The Beth Din of America has been added to the list of defendants in a $100 million class action suit against Rabbi Barry Freundel, the prominent Washington, DC, spiritual leader who was convicted of secretly videotaping women in his synagogue’s ritual bath.
On Tuesday, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in Superior Court in Washington, DC, that included the rabbinical court, according to a news release on behalf of the Sanford Heisler and Chaikin Sherman Cammarata Siegel law firms.
The suit, which was filed originally in December 2014, also names as defendants Freundel’s former synagogue, Kesher Israel; the Rabbinical Council of America, the main professional association for modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States; and the National Capital Mikvah, the ritual bath Freundel used to spy on his victims.
Freundel is believed to have violated the privacy of at least 150 women he filmed while they undressed and showered at the mikvah, or ritual bath, including members of Kesher Israel, candidates for conversion to Judaism and students at Towson University in Maryland, where Freundel taught classes on religion and ethics. The rabbi also secretly filmed a domestic violence abuse victim in a safe house he had set up for her.
He pleaded guilty last year to 52 counts of voyeurism and began serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in federal prison.
In the civil case, the plaintiffs claim that the mikvah, the synagogue, the religious court and the RCA ignored warning signs of Freundel’s behavior.
“The complaint accuses Orthodox religious institutions of sitting idly by as Rabbi Freundel committed his crimes,” says Ira Sherman, Chaikin Sherman Cammarata Siegel’s managing partner. “Rather than preventing or investigating Rabbi Freundel’s crimes early on, these religious institutions repeatedly endorsed Rabbi Freundel as a religious leader whom vulnerable women were required to defer to and obey.”
The Beth Din of America had no comment on the matter. The RCA and Kesher Israel could not be reached for immediate comment.