Orthodox Jewish organizations reach $14.25 million settlement with victims of voyeur-rabbi Barry Freundel

Posted August 28th, 2018.

As It Appeared On
Washington Post Watertown

By Michelle Boorstein

Victims of a prominent Orthodox rabbi who spied for years on women in a ritual bath in Washington, D.C., have reached a $14.25 million settlement with four Jewish organizations, the rabbi’s former synagogue announced Tuesday.

The settlement, which must be approved by a judge, could close a legal chapter in the scandal that rocked the Orthodox Jewish community regionally and nationally, because of the prominence of Bernard “Barry” Freundel and victims’ allegations that national Orthodox rabbinical bodies could have done more. The Jewish groups named in the lawsuit were: Kesher Israel Congregation, the National Capital Mikvah, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Beth Din of the United States of America.

Freundel placed a hidden camera in the changing room of a mikvah, a ritual bath Jews use for various purposes, including as part of the conversion process. Many of the victims were conversion students of Freundel, who had a reputation as one of the most stringent and impeccable rabbis for conversion in the modern Orthodox movement, a more liberal segment of Orthodox Judaism.

The scandal sent Freundel to prison and left the Orthodox community reeling over converts’ allegation that they are often treated disrespectfully in the community — which they said allowed Freundel to exploit his power over them.

According to a news release Tuesday from Kesher Israel, the Georgetown synagogue that Freundel led, a class action lawsuit had sought $100 million. Class members include over 150 women who were confirmed to have been videotaped, as well as an undetermined number of other women who disrobed or partially disrobed in the mikvah between July 1, 2005, and October 14, 2014 but were not confirmed videotaped. The release said some of the Jewish organizations had sought to dismiss the cases, arguing that they had “no prior knowledge of Freundel’s illegal actions” and were not at fault, and that after the Jewish groups sought to dismiss the case, the victims entered into settlement discussions.

The settlement sum is to be paid by the insurance company for the defendants, Travelers Companies, Inc.

Alexandra Harwin, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp, which represents the class action, said the victims were “very happy” with the settlement. “One of the things that is very appealing to the class members is that payments are easy to access and don’t require an intrusive inquiry,” she said. “What this settlement does is provide substantial and prompt recovery for class members instead of the delays and risks of protracted litigation.”

In addition, Harwin said, it was not clear that the defendants’ insurance policy would have covered the $100 million they had sought.

In a statement Tuesday, Kesher’s president, Andrew Cooper, said, “Although Kesher is confident that it would have been found without fault if the case were litigated to final judgment, Kesher believes that resolving the case at this time is in its best interests, as well as the best interests of the Kesher community and Freundel’s victims. The settlement would enable the parties to avoid the further burdens of litigation, and would allow Kesher to continue its focus on serving the needs of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., without the distraction of the lawsuits.”

Kesher and the National Mikvah — located adjacent to the synagogue — argued in the release that they were the ones who brought to light Freundel’s crimes. A woman cleaning the mikvah discovered the camera in 2014.

In the settlement, different classes of victims will get different payments, including $25,000 for women who federal prosecutors confirmed had been videotaped, and $2,500 for women who took off their clothes in the mikvah “one or more times” between 2005 and 2014 “and suffered actual emotional distress after learning of Freundel’s videotaping.”

Freundel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, said Tuesday that although his client was not a defendant in the class action lawsuit he was glad the three-year-old suit is near competition. “It’s been a long negotiation. I’m glad this is finally going to put this matter to rest,” he said.

A hearing is scheduled in D.C. Superior Court on Sept. 7, when Judge Brian Holeman who is overseeing the lawsuit, will decide if the settlement is fair and equitable.

In 2015, Freundel was sentenced to six and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to videotaping 52 women without their knowledge. Harris said Freundel remains housed in D.C. jail and is expected to be released in 2020.

An earlier version of this story misreported the settlement amount.

Tara Bahrampour and Keith Alexander contributed to this report.

Share this News Article

Back to Top