not continue,” the RCA writes in a statement issued today. “While the RCA did not report these findings to the leadership of his congregation, Rabbi Freundel himself did inform his synagogue leadership of these meetings.”
The RCA says the voyeurism allegations would have resulted in more serious consequences.
The statement also describes allegations from 2013 in which an anonymous person called the council saying that Freundel took a train ride to Chicago in a sleeper car with a woman who was not his wife. The caller declined to provide proof, and the council says it was unable to confront him. Someone from the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington was asked to talk to Freundel about the alleged infidelity and he denied it, providing a “plausible” excuse, according to the statement.
“These allegations were not shared with the leadership of his congregation because while they were considered serious, they were unsubstantiated innuendo,” the statement read.
Freundel has been suspended from the Rabbinical Council of America. The council also announced that it would put together a council of lay people, rabbis, and mental-health professionals to review the current Geirus conversion process and recommend safeguards that can be implemented to prevent such abuses. Furthermore, every group “assembled under their Geirus Protocol and Standards will appoint a woman (or group of women) to serve as ombudsman to receive any concerns of female candidates to conversion.”
All conversions that Freundel performed prior to his arrest are still valid in the eyes of Jewish law.
Freundel is expected to appear in court again on Nov. 12. Police say they’ve collected evidence to suggest Freundel’s alleged voyeurism is not limited to just the area surrounding the mikveh.
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