A national Orthodox rabbinic association recently investigated allegations of impropriety made against the rabbi accused of videotaping women at his mikvah, the Forward has learned.
Rabbi Barry Freundel, spiritual leader of the Washington, D.C. congregation Kesher Israel, will be charged with voyeurism after a witness allegedly saw him installing a hidden camera above a shower stall at his synagogue’s mikvah.
The president of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, confirmed that the RCA received allegations over the summer of “ethical issues that came up regarding an issue with a woman.” The allegations were investigated, but no action was taken.
The RCA suspended Freundel’s membership on October 15, after his arrest.
A person who works in the travel industry told the Forward that they had informed the RCA earlier this year that Freundel, who is married, made reservations to stay overnight in a hotel with a woman converting to Judaism who was not his wife. The person declined to be identified, citing confidentiality rules.
Matanky said that the RCA questioned Freundel about the allegations. The person who brought the charges was unwilling to provide supporting evidence for legal reasons.
“There were conversations with Rabbi Freundel on this matter. Those who were involved with the conversations were satisfied with the explanation and no further action was taken,” Matanky said. “We were in a position where, unfortunately, the accusation was made without the ability to have supporting evidence and supporting documentation, so we did the best we could.”
The person who brought the allegations to the RCA also approached the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, a local rabbinic body. Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum, the president of the Rabbinical Council, told the Forward in an email that a person had approached the council “with a concern about Rabbi Freundel’s behavior, which if true would be improper under Jewish law and conduct unbecoming a rabbi or communal leader but not illegal or connected in any way with voyeurism.”
Rosenbaum wrote that the accuser “would not permit us to share the details of the accusation with Rabbi Freundel.” As such, Rosenbaum said the group could discuss the allegations with Freundel only “in a limited matter.” He denied the allegations.
“Without further cooperation from this individual, we were not able to pursue the matter further,” Rosenbaum wrote.
Neither the RCA nor the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington contacted the board of Kesher Israel about the allegations, according to a member of the synagogue close to the situation who declined to be identified due to privacy concerns.
Matanky also said that unrelated accusations were made against Freundel “a number of years ago” related to the administration of conversions. Matanky declined to describe those allegations, citing confidentialities related to the conversion process. He said the allegations were not sexual in nature.
“There was nothing illegal or criminal in the activities, and at the time, we did look into it, there were conversations, there were discussions regarding that,” Matanky said.
“It wasn’t that a person’s conversion was done wrong, it was regarding the administration of conversion, not the halacha.”
That investigation was conducted by the RCA in conjunction with the Beth-Din of America, the RCA’s rabbinic court.
Freundel is a member of the executive committee of the RCA. He previously chaired a powerful committee within the organization that rewrote standards for conversions conducted by Modern Orthodox rabbis.
Matanky described the current criminal allegations against Freundel as deeply troubling. “The RCA is devastated with the possibility that one of our members, a current member of the executive, a former [chair of the conversion committee], has been accused, and may have violated the sanctity of innocent women,” Matanky said. “Our hearts go out to any victim, and we will do our utmost to be supportive of these women, of anyone.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.