As the Barry Freundel scandal broke my sense of moral outrage was kindled as was my sympathy for the victims of his alleged abuse. As soon as the allegations came to light his synagogue, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Beit Din of America acted swiftly and forcefully. Barry Freundel no longer has his job, he is no longer a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and any affiliation he had with the Beit Din has been terminated. Within the course of a few days he went from being one of Modern Orthodox’s great shining lights to persona non grata at best. In addition he will now have to face the full force of the justice system and may end up spending considerable time in jail. This is all as it should be.
But as time goes by I am beginning to sense something sinister at play. People with their own hidden agendas are hijacking this tragic story for their own ends. Anonymous critics of the Rabbinical Council of America are having a field day with their “righteous indignation” against an organization run by good people who care deeply about the Jewish people. We are witnessing people picking up their pen to tar all men and especially Orthodox rabbis with the same brush as Barry Freundel.
One cannot help but be insulted by this portrayal. It is grossly unfair and deeply offensive. So let us be clear. Despite what some in the media would have us believe not all men are driven by incessant and uncontrollable swinish impulses. In fact modern science has debunked many of these nasty misandristic stereotypes.
The behavior that Barry Freundel has been accused of is indicative of a person struggling with a severe disease. This was unhealthy behavior in the extreme. None of the allegations made prior to this would have made one think that he was capable of the type of voyeurism he has been charged with. Even people who know him well and spent a lot of time around him were shocked by the revelations.
This is not the story of a man with a personal failing. None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, we all slip-up and inadvertently hurt others while doing so. But this story goes well beyond that. This is a story of personal and communal tragedy, it is the cautionary tale of what happens when pathologies are left untreated for an extended period of time. This is the saga of an ill man who allowed his illness to fester. Possibly because of his position he felt unable or was unwilling to seek the help he needed. Perhaps he thought he could live with it thinking he would never be caught. Maybe in the depth of his sickness he thought there was some religious basis for doing what he did. Whatever the case may be this was certainly the actions of a diseased mind.
As part of my work as a rabbi I visit prisons, both Federal and State, here is Colorado. Two of the prisons I go to are inhabited mostly by sex offenders. People often ask me how I can sit in the same room and teach Torah to people who have hurt children in the most painful manner possible. My response is simple. In His infinite kindness God did not create me with these challenges. These are sick people and they belong in jail where society is protected from them–but they are people nonetheless, created, I believe, in the image of God.
This episode is painful and there are many victims. But let us not turn the very public display of a prominent rabbi’s illness into an excuse to bring all men, rabbis or storied Jewish institutions into disrepute, doing so is not just unseemly, it is unjust and just plain wrong.