WASHINGTON (RNS) The Modern Orthodox synagogue that Rabbi Barry Freundel presided over for 25 years has fired him after he was charged with spying on naked women as they prepared for a ritual Jewish bath.
He and his family have also been asked to leave the synagogue residence, in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, by Jan. 1.
Announcing Freundel’s termination in a statement, the board of directors of Kesher Israel — the synagogue where Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman worship — called his alleged acts “a gross violation of law, privacy, halakha (Jewish law), and trust.”
“Our collective heart breaks for the consequences, both seen and unseen, of these alleged acts to all the potential victims and our entire community,” the statement continued.
Freundel, who awaits trial in the District of Columbia on six counts of voyeurism, is known as a great scholar, though not a socially adroit rabbi. After his arrest on Oct. 14, Kesher Israel suspended him without pay, as did the Rabbinical Council of America and other Orthodox institutions where Freundel held leadership positions.
Freundel pleaded not guilty to all charges, which are misdemeanors.
Prosecutors allege Freundel set up a camera near the shower used to prepare for immersion in the synagogue’s mikvah, which is used for conversions and once a month by observant married Jewish women.
Federal defense attorney David Benowitz, who is not involved in the case, said it was likely that Freundel will face jail time.
“If this was a single event with one potential victim then it might get resolved with probation,” he said. Given the number of potential victims, he said, it’s hard to see Freundel escaping a prison sentence if the charges turn out to be valid.