Like just about everyone, I’ve been shocked and unsettled by the recent revelations (allegations?) about R’ Barry Freundel. (The Washington rabbi has been arrested for voyeurism, after hidden cameras were found in the mikvah next door to his shul.)
But there’s something else that I’m finding shocking: the condemnation.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m horrified at Freundel’s violation and desecration of women’s sacred space (which it truly is). I do not wish to belittle or whitewash the gravity of the trust he’s betrayed. However, I’m a little surprised that everyone, universally, across the range of verbally expressive Jews, has condemned him. And condemned him so strongly and unequivocally, too. I have not read one blog, article or comment which tries to justify what he’s done. Not one attempt at blaming the victims (“She should have noticed that something was odd” “Why didn’t they ask someone about it?” “Didn’t they think it strange that there’s a clock in a mikvah?”). Not one speculation that perhaps he really meant well, or that surely (surely) someone so well-regarded and knowledgeable as Freundel could not have done such a thing. I was braced for these responses, because I have seen them for every other sex abuse case that has entered into the media.
I would like to welcome their absence as a step towards unequivocal condemnation of every sex abuse case that sadly occurs within Orthodox Judaism. I can’t help wondering though if there aren’t other reasons why there is so much condemnation for voyeurism, when it’s been so sorely lacking for other cases. Cases that involved direct sexual contact. Cases that involved children. Cases that involved blackmail and threats. Why is Freundel’s voyeurism so obviously, clearly, patently despicable, when thousands are still convinced that Weberman is a holy innocent? Why is Freundel the object of derision when Moti Alon is still a fountain of Torah? Why is every right-thinking Jew horrified by this when Halperin is still permitted to conduct weddings and brit milah?
I certainly do not believe that Freundel’s is a victimless crime. The women who were filmed were abused by a man they were instructed to trust; the members of his congregation were betrayed by their moral leadership; and all women, everywhere, feel that their sacred space has been violated. This is a serious matter. But I wonder – why is Freundel a condemned man, when others have fared far better, for far worse crimes? When will we see every sex abuser handed directly to the authorities, protected by no one, and an end to all victim blaming? Is the Freundel case just a blip, or is it the beginning of a new response to Jewish sex abuse?