D.C. rabbi pleads guilty to secretly videotaping women
Barry Freundel, a once-influential D.C. rabbi, admitted in court Thursday that he had secretly videotaped dozens of nude women as they prepared for a ritual bath, ending a painful chapter for his synagogue and the Modern Orthodox world that has been badly shaken by his abrupt, scandalous fall.
In a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, Freundel pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism — one for each woman prosecutors identified as having been taped within the past three years. The longtime rabbi had recorded about 100 additional women, prosecutors said, but those alleged crimes occurred outside the statute of limitations.
Dozens of men and women crowded into the courtroom to hear the proceeding in the case, which some say revealed problems with the status of women and converts within Orthodoxy.
Emma Shulevitz, 27, of Rockville, one of the victims, was not able to attend because she recently had a baby. But reached after the hearing, Shulevitz said she was “satisfied” with Freundel’s guilty plea, though she still had many questions.
“I want to know why he did this,” said Shulevitz, whose husband went to the proceedings. “He has to explain himself. Maybe jail time is appropriate, but I wouldn’t say more than two or three years.”
Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of one year, and the agreement with prosecutors does not call for a specific punishment. Freundel is set to be sentenced May 15.
Freundel had for 25 years led Kesher Israel, one of the D.C. region’s most prominent Orthodox synagogues and spiritual home to well-known figures including former senator Joseph I. Lieberman, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Leon Wieseltier, who had been literary editor of the New Republic.
The rabbi was also a major figure in the bigger world of Orthodox conversions and was known among the Israeli rabbinate as a go-between in the sensitive realm of whom Israel considers legitimately Jewish.
Freundel, 63, was arrested in October on charges that he videotaped six women in the nude while he was at Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown. But prosecutors said a review of his computer equipment revealed that more women had been recorded by Freundel as they prepared for the bath known as a mikvah.