Was justice served in the 61/2-year sentence Rabbi Barry Freundel received last week? In handing down the sentence, D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Geoffrey Alprin told the former rabbi of Kesher Israel: “You repeatedly and secretly violated the trust your victims had in you, and you abused your power.”
The sentence — about six weeks for each of the 52 women Freundel pleaded guilty to videotaping — was longer than many predicted and well less than the 17 years the prosecution asked for. But it clearly reflected the intensity of the hurt that Freundel caused his many victims. It registered the extent to which Freundel abused his position and power and reflected the judge’s sense of the enormity of the offenses.
In secretly recording women as they were preparing to enter his synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath, Freundel exposed his victims at moments of maximum vulnerability. And although legally his acts were misdemeanors, the crimes struck at the very fabric that ties our entire Jewish community together.
Because he was a rabbi whose authority in Jewish law had been unquestioned, his actions shook the faith of many of those he videotaped, and many others, as well: faith in religion, faith in Judaism, faith in rabbinic leadership, faith that a conversion overseen by Freundel was valid. With the loss of faith came loss of trust: in powerful religious authorities, and that private, vulnerable moments are inviolable.
“I’m sorry, truly sorry,” Freundel said at his sentencing hearing. “I apologize from the depths of my being.”
The long road toward healing, for Freundel’s victims, for the Kesher Israel community and for the rabbi himself will likely outlast his stay behind bars. We pray for meaningful healing for all.