No Alibi for the Rabbi

How many of us have been betrayed by someone we trusted, a betrayal so unexpected that it knocks you off balance. Most people have experienced some sort of betrayal. Common themes include a spouse having an affair or a trusted friend revealing a secret.

But, what if the one you trust, the one that betrays that trust, is a person of authority. It could be a boss, a teacher, a civil servant, a banker, someone you trust because he or she holds a position where trust is intrinsic to the profession. Is this a bigger betrayal? Do you think that this sort of betrayal is more vile, due to the position they hold in the community?

Try to imagine how the victims of a one Rabbi Barry Freundel felt after he betrayed their trust.

The Crime

Rabbi Barry Freundel is a 62-year-old rabbi who, until recently, was associated with Kesher Israel, the prominent Washington Orthodox synagogue he led for some 25 years. He was renowned in the religious community as an authority on Jewish law and ethics. He was also considered an intellectual giant.

And yet, this Rabbi was arrested in October 2014 after police seized two clock radios equipped with hidden cameras, linked to a motion detector. One of these devices was found in his home office and the other one was found in the shower area of a mikvah, a ritual bath used by women who are converting to Judaism and by Jewish women as a way of becoming closer to God.

An affidavit stated that police believe the rabbi had been engaging in the criminal act of voyeurism in several locations, with the use of several devices, over a period of time. Other items removed from his home included, six external hard drives, seven laptop computers, five desktop computers, three cameras, 20 memory cards and 10 flash drives.

Not surprisingly, Freundel pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

Besides the betrayal that his victims have experienced, the community as a whole has been betrayed as well. A former member of the Kesher Israel Synagogue voiced his anger, “One of the things which galls me the most and really got to me about the prosecution’s memo was just how much time all of this took. All that time was stolen from Kesher and from the community. There were so many cases of smachot (celebrations) and shivas (funeral wakes) he missed. I have had dozens of people complain to me about that. I used to make some half-hearted excuses, but now that I know what horrible things he was doing with his time, I feel used.”

The Trial

Several dozen recordings of the 152 women who were positively identified fell outside of the criminal statute of limitations. Many women who could have testified against Fruendel, chose not to press charges for reasons of privacy.  In the end, only 52 women took the stand and told their stories—stories of how their lives had changed for the worse.

No charges were pursued for unauthorized and unlawful use of the mikvah, nor in connection with his transport of the illicit recordings across state lines.

A week before the sentencing, prosecutors submitted a 25-page memorandum to Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin. In that memo they requested a prison term of 17 years. This is the equivilent of only four months for each of the 52 counts included in the indictment. 

In the 12-page response, Freundel’s defense attorney asked that his client be spared prison time, stating “He has already been punished, in that he has lost his employment as a rabbi, and is never likely to be so employed again. He has been publicly humiliated and his prior reputation as a Judaic scholar, teacher, and counselor have been destroyed.”

The Punishment

The courtroom was packed on the day of sentencing. The silence was so thick that when the judge began to speak it was a like a knife in the heart.

The former Rabbi stood next to his Defense Attorney as Judge Alprin read the sentence. “Six-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of $13,000.”

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