On Friday (5/15/15), Rabbi Bernard (Barry) Freundel will be sentenced for video recording 52 women while naked at a mikvah. The government is asking for a sentence of 4 months for each count for a total of 17 years in jail. This is one-third of the maximum sentence. The government sentencing memo eloquently captures the betrayal of trust and the emotional harm because mikvah is such a sensitive moment for converts and married orthodox women. It is a moment of sacredness and vulnerability. To be seen naked by one’s own rabbi, the government memo points out, is especially painful to orthodox women who adhere to a modesty code. It is way worse than being surreptitiously recorded in a gym locker room by a stranger.
The government’s memo is well worth reading in its entirety.
Freundel’s memo, in contrast is pathetically self pitying. Of course he admits his guilt. But he has a funny way of understanding the gravity of his crimes. His memo dwells on his disgrace with nary a word about the impact of his crimes on his victims. The memo states:
Rabbi Freundel readily admits he has committed a serious crime [and] recognizes and regrets the negative impact his actions have had within the community. His conduct has brought shame upon Judaism, the synagogue he once served, his family, and himself. He has been publicly humiliated, forced to leave his office as a rabbi, and is now a convicted man. His fall, all of his own doing, has been very public and painful for the Jewish community, his family and of course, himself.
In his narcissism, he dwells on the damage to his reputation and the image of orthodoxy. He still views his victims as irrelevant, as unharmed, as mere objects for his viewing pleasure.
Sex crimes are not about desire. They are about using others as objects to gratify those desires. They are treated so seriously by courts because the violation is emotionally profound, touching the most sensitive aspects of intimacy, vulnerability, and even identity. Freundel still hasn’t figured that out. He probably never will.
Until I read his sentencing memo, I was ambivalent about a seventeen-year sentence. But I now favor a long sentence. He could have reduced the pain of his victims by properly acknowledging the harm he caused and properly apologizing. I don’t think he ever will. A long sentence will at least let his victims know the court recognizes his crimes for what they were, profound violations. Perhaps that will give some of his victims a measure of consolation and a path to healing.