News & Politics

Rabbi Charged With Voyeurism Was Investigated by Top Jewish Organization in 2012

Barry Freundel was investigated by his fellow rabbis for allegedly mistreating potential converts.

Rabbi Barry Freundel outside DC Superior Court after he pleaded not guilty to voyeurism charges. Photograph by Harry Jaffe.

The Rabbinical Council of America, a major governing body for the United States Orthodox Jewish community, says in a press release Monday that it investigated Georgetown Rabbi Barry Freundel, who was charged last week with six counts of voyeurism, back in 2012 over accusations that he acted inappropriately with prospective converts. The accusations reviewed by the rabbinical group were not sexual in nature, but they do suggest Freundel’s alleged activities began well before his arrest at his home last Tuesday.

Freundel, who pleaded not guilty to the voyeurism charges, was investigated by his fellow rabbis two years ago after conversion candidates at Kesher Israel complained that he had coerced them to perform clerical work for him and contribute money for the operation of Washington’s beit din, a ritual Jewish tribunal. Freundel headed the group of rabbis overseeing conversions from 2006 to 2013. According to the rabbinical council’s statement, Freundel was also found to be a co-signer for a checking account opened by one of his converts, which triggered an investigation. Freundel avoided punishment in the matter as long as he stopped using conversion candidates for office work and financial donations.

The Rabbinical Council of America looked into Freundel again in summer 2013 after it received a phone call from a person alleging that Freundel shared a sleeper car with a woman who was not his wife on a Chicago-bound train. That investigation was dropped after the organization could not verify the authenticity of the tipster, who claimed he was a railroad worker.

Freundel, who was suspended by Kesher Israel’s board of directors following his arrest, is also suspended from the rabbinical council. But his arrest is rippling through US Orthodox Judaism. The council says that in light of charges that Freundel allegedly placed a hidden camera in a women’s changing room next to Kesher Israel’s mikvah, a ritual bath frequented by prospective converts, every beit din that oversees conversions will appoint a female ombudsman whose name and contact information will be distributed at the beginning of the conversion process.

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.