My Washington D.C. community has been engaged in impassioned debates over how severe a punishment Rabbi Barry Freundel deserves for spying on women in the mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), since prosecutors recommended he be sent to prison for 17 years for 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.
The first time I ever opened a Gemara, I was at Drisha, in the Beit Midrash generously endowed by Belda and Marcel Lindenbaum. At that time, a year after graduating college, I had not yet met Belda and Marcel, nor did yet I have any awareness of the fact that some would consider what I was doing revolutionary. I grew up in a community where Talmud learning was theoretically available to people regardless of gender, but other than the rabbis I knew, nobody really learned Talmud. So when I entered the Modern Orthodox world, I had no idea that my studies could be considered revolutionary. The fact that I was able to remain ignorant of that fact while embarking on my immersion in the sea of Jewish text was, in large part, thanks to Belda.
In the 48 hours since I heard of the passing of Belda Lindenbaum — pioneer of Orthodox feminism and of advanced Torah study for women — my Facebook feed has filled with tributes to her, and I can’t stop reading and re-reading them. Each poster — many of them alumnae of schools guided by Belda’s vision and support, such as Midreshet Lindenbaum, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, and Yeshivat Maharat — chose his or her own way to express Belda’s far-reaching impact but a few sentiments seem unanimous. We can’t imagine what our Jewish communities or our personal life paths would look like were it not for Belda’s leadership. And Belda’s generosity of character was as meaningful to us as her material generosity.
Belda Lindenbaum, the co-founder of the Midreshet Lindenbaum women’s seminary program in Israel combining religious studies and army service, and other programs to advance Orthodox women, has died.
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.