WASHINGTON

Rabbi Accused of Recording Nude Women Pleads Guilty to 52 Counts of Voyeurism

A prominent Orthodox rabbi accused of videotaping women at a sacred ritual bath has pleaded guilty to more than 50 counts of voyeurism. 

In court Thursday, Bernard "Barry" Freundel also did not dispute prosecutors' claims that he taped an additional 100 women. He could not be charged in those cases because they happened earlier than the three-year statute of limitations.

The case has stunned D.C.'s Orthodox community, particularly because the women were taped while taking ritual baths associated with rites of family purity and conversion at the National Capital Mikvah, a ritual bathhouse affiliated with Freundel's former synagogue.

Freundel, 63, entered the plea in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday afternoon. He faces up to one year in prison for each count, a fine of up to $1,000 (or $2,500, for offenses occurring on or after June 11, 2013), or both.

"We will be seeking a prison sentence that reflects the gravity of this disturbing assault on the privacy and dignity of so many victims," said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen in a release.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 15.

Freundel was the rabbi at Georgetown's Kesher Israel synagogue for a quarter-century before he was arrested last fall, accused of hiding a video camera inside a clock radio and aiming it at a shower at the mikvah.

He was initially charged with six counts of voyeurism for videotaping six women.

But prosecutors told a closed-door meeting of victims last week that -- according to evidence dating back to 2009 -- Freundel had taped more than 150 women.

Not all of the victims have been identified, and the statute of limitations, set at three years, bars prosecutors from charging Freundel recording older than that.

One victim, Emma Shulevitz, said that when she went to the Capital Mikvah to convert to Judaism in 2012, Freundel told her not to put anything in front of the clock radio as she undressed. She said she felt betrayed after learning it contained a hidden camera.

"I feel violated," she said. "This is supposed to be between a woman and God, not between a woman and a rabbi."

Freundel was arrested Oct. 14, 2014, the morning after police raided his home and seized computer equipment, including several media storage devices.

"Bernard Freundel exploited his position of power to victimize dozens of women who entered a sacred, intimate space of religious ritual," said Machen in a release Thursday. "He betrayed the trust of every woman whose private moments he caught on camera along with an entire community that counted on him for moral leadership."

Freundel was fired in the wake of his arrest, and the National Capital Mikvah also severed ties with him.

"To hear that about a rabbi that people trust is very disturbing and concerning," Kesher Israel congregant Michael Uhr said last fall.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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