A prominent modern Orthodox rabbi at a Georgetown synagogue was arrested by D.C. police on Tuesday morning and charged with voyeurism, according to a department spokeswoman.
Barry Freundel, 62, of the Kesher Israel Congregation, was being held in police custody Tuesday and was likely to have an initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday. Within hours, the synagogue’s board of directors suspended him without pay.
D.C. police confirmed that his arrest came during a search of his home on O Street NW, about five blocks from the synagogue in the 2800 block of N Street NW that he has led since 1989.
The police spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, confirmed the arrest but declined to provide details of the allegation. Freundel’s home phone was not answered Tuesday afternoon. His arrest was first reported by Washingtonian magazine.
Law enforcement authorities said the case involves a hidden camera but gave conflicting accounts of where the alleged voyeurism took place. Both the synagogue bathroom and the mikvah, where ritual bathing takes place, were mentioned.
Freundel is one of the region’s most respected rabbis. Kesher Israel is a modern Orthodox synagogue, part of a denomination that emphasizes Jewish law and tradition while trying to accommodate modern trends such as the rise of women in leadership.
Kesher’s board is led by a woman, Elanit Jakabovics. She declined to comment but referred to a statement posted on the synagogue’s Web site.
“This is a painful moment for Kesher Israel Congregation and the entire Jewish community,” the statement says. “At this challenging time, we draw strength from our faith, our tradition, and our fellow congregants.” The statement says the board notified law enforcement about “potentially inappropriate activity.”
In the realm of Orthodox Judaism, Kesher is on the progressive side. It has all-women study and prayer sessions in which women can read from the Torah, and girls in the congregation can celebrate their bat mitzvahs. Women and men can give sermons at services on Saturday mornings, and women for years have served on the board of directors. Like all Orthodox synagogues, Kesher has a mechitza, a barrier separating men and women in the sanctuary, and women do not lead prayers in mixed-gender settings or count in the 10-person quorum required for a prayer service.
In 2005, Freundel was a leader in pushing for the creation of a mikvah, or ritual bath, near Kesher. A mikvah is used primarily for people converting to Judaism and by observant Jewish women at very intimate times, including after menstruation, as a way of purifying themselves.
According to Kesher’s Web site, Freundel heads the conversion committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and is vice president of the region’s Vaad, which oversees kosher dietary laws at Jewish institutions.
Freundel has taught at Baltimore Hebrew University, the University of Maryland and Georgetown University School of Law and has served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health on ethical issues.