Barry Freundel

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Bernard "Barry" Freundel was the rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. from 1989 until 2014. He was also vice-president of the Vaad (Rabbinical Council) of Greater Washington until its board removed him from the position, also as a result of his arrest. Freundel was regarded as an authority in several areas of Halakha (Jewish law), including eruvim, and has assisted in the construction of eruvim in a number of cities, including Washington.

On October 14, 2014, Freundel was arrested and charged with voyeurism. Kesher Israel suspended him without pay after his arrest[1] and, on November 30, notified the congregants that he had been fired.[2] He was also suspended without pay from his position as associate professor at Towson University, which then conducted its own administrative review of Freundel's conduct with students. [3] The Rabbinical Council of America's president, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, announced that the Council investigated allegations earlier in 2014 about “ethical issues that came up regarding an issue with a woman,” but no action was taken at that time. Following Freundel's arrest, the RCA suspended his membership.[4]


Freundel earned his B.S. degree at Yeshiva College with a double major in chemistry and physics, along with a concurrent B.S. from the Erna Michael College of Hebraic Studies. He earned an M.S. in Talmudic studies from the Bernard Revel Graduate School along with his Semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), part of Yeshiva University. He earned his Ph.D. at the Baltimore Hebrew University.

Before coming to Kesher Israel, Freundel had pulpits in Great Neck, NY, Mt. Vernon, NY and Norwalk, CT[5]

Until his suspension, Freundel served as assistant professor of rabbinics at Baltimore Hebrew University, where he was the rabbinic studies graduate program adviser, and as associate professor at Towson University. He had served as an adjunct at other universities in the past, including the University of Maryland, College Park and Georgetown University[6]

As a writer and lecturer, Freundel addressed topics ranging from environmentalism to Jewish medical ethics. He had served as a visiting scholar at Princeton, Yale and Cornell and guest lecturer at Columbia and the University of Chicago, among others. He was also an adjunct professor at several universities. Due to his congregation's proximity to Georgetown University, he had taught at and visited that institution with particular frequency. Similarly, his proximity to Capitol Hill had facilitated his participation in governmental affairs as a consultant and commentator.

Freundel served as consultant to the Ethics Review Board of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health and consultant to the United States Presidential Commission on Cloning (May 1997).

In the past, he had served as pre-rabbinics advisor and assistant director of synagogue services at Yeshiva University (August 1986 - June 1989), as a member of Yeshiva University's Rabbinic Alumni Association Executive Committee and was a vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Freundel appeared on the episode of Da Ali G Show entitled "War."



Freundel believes that according to the Halakha, abortion is only permitted when a woman is in "hard travail" and her life is in danger. This is a very limiting position, Freundel pointed out, since there must be serious danger to the mother. This does, however, also include cases where there is significant psychological trauma, wherein continuing the pregnancy could inflict significant or mortal harm to the mother in that fashion (such as a rape victim who becomes suicidal). Freundel believes that there is no way, under Jewish law, to allow partial-birth abortion, since once the head has emerged, the baby is considered to be born.[7]


Freundel sees two issues with cloning from a Halakhic perspective. The first is whether cloning is allowed, and the second is whether a clone would be considered a human being.

He does not view cloning as being prohibited by Halakha, and even sees "becoming a partner with God in the works of creation" as a noble goal.[8] He does however support regulation, and at a hearing urged the United States Congress not to prohibit human cloning, but rather to regulate it. He argued that human knowledge and technology are inherently neutral, and it's what's done with them that is important.[9]

"Human beings do the best that they can. If our best cost/benefit analysis says go ahead, we go ahead. ‘God protects the simple’ is a Talmudic principle that allows us to assume that when we do our best God will take care of what we could not foresee or anticipate. If things do not work out, the theological question is God's to answer; not ours."[10]

Freundel strongly maintains that a clone would be considered a human being under Jewish law.[11]


Freundel published Homosexuality and Judaism in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. In it he argued that there is no category for "homosexual" in Halakha. A homosexual then is no different from any other Jew who has committed a sin. Since Freundel views homosexuality as an activity rather than a state of being, he advocates the kiruv approach - trying to make a less observant Jew more observant by following Halakha.

"Judaism rejects the suggestions that homosexuality is either a form of mental illness or an "acceptable alternate lifestyle." Judaism's positions would be a third and as yet unconsidered option. Homosexuality is an activity entered into volitionally by individuals, who may be psychologically healthy, which is maladaptive and inappropriate."[12]

Voyeurism charges and controversy[edit]

On October 14, 2014, Freundel was arrested[13] and charged with six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.[14] Police took him from his home in handcuffs and, pursuant to a search warrant,[15] removed computers and other items from his house.[16] A witness said that the rabbi had a hidden camera in the women's mikvah (ritual bath) used for ritual cleansing adjacent to Kesher Israel in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood.[17] A police report alleged that Freundel was observed hiding a camera in a clock above a shower at the mikvah, and that he claimed when discovered that he was repairing the ventilation.[18] Freundel pleaded not guilty to six counts of voyeurism, a misdemeanor,[19] and was released on his own recognizance under condition that he stay away from and have no contact with the synagogue and the mikvah[20]

More details are emerging about Freundel's treatment of converts, and Dr. Elana Sztokman, Orthodox feminist scholar and past president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, notes that they indicate that Freundel may have been abusing female converts in a variety of ways not limited to voyeurism.[21]

On October 20, 2014, the RCA issued a press release announcing they discovered in 2012 that Freundel had coerced conversion candidates into performing clerical work at his home and contributing money to his rabbinic court. The RCA also determined that he shared a checking account with a conversion candidate. At the time the RCA did not view these activities as rising to the level that would require Freundel's suspension, but now that he had been arrested, the RCA announced it was taking action.[22]

According to a search warrant[23] obtained by The Washington Post, Freundel may not have only set up spying and recording devices at his synagogue and at the mikvah, but also at Towson University, where he had been an associate professor. [24]

On November 12, 2014, district prosecutors told a D.C. Superior Court judge they needed more time to investigate and determine if there have been more victims of the alleged voyeurism. The court was informed that a web site is being created in order to reach any other victims who may have been affected. If convicted of the current charges, Freundel could face up to six years in prison.[25]

Ironically, some seven weeks before his arrest, Freundel wrote in a published article that " Modern Orthodoxy is not doing very well, because people are not living by its guiding principles. Even those who identify with the movement do not view the world through fealty to halakhah followed by modern modification.[26]

A student at Georgetown University Law Center has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Freundel's synagogue, Georgetown University and the National Capital Mikvah. The unnamed student seeks class action status and claims that the defendants turned a blind eye and failed in their responsibility to protect students from the rabbi, whose behavior she claims was becoming ever more bizarre, and who she claims was mistreating women subjected to his authority.[27]


Freundel is the author of two books:


  1. ^ Hermann, Peter; Boorstein, Michelle (14 October 2014). "Barry Freundel, Georgetown rabbi, is arrested on voyeurism charge". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Pollak, Suzanne (30 November 2014). "Kesher Israel fires Rabbi Freundel". Washington Jewish Week. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
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  6. ^ "Profile Barry Freundel - Georgetown Law". Georgetown University Law. Archived from the original on 2014-07-03. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  7. ^ NRLC 2000 Most Abortions Forbidden by Jewish Law
  8. ^ as a noble goal. Freundel, Barry, Contemporary Orthodox Judaism's Response to Modernity, Ktav publishers, Feb 2003.
  9. ^ Congressional hearing, February 12, 1998
  10. ^ Cloning Human Beings, Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, June 1997.
  11. ^ The Ethics Of Human Cloning
  12. ^ Homosexuality and Judaism, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Volume XI - 1986.
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  27. ^ Hermann, Peter (December 2, 2014). "Lawsuit filed in Georgetown rabbi case; synagogue severs relations with leader". The Washington Post.