News & Politics

Rabbi Allegedly Filmed Six Women in Synagogue Changing Room, Prosecutors Say

Rabbi Barry Freundel pleaded not guilty to six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

Rabbi Barry Freundel leaves DC Superior Court after pleading not guilty to voyeurism charges. Photograph by Harry Jaffe.

Disheveled and disoriented, Rabbi Barry Freundel walked out of DC Superior Court Wednesday after US marshals unlocked the chains he wore into the basement hearing room for his arraignment hearing on six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

Wearing a buttoned-down blue shirt, jeans, and a yarmulke, Freundel, 62, pleaded not guilty to allegations that he videotaped at least six women in a showering and changing room at Georgetown’s Kesher Israel synagogue using a camera disguised as a clock radio, according to court documents filed Wednesday. He appeared in DC Superior Court today following his arrest yesterday on a misdemeanor voyeurism charge.

Prosecutors say Freundel placed the recording device in the changing room used by women headed into the synagogue’s mikvah, a ritual bath used by observant Jews. In the Orthodox community, female worshipers often participate in the mikvah as a cleansing ritual following menstruation or childbirth. Police found recordings of women undressing or changing from as early as June, according to the court documents.

“This is just the beginning of the investigation,” prosecutor Sharon Marcus-Kurn said during the hearing. “There are serious potential criminal charges here.”

One video dated September 13 shows Freundel manipulating the device with the camera pointed directly at his face, according to a police affidavit. An additional six videos recovered by police show another four women undressing or changing clothes before taking a shower. Freundel is also seen on a video dated October 6, the affidavit reads.

The investigation into the alleged mikvah peeping was quick, according to the charging documents filed in court. A person associated with the mikvah told the Metropolitan Police Department on Sunday that Freundel had been seen plugging in an object that looked like the recording device found this week. Police obtained an emergency warrant Monday evening to retrieve the device and examine its contents.

Freundel was arrested Tuesday morning at his Georgetown home a few blocks away from Kesher Israel in a scene that attracted a large police presence to an normally quiet block. Officers also collected a computer and several hard drives from Freundel’s home, according to eyewitnesses of the arrest.

Kesher Israel’s board of directors suspended Freundel without pay indefinitely, and the synagogue released a statement Tuesday night saying that it has been cooperating with law enforcement.

As the rabbi of Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue that counts many high-profile Jewish Washingtonians among its members, Freundel has been the spiritual leader for individuals including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former senator Joe Lieberman, and New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier. He’s also had teaching appointments at several regional colleges, including Towson University, which also suspended him.

Freundel was released without bond and will next appear in court November 12. While police already seized Freundel’s passport, Judge William Nooter declined Marcus-Kurn’s request that the rabbi be outfitted with a GPS monitor. Freundel was also ordered to stay away from Kesher Israel, as well as from individuals to whom he administered mikvah rites or with whom he counseled on converting to Judaism.

Find Benjamin Freed and Harry Jaffe on Twitter at @brfreed and @harryjaffe.

Charging papers against Rabbi Barry Freundel

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.