News & Politics

Rabbi Charged With Voyeurism Officially Fired From Georgetown Synagogue

Barry Freundel had been the spiritual leader of Georgetown's Kesher Israel since 1989.

Kesher Israel. Photograph by Flickr user Adam Fagen.

Georgetown’s Kesher Israel synagogue is officially searching for a new spiritual leader after its board of directors fired Rabbi Barry Freundel, who was charged in October with six counts of voyeurism after being accused of placing hidden video cameras in a women’s changing room. The modern Orthodox congregation, which suspended Freundel following his October 14 arrest, made the firing official in a statement on its website Monday.

“Since the day of his arrest, Rabbi Freundel had been suspended from Kesher Israel without pay,” the statement reads. “Based on last week’s action by the Board of Directors, his relationship with Kesher Israel has permanently ended. As he is required to do under his contract, Rabbi Freundel has been asked to vacate the rabbinic residence by January 1, 2015.”

Moving trucks were spotted November 3 outside the O Street, Northwest, home occupied by Freundel, who joined Kesher in 1989, and his family. The house, located a few blocks away from the synagogue, is owned by a family trust connected to Kesher. The synagogue counts many high-profile Jews among its congregants, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former Senator Joe Lieberman, and New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier.

Freundel faces up to six years in prison for allegedly hiding cameras in a women’s locker room at the National Capital Mikvah, a ritual bath used by observant Jews. Since his arrest, other Jewish organizations have distanced themselves from Freundel, including the Rabbinical Council of America, a major Orthodox governing body that investigated Freundel in 2012 in response to complaints that he behaved inappropriately around prospective female converts. Police also found tiny video cameras in Freundel’s office at Towson University, where he was a visiting professor.

The statement released today also notes that Fruendel has been officially tossed from his role as the mikvah’s supervising rabbi.

“The alleged acts leading to this step were a gross violation of law, privacy, halakha,“—Jewish law—”and trust,” the Kesher statement reads. “They breached the high moral and ethical standards we set for ourselves and for our leadership. Our collective heart breaks for the consequences, both seen and unseen, of these alleged acts to all the potential victims and our entire community.”

Freundel was released on his own recognizance following his arraignment and is scheduled to appear in court January 15. The office of US Attorney Ron Machen has set up a website and telephone hotline for people who believe they may be victims of the alleged peeping.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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.