Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in the 3000 block of O Street N.W. by Washington D.C. Metro Police.
Freundel, 62, was charged with voyeurism, according to Officer Hugh Carew, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department.
Freundel, who was suspended without pay from the position he has held since 1989, was to have appeared in Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Wednesday.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by Washington Jewish Week, Freundel allegedly installed a camera or cameras in the shower of a mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, and took pictures of at least six women in June and September 2014. The mikvah is located in a synagogue-owned building next door to the actual synagogue. The mikvah and the synagogue are separate legal entities, according to tax documents.
According to the D.C. criminal code, the crime of voyeurism exists when a person unlawfully maintains a peephole, mirror, or any electronic device for the purpose of secretly or surreptitiously observing an individual who is: using a bathroom, totally or partially undressed or changing, or engaged in sexual activity, without the consent of that individual and in an area where a person would expect privacy.
Voyeurism is graded as a misdemeanor under most circumstances, but the charge can be upgraded to a felony if the defendant distributes the spied upon material.
As a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for voyeurism is imprisonment of no more than one year, or a $2,500 fine, or both. Graded as a felony, the charge carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years in prison and a fine of up to $12,500.
While Freundel has been charged with voyeurism, his mere arrest is not conclusive of his guilt.
To be lawful, an arrest must be supported by probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. The government’s burden of proof to convict Freundel at trial, as with any criminal defendant, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard.
In the wake of the charges against its rabbi, Kesher Israel’s board of directors issued a statement. “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.”
The statement continued, “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.”
The board of directors requested that the synagogue community be granted privacy.
Meanwhile, the synagogue has let its members know that it remains open “as a place of learning, prayer, and community, including throughout the remainder of the Sukkot holiday.”
Tuesday morning, uniformed police and plainclothes officers were seen leading away in handcuffs a man whom neighbors said was Freundel, according to Washingtonian. Police were later seen removing computers and other items, according to the magazine report.
Rabbi Herzl Kranz of the Silver Spring Jewish Center said he was saddened to hear the news. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for all Jews as well,” the rabbi said. He quickly added all the facts must be known before judging his fellow Orthodox rabbi.
The synagogue has retained the Gibson Dunn law firm, the same firm hired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the fallout over closures on the George Washington Bridge that were said to be politically motivated. As of press time, it was not known who represents Freundel.
Rabbi Freundel received his ordination from Yeshiva University. He has served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Maryland, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a consultant to the ethics review board of the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health. He heads the conversion committee at the Rabbinical Council of America and is author of Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity and Why We Pray What We Pray.
In a Sept. 18 article in Washington Jewish Week about the state of the Orthodox movement, Rabbi Freundel is quoted about the leading reasons for divorce. “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place, and the Orthodox community, no matter how traditional, is not immune from this, and it creates terrible problems,” said Freundel. “Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages.
“It’s two keystrokes away. You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue,” the rabbi was quoted as saying.