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Rabbinic Group Knew of Rabbi Barry Freundel Conversion 'Violations' in 2012

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:49

The leading Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says that it knew in 2012 that Rabbi Barry Freundel acted inappropriately in his role overseeing conversions, but that it chose not to bar him from working with converts and did not inform his synagogue.

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RCA affirms validity of Freundel’s past conversions, but not Israeli Rabbinate

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:10

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Rabbinical Council of America affirmed that any conversions performed by Rabbi Barry Freundel, the Orthodox rabbi in Washington facing charges of voyeurism, are valid.

The RCA, the main modern Orthodox rabbinical association in the United States, issued a statement Monday to assuage the concerns of Orthodox converts to Judaism whose conversion process was overseen by Freundel, who was arrested last week for allegedly installing a hidden camera in the mikvah to spy on women in the shower. The rabbi has pleaded not guilty.

However, it’s not clear that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate will honor Freundel’s conversions. In response to an inquiry from Israel’s daily Haaretz, Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Manor left open the possibility that those conversions might be invalidated.

“The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is drafting a policy regarding conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel that will attempt to strike a balance between what is permitted according to Jewish law, on the one hand, and the rights and welfare of the converts, on the other,” Manor said, according to Haaretz.

Freundel has been suspended without pay from his position as rabbi at Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox congregation in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, and from the RCA, where Freundel served on its executive committee.

“The Beth Din of America — under the leadership of Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz — has concluded as a matter of Jewish law that conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel prior to his arrest on October 14, 2014 remain halachically valid and prior converts remain Jewish in all respects,” the RCA said in its statement, which also expressed sympathy with Freundel’s alleged victims and his family.

The RCA also announced that it would appoint a woman to serve as an ombudsman for converts at all the RCA’s rabbinical courts for conversion, known as batei din. The role of the ombudsman will be to field any questions or concerns from conversion candidates who feel uncomfortable raising those issues with the rabbi in charge of their conversion process.

Also, the RCA said it would appoint a commission made up of rabbis, lay leaders and mental health professionals to review RCA conversion processes and suggest safeguards against possible abuse.

“We wanted to create all kinds of opportunities for potential converts to feel safe to share their discomforts and concerns,” Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA in an interview.

Freundel spied on women in the mikvah at least since 2012, according to documents filed in Washington Superior Court. He allegedly hid a camera in a clock radio and installed it in the shower area of the mikvah.

Freundel was released the day after his arrest with orders to stay away from his synagogue and alleged victims.

In Orthodox Judaism, mikvah ritual baths are used for the purposes of conversion and on a monthly basis by married women at a certain point in their menstrual cycle. Some men also visit the mikvah before Shabbat or holidays.

The RCA said it had fielded one other complaint of inappropriate behavior by Freundel — that he had shared a room with a woman who was not his wife on an overnight train. But those allegations of impropriety could not be substantiated and the matter was dropped.

“The overwhelming majority of our members are people of integrity and honesty who work hard and are trustworthy,” Dratch told JTA. “From time to time we have people who violate the norms, and unfortunately suspicion has cast a very large net over a large number of people. That undermines our ability to represent out community and lead our community and do our job properly.”

Tale of Two Sermons on Israel

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 06:00

EDITORIAL: The high holidays presented a challenge to rabbis who felt the need to address Israel. Two sermons show the difficulty and possibility involved.

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Anti-Semitic Graffiti Sprayed On Temple Mount

Sun, 10/19/2014 - 12:09

Graffiti equating the Star of David with a swastika was found painted on the Temple Mount.

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Israeli follower of fugitive rabbi drowns in Belgian river

Sun, 10/19/2014 - 12:04

(JTA) — A follower of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, an accused sex offender who fled Israel, drowned in Belgium while swimming in a river near Antwerp.

The body of Nissim Levy, 27, was buried last week in his hometown of Ashkelon, the news website ashqelon.net reported Saturday.

Levy was in Belgium to be near Berland, head of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary. Last year Berland fled Israel amid allegations that he sexually assaulted at least two female followers, including a minor.

Berland, who is living in a southern suburb of Amsterdam with scores of his supporters, apparently was in the Antwerp area for the weekend.

Israel has requested his extradition from the Netherlands, where Berland was arrested last month at the airport upon his arrival from South Africa. Since fleeing Israel, he has taken up residence in the United States, Switzerland, Morocco and Zimbabwe, often with dozens of followers.

Levy’s body was sent to Israel with help and funding from the Shomre Hadass Jewish community of Antwerp, according to the Hebrew-language Behadrei Haredim news website.

His family also contacted another Jewish community, the haredi Orthodox congregation Machzikei Hadass, for assistance, the website reported, quoting an unnamed member of Shuvu Bonim who claimed that the congregation declined to help.

Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld of Machzikei Hadass denied the claim, telling JTA, “The deceased’s family asked us for assistance and we offered to cover all expenses for burial in the Benelux, but we also said that we would need a third party to cover the costs attached to sending the body to Israel, which are substantial.”

Rabbi Freundel's Synagogue Responds to His Arrest

Sun, 10/19/2014 - 09:27

The president of Kesher Israel synagogue gave a heartfelt reaction to Rabbi Barry Freundel’s arrest on voyeurism charges — in a speech that did not mention Freundel by name even once.

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Ex-Gangster Turned Hasidic Rabbi Busted for Impersonating Cop

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 15:01

When Latin Kings gang member Roberto Eddy Santos was released from prison, he assumed the identity of a rabbi — before going on to pose as a police officer.

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Food Truck Pastor

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 12:01

On neighborhood sidewalks in St. Paul, Minnesota, Rev. Margaret Kelly, a Lutheran pastor, brings meals, prayer services, and a sense of community to the hungry and homeless with a food truck church.

The post Food Truck Pastor appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

How Do You Celebrate Simchat Torah When Your Rabbi Has Been Arrested?

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 08:03

Rabbi Freundel’s arrest on voyeurism charges did not stop the congregants at Kesher Israel from celebrating Simchat Torah with a determinedly joyous lay-led service.

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The Hebrew School on Wheels

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 06:00

Debbi Ballard wanted to get more kids excited about Jewish education. So the Floridian bought a 38-foot recreational vehicle and turned it into a Hebrew school on wheels.

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Rabbi Avi Weiss to step down as rabbi of Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 04:48

(JTA) — Rabbi Avi Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, announced that he will step down as rabbi of the congregation.

Weiss — who has been an ardent activist on behalf of embattled Jewish communities and pushed a more religiously liberal brand of Orthodoxy — made the announcement Thursday during holiday services. Weiss said his retirement would be effective next July.

He said he will continue to serve as rabbi-in-residence at the synagogue, the Forward reported.

Weiss is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school, and Yeshivat Maharat, an institution for women that has graduated two cohorts of female spiritual leaders called Maharats, an acronym meaning female spiritual, legal and Torah leader.

Hamas Leader Accuses Israel of Coveting Temple Mount

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 17:39

The leader of the Palestinian group Hamas on Thursday called on Muslims to defend the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, saying Israel was trying to seize the site, revered in Islam and Judaism and focus of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

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Freundel pleads not guilty to voyeurism charge

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:38

(JTA) — Rabbi Barry Freundel pleaded not guilty to voyeurism in a Washington, D.C. court.

Freundel, rabbi of Washington’s prominent Kesher Israel Congregation, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Washington. He was charged with voyeurism after a witness allegedly saw him installing a clock radio with a hidden camera in the women’s showers of the congregation’s mikvah.

On Wednesday, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge William Nooter ordered Freundel to stay away from Kesher Israel and the Jewish converts who immersed in the mikvah, according to Reuters.

Kesher Israel has suspended Freundel without pay, as has the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. The RCA probed Freundel this summer for allegedly making reservations to stay in a hotel room with a conversion candidate who was not his wife, according to the Jewish Daily Forward.

The RCA questioned Freundel about the matter, but the person who made the allegation could not provide supporting evidence.

“There were conversations with Rabbi Freundel on this matter,” RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky told the Forward. “Those who were involved with the conversations were satisfied with the explanation and no further action was taken.”

Rabbi Avi Weiss, Progressive Voice in Orthodoxy, Steps Down From Pulpit

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 14:23

Rabbi Avi Weiss, a progressive voice within Orthodoxy who has spearheaded the push to involve women in the faith, announced he is stepping down from the pulpit.

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The Minivan Rabbi of Mississippi

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 06:00

Most rabbis wait for Jews to come to them. Rabbi Jeremy Simons goes to them, roving across Dixie to 110 congregations in his battered Dodge minivan.

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Rabbi Barry Freundel Pleads Not Guilty To Taping 6 Women in Mikveh

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 20:43

Rabbi Barry Freundel had recorded secret videos of at six women women showering at the mikvah in his synagogue, according to allegations filed at his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.

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Will Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Conversions Be Deemed Invalid?

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 18:41

The validity of religious conversions performed by the rabbi charged with videotaping women in his mikveh may be challenged, an email from the rabbi’s synagogue suggests.

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Rabbi Barry Freundel, Accused in Mikveh Peeping, Seemed 'Aloof' to Washington Synagogue

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:37

Rabbi Barry Freundel was known to the Washington Jewish community as a champion of moral rectitude. But on Tuesday, the spiritual leader of Kesher Israel congregation for the past 25 years, was charged with the most intimate of transgressions: voyeurism.

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RCA suspends Freundel after voyeurism charge

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:35

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Rabbinical Council of America suspended Barry Freundel, the Washington D.C. rabbi arrested this week on a voyeurism charge.

The RCA board met in an emergency meeting Wednesday and suspended Freundel, effective immediately, extending the ban to his activities with the Beth-Din of America, meaning that Freundel’s functions as one of the leading conversion rabbis in the United States were also suspended.

In a letter to member rabbis of the Orthodox body, the president, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, said the charges Freundel faces are “deeply troubling” and confirmed what had until now been attributed to anonymous sources — that the alleged peeping took place in the mikvah adjacent to Kesher Israel, Freundel’s Georgetown shul.

Freundel is “facing charges that are deeply troubling,” Matanky said, adding that the alleged peeping is a “terrible, awful violation of privacy and of the sanctity of the mikvah.”

A recipient of the letter read it out over the phone to JTA. Freundel, according to reports, hid a camera in the mikvah, which was open for use to Orthodox Jews throughout Washington.

Washington’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, is meeting Sunday with Orthodox Jews to discuss privacy issues related to whatever recordings police may have uncovered in a search of Freundel’s house.

Matanky praised the Kesher Israel board, which reported Freundel to the authorities, for “acting responsibly” in the matter. He said in the letter that the RCA would “take further action as appropriate.”

Orthodox Group Probed Alleged 'Mikveh Peep' Rabbi Barry Freundel

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:50

An Orthodox rabbinic association investigated allegations of impropriety against Rabbi Barry Freundel. Why didn’t it tell his synagogue board?

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