Throwing the sefer at Rabbi Barry Freundel


Shortly after his arrest, I published an article titled “In the Succah of Barry Freundel,” in which I praised the Kesher Israel Board of Directors for their swift, decisive, and correct handing of Rabbi Freundel’s wrongdoing by informing the DC Police of Rabbi Freundel’s alleged misconduct and thereby causing his arrest. The Torah commandment “Justice, Justice you shall pursue…” comes to mind.

But the vigorous pursuit of justice is not the commentators’ interpretation of that verse. This mitzvah commands Jewish courts to offer unbiased, impartial, and equal trial conditions to unequal litigants. To this end, the victims have been invited to give written and oral impact statements. (The hearing is set before Judge Geoffrey Alprin at 1:00 PM, Friday, May 15 in D.C. Superior Court).  To highlight the obvious, the Judge’s thought process on sentencing will run the gauntlet of as many as 52 individual women’s written and oral victim impact statements. Then he will decide just how much Rabbi Freundel should be punished.

I’ll suggest an outcome many readers may not like: not much.

What is so troubling about Rabbi Freundel’s case is that he was in a position of trust, which he utterly violated. Were he an unknown first-offender peeping tom, spying on strangers in a public venue, it is doubtful he would be subject to sentencing greater than 30 days plus probation — or even just probation and an order to seek mental counseling. In Rabbi Freundel’s case, this violation of trust can and must figure into his sentencing.

So the question is, how are people in similar positions of trust typically sentenced for similar crimes? In 2002, for example, Pamela Diehl-Moore, a 43 year old New Jersey school teacher pled guilty to sex with a 13 year old student — a second degree felony. The prosecution recommended the three year minimum sentence. At sentencing, the judge gave her 5 years’ probation. In 2004, Debra Lafave, a Florida school teacher, was arrested for sexual battery. She faced felony conviction and 15 years in prison for each count. She was sentenced to three years house arrest and seven years of probation. In 2008, Michelle Morano was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to sex with a 17 year old special-education student.

Like Rabbi Freundel, these defendants violated positions of trust. Moreover, they took particular advantage of their victims’ vulnerabilities. Is Rabbi Freundel’s misdemeanor conduct so much more heinous than the felony conduct of these defendants that he deserves such an enhanced sentence? In Michelle Morano’s case, the prosecution requested one year in jail — but the judge declined, saying “there is a difference between justice and vengeance.”

I agree. And applying such a perspective without bias is a Torah commandment.

The Department of Justice has recommended Rabbi Freundel be imprisoned for 17 years for his misdemeanor voyeurism charges. The logic goes like this: if a thief steals a bag of groceries holding 100 items, and the shoplifting statute carries a 6-month maximum, then his sentence should be 100 items x 6 months = 50 years in prison. Each of Rabbi Freundel’s 52 individual charges carry a maximum of 12 months. If there court were to sentence him consecutively rather than concurrently, the court would effectively be treating him as a recidivist (he isn’t — this was his first lifetime first criminal conviction).

The thrust of Jewish justice is rehabilitation, not retribution. I don’t see much rehabilitation being offered at prison. Evidently the court does not view him as a danger to the community; he is currently being allowed to live free in society with no tracking device. Neither he nor his victims will receive better healing if he were indefinitely confined.

Regarding retribution, the Torah Says: “You shall not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:18).” This mitzvah refers to a person like Barry Freundel who genuinely harms, betrays, or otherwise hurts people. G-d tells us that we may not take revenge. Instead we are directed to seek justice.

We as a community, and specifically those victims who have been permitted to advocate in Court regarding sentencing, fulfill the second half of this commandment and pasuk (verse) by seeking divine justice instead of retribution. Justice is an expression of godly love. It is the tough side of godly love, but its source is love, none the less. Retribution’s source is anger, hurt, or one’s own pain.

Throwing rotten fruit is not the only option.

Rabbi Freundel is an outstanding author and educator. Why not permit him to author books or other materials that would help synagogues and other institutions identify, avoid, and handle sex abusers, just as his own halachic advocacy indirectly facilitated his own arrest?            Rebeinu Yonah, on Perkei Avot 1:6 explains, “‘If you see a talmid chacham sinning at night, one should not suspect that he will continue sinning the next day — because he has definitely repented.’ (Berachot 19a)… …[he should not be] viewed as a sinner (rasha). He should be judged favorably.”

Rabbi Freundel’s guilty plea, thereby allowing his accusers to avoid a knock-down-drag-out criminal trial) seems like strong indication that Rabbi Freundel wants to do Teshuva.

As of 2004, average national sentences for murder were 241 months (20 years) with the average time served 147 months (12 years); for rape, the average sentence was 116 months (9.6 years), while the average time served was 79 months (6.6 years).

However betrayed we may feel individually and communally, sentencing a peeping tom with prison time nearly double that given to the average rapist, and nearly equal that of typically given for capital murderer should be viewed as a public lynching, not justice served. It is my prayer on his behalf, and on our community’s behalf, that we are able to shift the focus to his rehabilitation and not to his condemnation.

Rabbi Yaakov Waintroob Roberts resides in Palm Beach Gardens, where he teaches Torah classes on variety of subjects including Jewish law and practice, Zohar and mysticism, and the holidays.

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  1. Interesting. I’m not sure what to make of his case. From my understanding, he observed many women who were converting. Is he guilty of oppressing the convert? And if so, would being lenient on someone hurting converts (who are in a very vulnerable position) give off the image that he should get a slap on the wrist? After all, they’re just converts is what some people may say. Did he observe any married women getting ready to enter the mikvah ? If so, is that an insult against the husband too? Could the husband ask any restitution for a man violating his wife’s nakedness. Next, is the poor image this gives the nations and how they use these poor characters as insults against Judaism. Maybe this is why rabbi Freundel is in this situation. 17 years is excessive. On the other hand, the women you mentioned who got probation were not punished enough. Basically, I am torn. I don’t know is probation is enough for what he did, but then
    seventeen years in prison is excessive. Then again, I was not one of the women he recorded.


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