The news of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel in Washington, DC arrested for voyeurism is a shock to the Modern Orthodox world. As one of the leading rabbis for Modern Orthodoxy, being on the board of the Rabbinical Council of America, and having an expertise in Jewish subjects such as the eruv, it is a Chilul Hashem what took place installing hidden cameras into the mikveh, which is a part of the synagogue. However, the focus of this event should not be a leading rabbi committing this outrageous act nor this occurrence being an embarrassment to the Jewish community. Rather, it should be the course of action that was taken in response.
According to a statement on Kesher Israel’s website: “Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials. Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.” As someone who attends Kesher Israel, located in the Georgetown neighborhood, this course of action is not surprising. The president of the synagogue’s Board of Directors is someone I somewhat know (wishing “Good Shabbos” to her at Kiddush at every early minyan) and would have no tolerance for this and neither would the other members of the board of directors, consisting of a serious group of people.
I saw on Facebook the following post: An inference that “the Board of Directors TURNED IN THEIR OWN RABBI to the police.” The post continues to read:
“They did not ignore the problem hoping it would go away.
They did not just tell him to get therapy and hope the problem would go away.
They did not quietly allow him to resign, hoping he wouldn’t take a position at some other synagogue.
They did not protect him under a veil of secrecy.
They did not even turn the matter to a Bet Din, who may also have protected him under a veil of secrecy.
They DID protect their congregants.
They DID take action to ensure that this man could never secretly film women, anywhere, ever again.
They DID do those things even though it must have been heart-wrenching for them.
They DO care about their congregants’ safety, dignity, and right to privacy more than they care about the synagogue’s reputation or the reputation of Orthodox Judaism – as it should be.”
There should be hope in the Modern Orthodox community. Yes, it has its highs and lows, but the course of action that was taken by the synagogue’s Board of Directors should be an example of how to act when a major problem strikes the community. There should be no tolerance for despicable behavior that threatens or harms individuals. No one is above the law or halacha under any circumstances. Silence is not the answer when dealing with disorderly conduct.
In the statement it reads, “At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.”
That is the way not just Kesher Israel moves forward, but how the Modern Orthodox community should handle such challenges moving forward.