It has been nearly two years since Rabbi Barry Freundel was charged with secretly videotaping naked women in the National Capital Mikvah, a ritual bath that he oversaw. That set in motion a
series of events that sent shockwaves through the Washington area’s Jewish community.
Although he pleaded guilty to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism and is serving a 6.5 year sentence in the District of Columbia’s jail, lost his jobs, got divorced and apologized — writing “I am sorry, beyond measure, for my heinous behavior and the perverse mindset that provoked my actions,” in Washington Jewish Week online on Sept. 9, 2015 — issues stemming from the case are not resolved.
The discovery of a hidden camera recording women, some of whom were undergoing a key step in their conversion to Judaism under his tutelage, revealed an uncomfortable reality about a man trusted in his many roles, which included as a a rabbi at Kesher Israel in Georgetown and an instructor at Towson University.
Since last year, Freundel has challenged his sentence twice, with his attorney, Jeffrey Harris, appealing the sentence on the grounds that it was illegal and should be no longer than a year. Judge Geoffrey Alprin denied the first appeal. (Freundel was sentenced to 52 consecutive 45-day sentences.)
The second appeal remains pending, said Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. “The Court has heard arguments in the case and no further hearings are scheduled,” he wrote in an email.
Harris did not respond to phone and email messages requesting comment.
Also unaddressed is whether Freundel will be transferred to the federal correctional facility either in Otisville, N.Y., or Miami to serve out the rest of his jail term.
Noting that the D.C. jail typically houses misdemeanor offenders serving smaller sentences, in June, Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin signed an order on behalf of Alprin recommending that Freundel be moved because his sentence exceeds the length of a typical inmate convicted of a misdemeanor, which is generally less than a year.
The order also referred to Freundel’s “desire to continue his observance of Orthodox Judaism and to avail himself of rehabilitation programs” in the federal prison system, as well as the “lack of religious and rehabilitative programs available” at the D.C. jail.
It appears the transfer has not taken place; a prisoner search on the federal Bureau of Prisons website turns up no record for Freundel.
A Kesher Israel congregant who had been visiting Freundel in the D.C. jail told WJW last year that Freundel was allowed to wear tefillin and had just been approved to wear his tzitzit, although he was not permitted to “properly observe Shabbat.”
Prison inmates who wish to continue religious observances, including eating kosher food, may do so under a 2000 law, said Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel, who serves as the executive director of the Aleph Institute’s Northeast Regional headquarters in Pittsburgh. The Aleph Institute is a nonprofit organization that works with needy populations, including prisoners, and provides them with social services.
“The courts have upheld quite clearly that the institutions must provide kosher food,” he said. “Some of the questions have been about what kinds of kosher food. There are no institutions that don’t. Every chaplain wants to do what’s right and accommodate the needs of the inmates.”
Vogel last year told WJW that Freundel would receive kosher food wherever he served his sentence.
Vogel and his volunteers visit Jewish inmates in prisons across the country to advocate for their religious rights. For privacy reasons, Vogel declined to comment specifically on whether anyone from his organization had visited Freundel, but said he could not think of a reason not to visit an inmate.
The Kesher Israel congregant also had noted that Freundel had complained to him of not receiving his prescribed medication for back pain, a heart problem and possible diabetes. The case log on the D.C. courts website notes a “medical alert” from May 15, 2015. A source with the courts said that this generally refers to a “heads up” given by a defendant’s attorney to the D.C. jail that the inmate has an illness, takes medication or needs treatment of some kind. The reason for an alert is confidential.
A $100 million class-action lawsuit arising from the scandal that names Kesher Israel and the National Capital Mikvah, along with national Jewish organizations the Beth Din of America and the Rabbinical Council of America, is proceeding, according to JTA.
Superior Court Judge Brian F. Holeman has scheduled a hearing in that case for June 2017, after the yearlong discovery process concludes.