Rabbi Barry Freundel is serving a 6½-year prison sentence for voyeurism for secretly filming 52 women in the shower room of the mikveh adjacent to Kesher Israel, the prominent Orthodox Washington synagogue he led for some 25 years. On Wednesday, he published an apology letter in the Washington Jewish Week. This is what he wrote:
No matter how many times I attempt to apologize, it will never be enough. There are simply no words available to sufficiently assuage the hurt that I caused among conversion candidates, congregants, students, family, friends, and rabbinic and academic colleagues. I am sorry, beyond measure, for my heinous behavior and the perverse mindset that provoked my actions.
On May 15th, as I sat in the courtroom listening to the victim impact statements, each felt like a blade entering my gut. The speakers expressed their feelings of rage, hurt, humiliation, vulnerability and violation. How could I have been so incredibly blind, so unaware of my own impact on others? I ask myself that question every day. Through therapy, I came to understand the psychological underpinnings of why I acted in this despicable way. But I have not yet fully grasped how I could have been so completely oblivious to the harm I was doing to others.
I shook the faith foundations of those who were approaching Judaism with determination and the trepidation of leaving their previous lives behind; I defiled a space that was supposed to be private, sacred and healing; and I caused people to feel unsafe, abused and objectified. I did this to people I genuinely cared about, people to whom I was close, and I shattered the worlds of those I loved most.
Throughout my lifetime, I never wanted to disappoint people, to cause people to feel that I was arrogant, untrustworthy, unapproachable or abusive. But now I understand that this is how people have felt. I became a rabbi precisely because I wanted to help people, as well as being drawn to the depth and the scholarship of Judaism, and I have tainted that miserably. I wanted to help folks heal, and in many instances, I have instead triggered their past traumas and caused new pain. I am sorrier than anyone can imagine for what I have done.
My preference would be to apologize individually to each person I have hurt. However, I recognize that reaching out to convey my regret could cause further harm to some and that such contact would be unwelcome. Therefore, I thought that the only solution would be to apologize publicly.
Additionally, I am aware that my actions have had very negative repercussions not only in the D.C. area, but throughout the Jewish world. In particular, I would ask forgiveness from other rabbanim and Orthodox scholars, who may have had to fight harder than normal to uphold halakhic standards of observance in the face of criticism.
Finally, I would like to apologize to anyone who saw me as stoic, hubristic or unreachable. I work every day to improve, but I know I sometimes still miss the mark. In the absence of anything else, I would like to repeat how completely sorry I am for my behavior and actions. There is no excuse for what I’ve done. Again, I’m truly sorry.