Barry Freundel, the former rabbi of Georgetown’s Kesher Israel synagogue who pleaded guilty last year to secretly filming a women’s changing room at a ritual Jewish bath, was back in court Tuesday appealing his jail sentence. Freundel argued in DC’s Court of Appeals that the six-and-a-half year sentence he received last year on a slew of voyeurism charges was illegal and should be reduced to less than a year.
Freundel was sentenced in May 2015 on 52 counts, one each for the 52 women he admitted to videotaping without their permission before and after they prepared for the mikvah, a dunk in a bath that Orthodox Jewish women use for ritual cleansing and conversion. Freundel argued that the judge should have sentenced him for a single count of voyeurism, which would carry a one-year jail term.
Freundel’s lawyers made the same argument last May before DC Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin, who heard the case and delivered the sentence. Alprin denied the motion to reduce the sentence. Freundel appealed.
The rabbi’s downfall, which will continue into next year as his victims pursue a civil case against him, has shattered DC’s Orthodox Jewish community. From humble origins in Brooklyn, Freundel, 65, became an authority in modern orthodoxy and rabbi to Kesher Israel, one of the most prominent synagogues in the District. He taught at Georgetown and Towson Universities, advised the White House on spiritual matters and became the country’s chief authority on Orthodox conversion.
Colleagues at Kesher Israel, in Georgetown, discovered Freundel’s secret taping device and alerted DC police, who arrested the rabbi in October 2014.
Freundel has been serving out his sentence in DC Jail, though the court has recommended he be transferred to a federal facility.
Recent action in the civil case spells trouble for Freundel, Kesher Israel, and Georgetown University. Earlier this month a DC Superior Court judge affirmed the class-action suit by as many as 100 women who charge that Freundel taped them while they were preparing for a private and sacred ritual. A Georgetown University student is charging the school with negligence for allowing Freundel to continue teaching while turning a “blind eye to obvious signs of Freundel’s increasingly bizarre and obviously improper behavior.”
Kesher and Georgetown moved to have the case dismissed and tried to move it to federal court. Both legal maneuvers failed, and the case is headed for trial in early 2017.
The appeals court will likely take several weeks to months to issue its ruling on Freundel’s attempt to reduce his sentence.