Individual victims of Rabbi Barry Freundel, who spied on and photographed women at the ritual bath he oversaw when he led Kesher Israel in Georgetown, no doubt have a range of reactions to the proposed settlement of the class-action civil suit that was announced last week.
Kesher Israel and its co-defendants agreed to a $14.25 million settlement, to be paid to the victims by insurance. Each plaintiff will receive a minimum of $25,000. And Kesher Israel; the National Capital Mikvah, as Kesher’s affiliated ritual bath is known; the Beth Din of America, the Orthodox rabbinical court system through which Freundel conducted conversions; and the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella Orthodox rabbis association affiliated with the rabbinic courts, have concluded the case without admitting guilt. The settlement must still receive expected court approval.
The Freundel case, as it has been known since his arrest in 2014, shocked the Jewish community and shook Kesher Israel. That was nothing compared to what was suffered by the targeted women — converts, students and ordinary users of the mikvah — who were subject to the criminal invasion of their privacy by being photographed and recorded unaware, and then having to relive the experience again and again through the painful public examination of Freundel’s perversion.
As in many of these sorts of settlements, one cannot put a dollar figure on the humiliation and feelings of betrayal the women in this case felt. But we commend them and their counsel — as well as Kesher Israel and the other defendants — for hammering out a settlement that finally puts the sordid case, but not its lessons, in the past. Unfortunately, it took Freundel’s misdeeds for our community to come to a reckoning on the protections necessary for women in ritual spaces like mikvahs, but now that legal closure has come, we hope that our community can move forward to the very crucial step of healing.