Victims of Voyeur Rabbi Reach $14.25M Settlement in Mikveh Case

Posted August 31st, 2018.

As It Appeared On
Jewish Voice

Author: Preston James

The many victims of the voyeuristic Rabbi Bernard “Barry” Freundel of Washington, DC have finally reached a settlement in the amount of $14.25 million with four Jewish organizations. Having lingered for years in the courts, the settlement signifies closure in an ugly scandal that has shaken the Orthodox Jewish community to its core.

In May of 2015, a D.C. Superior Court judge handed down a six and a half year prison term after Freundel pled guilty to secretly videotaping 52 women as they prepared to submerge in the mikvah, a ritual bath, without their knowledge.

According to a WaPo report of 2015, hundreds of those who studied or worshiped with Freundel had stopped going to the mikvah, a ritual that is considered so important in Judaism that women are commanded to use it monthly before sharing any physical intimacy with their husbands.

In addition to women who use the mikvah on a monthly basis, the ritual bath is also mandated for those converting to Judaism. The report indicated that those who Freundel had converted are now “terrified that their status as Jews will forever be in question in their law-focused communities. Some people have stopped going to synagogue. Others suffer nightmares in which they are spied upon — and feel complicit.”

Freundel carried out his devious plot by installing a hidden camera in the changing room of the mikvah.

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 was also named in the suit.

On Tuesday, the Kesher Israel synagogue in Georgetown where Freundel worked issued a press release saying that a class action suit had sought $100 million.

The report indicated that 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 Oct. 14, 2014, but were not confirmed as having been 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.

Speaking to the Washington Post, 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, the defendants’ insurance policy would not have covered the $100 million they had sought.

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