WASHINGTON — A group of women who were unknowingly videotaped by a D.C. rabbi as they took part in a religious ritual bath are suing him and affiliated organizations, and on Tuesday announced that they are seeking $100 million. The lawsuit was also amended Tuesday to include the Beth Din of America, an Orthodox court that oversaw Rabbi Barry Freundel.
Freundel, who was widely considered an expert on religious matters in the Modern Orthodox movement, was convicted of voyeurism: He pleaded guilty to taping 52 women as they prepared for the ritual bath known as a mikvah. Freundel had also often encouraged women who were undergoing religious conversions to take “practice dunks,” something not called for in the process.
The changes to the lawsuit were first reported by The Washington Post; the suit also names the Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America.
Alexandra Harwin, senior litigation counsel with Sanford Heisler LLC — the firm filing the proposed class-action lawsuit — explains why the suit was expanded. “Rabbi Freundel acted as the employee and agent of various religious institutions,” she said, and added that complaints about his behavior towards women had been reported before.
Harwin added, “The Rabbinical Council of America has publicly admitted that it has received complaints against Rabbi Freundel; in one of which it didn’t engage in any substantive investigation, the other of which didn’t result in any serious discipline for Rabbi Freundel.”
The lawsuit seeks to provide a measure of justice for the women whose trust was violated in a place where they felt protected.
Harwin said, “The women who were going to the mikvah expected a sacred and private space. And that is a space that was invaded by Rabbi Freundel, and those invasions were facilitated by the other religious institutional defendants in this action.”
Freundel was sentenced to six and a half years in prison last year.
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