The leading Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says that it knew in 2012 that Rabbi Barry Freundel acted inappropriately in his role overseeing conversions, but that it chose not to bar him from working with converts and did not inform his synagogue.
Freundel pled not guilty on October 15 to charges that he secretly recorded six women showering at the mikvah at his synagogue.
The Rabbinical Council of America said in an October 20 press release that it disovered in 2012 that Freundel had coerced conversion candidates to do clerical work at his home and make financial donations to his rabbinic court. He was also found to share a checking account with a conversion candidate.
Freundel at the time was the rabbi of Kesher Israel, a leading Washington, D.C. synagogue, and the head of the Washington, D.C. rabbinical court that oversaw conversions.
“[Freundel] made assurances that these behaviors would discontinue,” the RCA said in its statement. “A committee of rabbis and lay leaders determined that while Rabbi Freundel’s actions were inappropriate (and were a violation of his position) they did not rise to a level that required him to be suspended from the RCA or to be removed from his work with converts, as long as they did not continue.”
Two years later, now that Freundel faces criminal charges, the organization says that it’s taking action.
The RCA has suspended Freundel, who until his arrest was on the organizations executive committee. On October 20, the RCA announced that all rabbinical courts under their auspices performing conversions will “appoint a woman (or group of women) to serve as ombudsman to receive the concerns of female candidates to conversion.”
The RCA does not permit female members, and women do not serve on Modern Orthodox rabbinical courts.
The group also said that it will appoint a new commission to review current conversion procedures and “suggest safeguards against possible abuses.” It said that the commission will include male and female members.
Freundel was a member of the RCA’s executive committee and, from 2006 through 2011, chairman of an RCA committee that wrote new conversion policies.
Following Freundel’s arrest, the Forward and other outlets reported on earlier undisclosed allegations of impropriety made against Freundel relating to conversions. The Washington Post reported that one convert to Judaism claimed that Freundel had told her she could take “practice dunks” in the mikveh.
The RCA also said that the rabbis on its rabbinical court had determined that all conversions performed by Freundel remained valid.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.