Freundel Still Isn’t Apologizing to His Victims

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.

Barry Freundel running photographers scrumOne of his victims is a woman who confided in Rabbi Freundel about being sexually abused. He counseled her to use the mikvah for healing purposes. Now she feels re-traumatized.

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.


51 thoughts on “Freundel Still Isn’t Apologizing to His Victims

  1. I am not so upset about what the Government memo says about what Freundel says. It is not direct quotes, it is a government official interpreting what he thinks Freundel expressed. Until there is a direct statement from Freundel I would not judge whether he is appropriately remorseful or not.

      • He’s way more idiosyncratic than that. Maybe love letters and Nishmas (from his book), or why I’m the best with geirus (a Freundel favorite).

    • He should not be teaching Torah, even if it is for free. Any free services he offers to the public should be limited to manual labor in the sewer system. Nobody needs his Torah.

  2. If he gets sentenced to 17 years, he will be lucky. Lucky he doesn’t have to face punishment for the multitude of victims that he recorded too long ago to remain within statute of limitations. If we counted those victims, the jail sentence might be twice as long? The defense memo is sickening and as with most defendants, simply an act of desperation to try to avoid long jail sentence or shorten it.

      • Sick, delusional, narcissistic. The latter most likely explains his lack of offering apologies to victims. He just might be in total denial and essentially not believe that he is going to be put away. One wouldn’t blame him, seeing how many molesters, perverts have gotten off with probation or zilch. But our Freundel friend doesn’t seem to have either the political, legal, or rabbinical connections to pull that one off.

      • I used to think like you that deviants are sick.

        But now I see things the way Rav Shteinman said a few months ago that molesters (and then certainly adulterers & pornographers) are not sick, they are evil. Because the Torah delves to the bottom of human psychology and knows what kind of temptation a person can withstand. If they give in to their temptations in areas of grave sin they are therefore just plain resha’im.

  3. He looks a lot thinner than in other pictures. At least all of the stress may have caused the fat bastard to lose some weight. If they lock him up for any period of time, he may emerge looking as one hot dude!

    Friends of mine who attended his shul in the past said he was impersonable and cold. Apparently his looks (minimal) and personality (even more minimal) didnt prevent him from acting like a conniving dirtbag who was able to convince women to follow his dictates (reminds me of one Tovia Singer, at least regarding the waistline and looks); now he has to face the music. Life’s indeed a bitch.

  4. it is astounding that no where in his lawyers statement that there in no apology to the victims! i do not believe he is sorry, just sorry he got caught, who would take a shiur with him? he should be banned from the rabbinate by the RCA

      • YU has a selfish policy of not revoking semicha to prevent lawsuits. The first test was in the case of Steve Greenberg who openly flaunts & promotes abomination

        Hey Steve, gay aveck!.

          1. Who does revoke smichah? I am not even sure an institution can revoke semicha since it is given by an individual (who is probably dead by now).
          2. I have no sense that lawsuits are at issue here. Do you have any proof of what you said with such confidence?

          3. Attacking gays is wrong. Halacha has no position on a sexual orientation only on sexual acts. I don’t know why you confuse the two but it is a disturbing form of prejudice.

          4. Having two sets of weights, where one is false and used to short weigh, is also toeivah (abomination). That issue comes up much more often with the musmachim of various yeshivot and rabbanim. Why aren’t you also screaming about the many haredi rabbonim who have never revoked smichah from their musmachim engaged in fraud. And many of the people who issue those smichas are still alive.

          Please don’t use the Torah as a spade with which to heap dirt on YU (though there are other tings for which they should be criticized) and promulgate sinah against people who have a gay orientation.

          • I take issue with what you write that attacking gays is wrong and that Halacha has no position on a sexual orientation etc.

            When you say sexual orientation you are referring to, to put it bluntly and simply, what his sexual Taava is. Any Taava to do something which the Torah doesn’t allow, be it in sexuality, whether hetero or homo, or be it in any other area such as, for example in money matters, is a natural occurrence in human beings due to the presence of the yetzer horah AKA the evil inclination who/which arouses a person and entices him to sin. A person has not sinned just by the fact that he has that inclination, as you so correctly say, but it is his Chiyuv to not allow his mind to be occupied in the fantasy of the sin. This is Velo Sasuru etc. And certainly not to publicly promote the fantasy. So if a person has a Taava to be with an Aishes Ish, he is obligated to stop thinking and fantasizing about it. He may tell his therapist or close friend etc. about it for the purpose of dealing with it, but he may not proudly flaunt it because to do so promotes a sense of easiness and permissiveness and thereby promotes sin. Just imagine if a person who has a pathology that he enjoys torturing children, would be given the full okay to be that way and proudly flaunt it, while saying that the only thing that is bad is to actually do it. He would start a movement called ‘Lovers of children torture’. We would all be up in arms. Just as it is illegal to incite riot even when there is no other criminal activity. Because it causes criminal activity. It is NOT okay to want to be with an Aishes Ish, even though it’s natural to want it, and the person must try not to want it. If someone has a desire to commit mishkav zachar, it is part of his natural human smallness and not something to flaunt, and to flaunt it is simply a statement that it isn’t so bad to do it. If a person is up in arms about the ‘Lovers of children torture’ movement but not about the ‘Lovers of mishkav zachar’ movement, then that is a clear lack of accepting that what The Torah says is an abomination is an abomination just as what ‘people’ sense on their own to be an abomination. It is a display of a lack of respect for The Torah.

  5. I wonder how much input he had into his sentencing memo, or if it was something he lawyers drew up. Let’s see if he verbally apologizes at his sentencing hearing.

      • No, of course. So that means that the attorney who drafted the sentencing memo on behalf of Freundel would have had to deliberately omit an apology to the victims? Per Barry’s wishes? Doesn’t make much sense.

          • The attorney did argue for leniency based on the fact that the crime was not “violent” and he didn’t touch anyone. Ugh.

            • When the story originally broke, there were some blog comments (vin?) asserting that he didn’t really do anything wrong, since what the victims didn’t know didn’t hurt them. It was only making the scandal public, that commenter suggested, which hurt the victims. I assumed that those comments were his.

        • Unless his lawyers were completely incompetent, they told Freundel that they were drafting a sentencing memo and gave him the chance to put his own apology in there (which they would review). Either he didn’t want to apologize, couldn’t deal with it, or told his lawyers to simply say what is written in the memo. Freundel can’t even bother to keep his shirt tucked in or his coat over his shoulders. He’s likely on a steep downward spiral, and picking up speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to go to jail at this point, as it may be the only way he can keep a roof over his head and eat. Food stamps don’t buy as much as they used to.

  6. i agree with yerachmiel he has already pleaded guilty so no negative impact for an apology only positive, he provided the lawyer with names for letters of support, note no rabbi’s were quoted, and his work/scholarly history, also really creepy that the lawyer included facebook post lifted from peoples comments? he ended up quoting the president of kesher who is the woman who turned him into the police and firing him very strange,

  7. Yerachmiel, why are you focusing on the taping of the women when it appears that he did far more than that. HE ACTUALLY HAD SEX WITH SOME OF THE VICTIMS! From the Washington Post “In a 25-page memo, prosecutors attacked Freundel’s credibility as a religious leader and said he lived a “double life.” Prosecutors said they found videos of the rabbi, who is married, having sex with several women.”

    • I was trying to focus on the issue of not apologizing in the overall context of the case. Extramarital sex is a sin but it is not relevant to sentencing which is the focus of my post.

      • I would say that it means he has a lot more to apologize for. Not only did he violate the womens’ trust, but he also violated them physically. He had a position of power over them and leveraged it to his personal, disgusting benefit. In this case, I’m no expert, but it seems to be a crime, as well, no different than an attorney or doctor taking advantage of a patient. Either way, I wonder if he will work himself up to issuing some type of tepid apology.

        • Good point. Jurisdictions vary on whether abuse of a clerical position is a crime. It is in Israel. In NYS it is not a crime. Moreover, even if illegal in D.C. (or any other jurisdiction where it occurred) bringing the charge would require the involved women to testify. It is rare for orthodox women to testify in such cases. Even less likely if it involved women he subsequently converted.

          • Is there any evidence that the women he had sex with were from his shul or potential converts? It may not have been clerical abuse.

  8. Yerachmiel, your comments about Freundel’s “regrets” are spot on. It’s not just that he doesn’t apologize to the victims; he doesn’t even really acknowledge their existence. All the “regret” he expresses involves language about his “actions,” his “community,” his religion — his, his, his, his. There’s nary a word that acknowledges the perspective of the victims, their pain, their violation. It puts you in mind of Nietzsche’s acid remark that “a religious person thinks only of himself.”

    Though it’s probably unfair to generalize too much from one selfish voyeur, my own view is that this kind of selective blindness — treating sex offenses solely from the point of view of the perpetrator — is a deep problem besetting the rabbinate and Orthodox society in general. As long as you can conceptualize the abusive act simply as a lapse on the part of the perpetrator, you can ignore the victim and focus all of your compassion on the penitent abuser, who often does wish that he hadn’t done what he did. But this approach subtly stage-manages the victim, and the victim’s concerns, right out the exits — an approach that dovetails all too neatly with the abuse-defender assumption that the victims who accuse their violators, by virtue of having raised the embarrassing issue in the first place, are really outsiders to the community to begin with. Both patterns of thought lead to the same result: there’s no need to listen to whatever the victims have to say, and no need to question whether the community has any self-examining to do — for instance, about why female converts, some of the most vulnerable women in Orthodox circles, should be placed under the exclusive control of male rabbis who have almost unlimited authority over them and have used it (just for instance) to examine the women’s politics, as invasive a practice as the all-too-common insistence on observing their “official” immersion.

    Yes, Freundel’s inability to acknowledge the victims of his voyeurism is an outrage. But I’m afraid it’s only part of a larger pattern, and in that sense he isn’t the only offender.

  9. On FaceBook, Joshua Maroof commented about the defense memorandum:

    “Not to mention the fact that two of the “heroic stories” of Freundel’s compassion involve him remaining alone with a woman for protracted periods of time…Probably not the best examples to use under the circumstances. Incompetence.”

    • I noticed that too and thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t want to point it out, lest his lawyers read these pages, realize the stupidity of including those examples, and ask to remove them from their memo.

      • too late. The memo is already in the hands of the judge. By the time of the court appearance the sentence will probably be decided beforehand and the public ritual of statements by attorneys, defendants and victims is usually inconsequential.

  10. We all need to learn more about personality disorders such as narcissism and sociopathic personality disorder.
    We need to be able to recognize those with personality disorders and stay far away from them–and keep them far away from our loved ones.
    However, I do not think we should generalize from people have at best pathologic personalities to most rabbis or to orthodox Judaism.
    I learned, as a teenager, to differentiate between a religion and those who profess to adhere to it.
    Just because a mathematician is immoral, one should not conclude that mathematics is an immoral field.
    To my mind, the same applies to immoral “rabbis” and orthodox Judaism.

  11. The difference here is that no mathematician claims that his studies have the slightest relationship with morality. He doesn’t make a claim that anybody should consider him an authority on any subject other than math. If he did, he’d probably be ridiculed. OTOH, rabbis claim to have a say in every aspect of our lives, from the most mundane to the most intimate. They claim to be the conduits of gods word. As such, they open themselves up to far more responsibility and far more blame when they behave immorally.

  12. The patterns I’m most concerned with are not, alas, mere products of individual pathologies. Incidentally, for anyone interested, I’m going to be speaking on the topic of “Sex Abuse and Institutional Inattention” on Sunday (May 17), at 9:00 a.m., at what’s called the Battered Mothers Custody Conference at the Clarion Hotel Empire Meadowlands, 2 Harmon Plaza in Secaucus, NJ. Okay, the official topic is a mouthful, but I’m going to be talking about my view of the rationales used by clergymen or officials in order not to notice the victims of abuse, or not to notice the existence of child abuse at all. Much of which is also in my book.

    And I do think that defining the sexual offense in terms that include only the perpetrator works hand in hand with some of those rationales. As I’ve written before, you can see examples of this in very respectable sources, such as Maimonides and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

      • IF Lesher is even hinting that the Rambam and Rav Hirsch were rationalizing heinous sins, there is nothing further to discuss with him nor should he be contributing to a Torah-based website, in my opinion.

        • Anyone who insists gedolim never made serious mistakes should return to the chumash and gemorrah to read about all the mistakes gedolim made. the only difference nowadays is that people are taught a charedi apikorsus that gedolim are perfect. Absolute sheker and very destructive. If you can’t admit mistakes you can’t fix them. Yehudah’s greatness was in saying Tamar was more in the right than Yehudah. His other greatness was making up for the selling of Yosef by being willing to be held hostage to have Benjamin freed. Dovid Hamelech’s greatness was admitting he slept with a married woman and sent off her husband to die to cover it up.

          • The Rambam is a very complex text to understand which is why there are almost as many commentaries devoted to it as the Talmud. There are many examples of where the Rambam seems to say something in one passage but really means something else when examining another passage, whether stated explicitly or cryptically.

            The vast majority of responsa in later generations have a problem with enablers as well as perpetrators and they are certainly familiar in depth with the Rambam.

            With all due respect to Mr. Lesher and his efforts to protect victims, he is way out of his league here as someone with no comprehensive yeshiva education who is making offensive summations of the Rambam.

            While it is not impossible that Rav Hirsch could be in error, it is more likely that Mr. Lesher is not understanding him either with his flowery writing style.

            • I am not sure what advantage there is to a comprehensive yeshiva education. I am sure that Barry Freundel had one.

        • Cherem Rabbein Gershon corrected a flaw in the old polygamy rule allowing a man to divorce his wife without her consent. Are you saying it was chutzpah for Rabbeinu Gershon to dare to feel and claim that the halacha from torah and chazal allowed abuse of women. I think not.

          Please do not play the Torah card to stifle discussion. Moreover this site is most of all about attacking the problem of abuse in the orthodox world. All who care about it are welcome to share their thoughts about the problem and solutions. they do not have to be frum because one does not have to be frum or Jewish to be acceptable as a partner in the fight about abuse.

          Just for the record, Michael Lesher has repeatedly stated he is orthodox and is a member of a frum shul in Passaic.

      • I don’t want to lead this discussion off the blog’s topic, but I’ll reply briefly to clarify the issues mentioned.

        Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Issurei Bi’ah12:10) prescribes a death penalty for any non-Jewish woman with whom a Jewish man has had illicit sexual intercourse, with no exceptions for cases of rape (let alone seduction, abuse of power, etc.). Rabbi Hirsch, in his Pentateuch commentary to Deuteronomy 21:11, explains the majority view that there is no criminal penalty for raping a woman taken captive in battle when (and because) “in the first heat of the conquest [the soldier] has…yielded to his passion.”

        It would be merely tedious to analyze Hirsch’s observation, in light of extensive modern literature on rape and the traditional male-centered orientation of traditional rape law; as for Maimonides, later authorities do not appear to have adopted his position (though I haven’t found any texts explicitly repudiating it either). My point is simply that both men’s comments proceed from a perspective that excludes the victim from consideration — a common problem in the legal history of sexual violence.

        I don’t say this as a condemnation of either Maimonides or Rabbi Hirsch as individuals. The most potent limitations on the insight of even the greatest scholars and teachers usually proceed from culture, from education, from the assumptions so deeply rooted in one’s time and place that they haven’t yet entered the realm of critical thought. (Maimonides also sanctioned the slave trade, for example — not to mention Ptolemaic astronomy.) And of course this isn’t a problem only for religious thinkers. Aristotle’s racism and misogyny provide famous cautionary tales. John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx both failed to apply their concepts of universal liberty to Africa and Asia… one could go on endlessly.

        Of course it would be false pride to do it, though, because our ability to see through these great thinkers’ faults comes not from our own profound insight but from the improvements of general intellectual culture in certain areas that remained unexplored in Marx’s time — to say nothing of Maimonides’ or Aristotle’s. That much is obvious. But I hope it’s also obvious that continued intellectual progress (and moral progress, too) depends vitally on our willingness to admit the fallibility of even the greatest authorities, to identify their shortcomings and to correct them. To really honor them, we should approach them in the critical spirit they exemplified, heeding their wisdom and recognizing their mistakes, always remembering that the real authorities are the values of truth, wisdom, mercy, justice, etc. — not reverence for any individual scholar, however wonderful.

        If, on the other hand, we approach such texts with stultifying credulousness, we risk undermining the moral growth that is supposed to be the point of all of this study. So I honor Maimonides and Hirsch for their respective contributions, but I am still bound to say that on certain points involving rape law they missed an important dimension of the crime — and as a result, in the end, managed to ignore or minimize it.

        I certainly don’t believe that either man intentionally condoned any such crime — you can’t be guilty of condoning what you don’t see. Their only fault was that they didn’t transcend the assumptions of their culture. If WE continue to make the same error, knowing what we all know, what will OUR excuse be?

        • Thank you Michael for your above comment.. I find your thinking and conclusions very cogent, albeit not yeshiva trained by any means.
          As an aside, it would appear that all or most of Orthodox molesters (monsters) have exemplary credentials.

          • I agree with all of above except the part about the exemplary credential. No, some are real losers and nobodies. But the ones who hold important positions get more media attention and get more protection by the haredi establishment.

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