What do Sholom Rubashkin and Barry Freundel have in common? Well… a lot it seems. Although the 2 of them could not be more different from each other in Hashkafa - they have both entered the ‘Hall of Jewish Scoundrels’. Each for entirely different reasons. Both have committed crimes that have embarrassed the Jewish people. I don’t think the phrase ‘Chilul HaShem’ is inapt here. They both created a massive Chilul HaShem.
Rubashkin committed bank fraud to the tune of 26 million dollars. Freundel is guilty of secretly videotaping and viewing over 100 women involved with him in has capacity as a rabbi - completely naked when they were in his Shul’s Mikvah… all for his own personal gratification. And all unbeknownst to them.
Rubashkin has been discussed to death. I’m not going to rehash it all here.
What makes Freundel’s crime of voyeurism so egregious is that he violated the trust his congregants. He wasn’t just some run of the mill ‘Peeping Tom’ that got his jollies from viewing naked women. He was a prominent spiritual leader to his congregants. Someone that was supposed to be not only a leader, but a role model for Jewish behavior. A man of God from which the holiness of the Jewish people should emanate. A man highly educated in the ethics of the Torah. A man that pretended to exuded honesty and inspire people by his behavior. A man that had an international reputation as a rabbi and scholar. An expert in conversions. He used that position of power to take advantage of his female congregants that admired him.
When he was finally exposed, the fallout was horrendous. I cannot imagine what it must be like for all those women to now realize that in the moment when they were performing a sacred and holy ritual - they were (unbeknownst to them) seen naked by their trusted rabbi. The shame… the embarrassment.
Nor can I imagine what this has done to his family, who were probably completely unaware of his extracurricular and aberrational sexual activity. I cannot imagine the shame and embarrassment experienced by his wife who has since divorced him. I can’t imagine the shame experienced by his colleagues at the RCA who once saw him as a rising star – an expert on conversions. And now see him as a stain on their reputation.
The victims of his voyeurism have been traumatized. It will probably affect them for the rest of their lives. Some are being treated by mental health professionals.
It is one thing to have knowledge that a ‘Peeping Tom’ somehow got to see you naked. It is orders of magnitude different when the Peeping Tom in question is your trusted rabbi who has done this to hundreds of other women countless numbers of time – and videotaped them all for his own sexual gratification. They see the extent of planning and execution that went into this. The psychological damage they have all suffered from Freundel’s voyeurism must be devastating. It is they who have suffered the most here .
It would not surprise me if more than one of his converts have had second thoughts about their conversions. Or that some women were so turned off to Judaism by what their rabbi did to them that they lost their faith and dropped their observance.
As in the Rubashkin case - the prosecution in the Freundel case has asked for a very stiff prison sentence: 17 years - citing the numerous victims and the above reasons for requesting it. However, as bad as his crimes were, I do not see any justice in giving a Peeping Tom what amounts to a near life sentence in prison in this case. Freundel is 65 years old. That would mean he would be in prison until he was 82 years old. As great as his crimes were, I do not think they rise to the level of deserving a life sentence.
I don’t know what a just punishment would be in this case. But 17 years in prison is not it. The truth is that he has been publicly and forever humiliated. He has lost his reputation. It will never be restored. He will never have a position of power again. He will never serve in any official capacity as a rabbi. His fall from grace was mighty. The higher you are, the greater your fall. He had a big one. His infamy will follow him wherever he goes. His legacy will be one of being a sexual pervert. He will likely never re-marry and is doomed to a life of being shunned by people that once respected him. Colleagues and congregants alike. My guess is that his ruined reputation is a far greater punishment to him than any prison sentence.
The suggested 17 year prison sentence for Freundel is no more just than the 27 years was for Rubashkin. Both of these people deserved to be punished for what they did. But the punishment has to fit the crime. The length of these prison sentences are the same as would be given to violent criminals. Like drug dealers or even murderers in some cases. And neither of them are. It might be too late for Rubsahkin, who is now serving an unjustly long prison sentence. But it is not too late for Freundel. He has not been sentenced yet. Putting a Peeping Tom in prison for 17 years - even one as egregious as Freundel - just doesn’t seem right.