A Georgetown rabbi accused of secretly videotaping women in a ritual bath is refusing to vacate the house owned by his former synagogue, and a religious court is being convened to deal with the dispute, the synagogue said Thursday.
News of the dispute was sent to Kesher Israel synagogue members via an e-mail from their president, Elanit Jakabovics. In the e-mail, she lays out a bit of the legal stalemate between Rabbi Barry Freundel, once a leading figure in the national Orthodox community, and Kesher, a small synagogue dotted with prominent Washingtonians.
The synagogue had set a Jan. 1 deadline for Freundel to move out of the Georgetown house where he and his family have lived since the late 1980s, but he did not, the e-mail said. “We were informed in late December that Rabbi Freundel did not have plans to leave the house,” Jakabovics wrote.
Freundel and his attorney, Jeffrey Harris, could not immediately be reached Thursday, but a member of the Kesher leadership said the rabbi — whose salary has been suspended since his October arrest — had asked for more time. The two sides talked, the person said, “but they made unreasonable demands, and we walked away.”
The terms of Freundel’s contract with Kesher Israel require that he — a civil law professor up until his arrest — deal with legal disputes through a religious court, called a beth din. He had been a national and regional leader of a type of beth din that oversees conversions. Orthodox Jews, and people of other faiths, sometimes try to deal with non-criminal issues through their own dispute resolution systems before going to a secular judge.
Jakabovics said Kesher opened the case against the synagogue’s former rabbi Wednesday with a national body called Beth Din of America.
The dispute over the house is just the latest detail in the sudden fall of a man who a few months ago was considered a leader in the modern Orthodox world.
In October, he was arrested on charges that he had been planting a video camera in a ritual bath mostly used by women. Freundel had unique access to the operation of the bath, called a mikvah, because of his status as the rabbi who guided and approved of converts — including their immersion in the mikvah as part of their conversion ritual.
Freundel has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors in the case were granted extensions in November and this month. Freundel is due back in court Feb. 19.
Several longtime Kesher Israel congregants said Freundel recently agreed to give his wife, respected D.C. Jewish educator Sharon Freundel, a religious divorce called a get. No one could name a single congregant who is communicating with Freundel.
Kesher has been using lay leaders and visiting scholars to run services and classes as the century-old synagogue functions without a rabbi, Jakabovics said. Before jumping into hiring a rabbi for the first time in more than 30 years, she said, the synagogue will go through many meetings to decide its future. The first is scheduled for Feb. 2.