I follow the Barry Freundel case quite closely, closer than most. I have a dog in the race: I’m a confirmed victim (though the videos he took of me inside the preparation room at the mikveh was recorded outside the statute of limitations). When news broke yesterday of a defense memo I immediately got my hands on an unredacted version. The Washington Post soon published a redacted copy, obscuring the identities of several women who were named by the defense expressing sympathy or confusion about the prominent rabbi’s arrest.
Why did the Washington Post remove their names? They were protecting their privacy, because it wasn’t clear to editors that their remarks were made public with their permission. The section of the defense memo in question is named “Internet Posting (sic) of Women Congregants of Rabbi Freundel.”
The instincts of the editors of the Washington Post were correct. I spoke to four out of the five women named by the defense and they all confirmed they were neither asked or told by the defense that their remarks would be used. The fifth didn’t return my request for comment. All said they had not been contacted by Freundel or his lawyer before their statements, taken from Facebook immediately after the arrest took place and without context, were placed in a sentencing request for leniency by the court. Of the four that returned my request for comment, none of them would have granted consent had they been asked.
Freundel’s lawyers asked for community service, in stark opposition to the prosecution’s request for 17 years incarceration, one-third of the maximum allowed by law for the 52 charges (another 100 videos fall outside of the statute of limitations).
Despite the fact that the section is named “Women Congregants of Rabbi Freundel” one woman quoted by his lawyers was not actually a congregant. She told me: “I don’t live there, I have never attended the synagogue or seen the mikveh there in my life, I don’t know that I have ever seen him in person, I am not a convert. The only connection I have at all is that as I said I was responding to a Facebook post written by a friend who was somewhat affected and was trying to understand his actions. I was reassuring her that there was no fault on her part that she couldn’t make sense of the actions of someone who was evil. “
In Freundel’s defense memo his lawyers discuss many of the positive things the Rabbi has done for individuals to serve as proof that the 152 separate videos made were an aberration in the life of an otherwise upstanding religious leader. These good deeds were part of his job description, though many other congregants are fuming that the hundreds of hours Freundel spent editing and watching these videos prevented his attendance at family events like weddings, funerals, and shivas. One former congregant said, “One of the things which galls me the most and really got to me about the prosecution’s memo was just how much time all of this took. All that time was stolen from Kesher and from the community…There were so, so many cases of smachot and shivas he missed. It was actually kind of a thing: I have had (no exaggeration) dozens of people complain to me about that. I used to try to make some half-hearted excuses, but now that I know what horrible things he was doing with his time, I feel used.”
The fact that even in his defense Freundel is continually violating the privacy of women both inside and outside of his former community is further proof that his request for community service is ill-advised. Nowhere in the document Freundel provided to the court does he do one simple thing: apologize to victims. The author of the document uses the passive voice “his life has been destroyed” instead of simply stating “he destroyed his life.” The destruction of Freundel’s career, reputation and personal relationships didn’t just happen, his actions fueled the fire that brought him crashing down in October. He was arrested immediately following Yom Kippur, where he preached about forgiveness and starting anew on the right foot in the coming year. Weeks later he was arrested doing what he had been doing undetected for years already.
We are told by the defense in this memo that women are safe from Freundel from here on out, that he cannot and will not reoffend. We are also told that he is already back to teaching Torah to students over the phone, as proof positive that he’s moved forward on the right track. If there are students out there willing to learn from someone as deeply flawed, both on a professional and religious level, as Freundel, that is clearly not the case. If there’s any doubt about his rehabilitation thus far, look no further than the very document Freundel filed in his own defense. If he is still willing to violate the privacy of women, both known and unknown to him, by publishing their names and statements out of context for his own gain, what prevents further instances of voyeurism (and worse) across America and Israel?