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Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Voyeuristic rabbi embarrasses Orthodox Judaism

Barry Freundel, a prominent member of the RCA, was arrested and charged with installing a hidden camera in the mikveh he ran for female converts:
Last week, a prominent Georgetown rabbi arrested for voyeurism was released on his own recognizance. This week, the council of rabbis that he was a part of has suspended his membership and released a statement.

Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel is accused of setting up a camera in the women's showers for Mikvah, a sacred and traditional bath women of the Jewish faith take, at Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel. Police say he recorded women on June 2 and September 13. They say he also appears on tape setting up the device. [...]

RCA also announced that Rabbi Freundel's membership was suspended from the RCA and its Executive Committee, "and together with the Beth Din of America from all activities related to conversion." RCA officials, however, say that

"...the Beth Din of America has concluded as a matter of Jewish law that conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel prior to his arrest on October 14, 2014 remain halachically valid and prior converts remain Jewish in all respects."
But what if some converts feel they should run the process again, not wanting to consider Freundel's work something they feel comfy under? I'm sure some will feel that way, so the RCA should be willing to let them undergo the processes another time.

Ron Torossian's written about the soul-searching and serious improvements now required of the Orthodox sect:
The arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel congregation in Washington, DC, is an event which should prompt soul-searching in the Orthodox Jewish community. The accusations, that he installed a video camera in a mikvah, and as The Jewish Channel alleges, that he asked converts to Judaism to do a “practice dunk” in the mikvah are heinous if they are found to be true. Time – and the courts – will determine if indeed he is guilty – although the court of public opinion has already decided.
And there was a witness who found him setting up the camera device at one point. What he did was shameful. And the biggest problem here is the exclusively male management at RCA:
In the simplest of terms, the RCA yields too much power. As Rabbi Avi Weiss indicated some months ago, “.. power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The RCA has “established a system where only a select, relatively few rabbis are permitted to sit on conversion courts, undermining the authority of local community rabbis, and placing unnecessary stumbling blocks before serious potential converts.”

As a former press representative for RCA, and a current board member of Yeshivat Maharat, the Orthodox women’s yeshiva, I believe this unfortunate incident should serve as a wake-up call for all Jews to recognize that changes are necessary to best serve the community. Amongst the changes needed is a move towards a more open form of Orthodoxy – less coercion and more ahavat Israel.

Given the particulars of this situation, perhaps a start can come with a heightened role for orthodox Jewish women leaders.

Women should not be pushed to the back of the bus, literally or physically, as at times the all-male leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) seems to believe. As The Jewish Channel has reported, Freundel maintained what many rabbis described as “great power” over both the conversion process broadly, and many thousands of individual converts and candidates for conversion specifically. Whether these charges are true or not, how many women – and people will now be turned off to Orthodox Judaism.

Were not Sarah, Miriam, Deborah and other women ordained prophets in the Torah? Since when is leadership or moral authority exclusive to men? Where is it that the word of God says the authority of Torah is exclusive to men?

Within Orthodoxy and those who follow “taharas hamishpacha” (“family purity” laws), does anyone genuinely believe that a male rabbi is a more appropriate person to handle female issues than another female?

There are very complicated halachic rules for woman, and they are very personal.

Perhaps, in fact, even more women would become observant and indeed follow family purity laws if a woman helped them along. If many women prefer to use female gynecologists, there is a clear need as well for women who can provide counsel on halachic matters.

Men alone should not make decisions about what women should do and with whom they should consult about Jewish law. Many women would find it easier to approach a female “maharat” about personal issues than they would a male rabbi.
So how is it that for many years, this male dominance has been allowed to continue without comment or argument about whether women should be allowed addition to management? Following this, they've decided they will give a proper position to women who can manage the mikvehs for female converts. But until now, there had been a serious abuse of power:
The arrest took place after a woman using the mikveh noticed a red light in the clock radio and alerted some synagogue board members. The board alerted authorities and the rabbi was arrested Oct. 14. He is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 12 for a status hearing.

In a series of interviews, rabbis, communal leaders and women active in the Orthodox community, including converts, mentioned concerns about the abuse of power by men in control of women’s ritual observance. Virtually all saw the scandal as an opportunity to advance the cause of women in terms of rituals and practice.

“Bottom line, we women are excluded from making decisions in Orthodox Jewish life,” asserted one prominent Orthodox educator, who asked not to be named due to her professional ties in the community. “On every level — rabbinic, lay, philanthropic, etc. And that creates a feeling of alienation.”

Acknowledging the anger in the community, the RCA responded with unusual speed in announcing this week a policy for all of its dozen or so Beit Dins, or religious courts, in the U.S. to “appoint a woman (or group of women) to serve as ombudsman to receive any concerns of female candidates to conversion.”

In addition, the RCA will appoint “a commission made up of rabbis, lay leaders and mental health professionals (including men and women)” to review the organization’s current conversion process “and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.”

Several women interviewed expressed appreciation for those steps, but even leaders of the RCA noted that additional change is needed.
I fully agree. There needs to be appointments for female rabbis or some kind of religious service that women can look up to in Orthodoxy. For now, they better come to terms with how Freundel's acts may have done considerable damage to everyone's perception of Orthodoxy, and it could take a long time to repair.

Here's an opinion on the case from another rabbi, Gerald Skolnik.

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