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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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Rabbi in voyeurism case seen as distant and — until now — morally strict

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:29

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been known as a national leader on conversion and a strict moralist.

WASHINGTON (JTA) – 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.

Freundel, 62, was taken away Tuesday in handcuffs, after uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department searched his home in the Georgetown section of Washington. A local NBC affiliate reported that the rabbi had installed a clock radio with a hidden camera, called the “Dream Machine,” in the women’s showers of the congregation’s mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath.

The arrest marks a startling turn in the career of a rabbi known as a national leader in establishing precepts for conversion and as a strict moralist, who just last month railed against the corrosive effect of pornography on marriages. His synagogue, Kesher Israel, is one of the most prominent in Washington; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and New Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier are members, and former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is a former congregant.

The synagogue board in a statement said it had reported Freundel to authorities. “Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” the statement, posted on the congregation’s website, said. “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

Cathy Lanier, the city’s police chief, is set to meet Sunday night at another Orthodox shul, Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue, to discuss privacy issues related to the case, Ohev Sholom stated in an alert to the community, citing “what images may exist, from what time period, whether those images may have been disclosed or distributed, and how will those images be treated with sensitivity by law enforcement and prosecutors.”

The Forward on Wednesday reported that the Rabbinical Council of America investigated Freundel over the summer on a separate allegation of sexual impropriety. The RCA never took action because the complainant was not able to provide evidence. An insider said the RCA never notified the synagogue’s board of directors of this charge.

Congregants told JTA they were shocked by the allegation. They described Freundel as somewhat aloof and said he delegated much of the personal outreach to his wife, Sharon.

“He came off as academic, intellectual, a space cadet, head in the clouds,” said one former male congregant, a young professional. “The word was out — if you wanted an emotional experience, someone who would hold your hand, go to Rabbi Shemtov,” this congregant said, referring to the senior Chabad rabbi in Washington, Levi Shemtov. “If you wanted rigorous study, go to Kesher.”

“He wasn’t a super warm and cuddly rabbi,” said another male congregant, who, like others interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“He would answer whatever she’elahs you had,” this congregant said, using the Hebrew term for questions regarding Jewish law. “He was more than happy to share his thought process from a religious perspective. He was very much the doctor-rabbi.”

Freundel is a on the faculty of  Georgetown University’s law school and Towson University in Maryland.

Yet another former congregant, a woman, acknowledged Freundel’s reputation as distant, but said his compassion was manifest through his intellect.

Freundel, a leading rabbi for conversions, was known for his strict adherence to the precepts laid down by the RCA, but would also take care to guide closely converts through what could be a protracted and arduous process. “He has fought so hard for those who wished to make a halachic conversion to Judaism,” this congregant said, using the Hebrew term for Orthodox Jewish precepts. “He would not cut corners, but he was a voice of reason with the rabbinate.”

Freundel hewed a centrist line in some of the recent controversies affecting Orthodoxy: He was among the first to embrace the notion of women presidents for Orthodox congregations, drawing ire from some right-wingers. But he rejected attempts on the Orthodox left to create a class of women clergy, or “rabbahs.” He was known, congregants said, for dismissing rabbis he believed were his intellectual inferiors.

Just last month he told the Washington Jewish Week that the Orthodox community was afflicted by changes in sexual mores. “The lack of sexual morality that pervades this society is all over the place,” he said, “and the Orthodox community, no matter how traditional, is not immune from this, and it creates terrible problems.”

He went on to say: “Pornography and its accessibility is wrecking marriages. It’s two keystrokes away. You get on the computer, you hit the button twice and you’re there. I have not counseled a couple in any level of relationship in the last five years where pornography hasn’t been an issue.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA executive vice president, noted Freundel’s role as the chairman of the RCA committee negotiating shared precepts for conversion with the Israeli rabbinate, which in recent years has accused American modern Orthodoxy of laxity in its approach. But Dratch said Freundel was just one figure in an ongoing process, and that it would not be affected by his departure. “Hopefully it doesn’t mean anything, because the process and the protocols are larger than any one individual,” he said.

Dratch extended the RCA’s sympathy to Freundel’s alleged victims.

“We have a lot of empathy for the alleged victims, for all women now who feel vulnerable who come to the mikvah, as well as for the family and for the rabbi himself,” Dratch said. “There’s too much we don’t know to pass judgment, but if true, we are outraged by the behavior of a rabbi in general and especially in an area of religious practice.”

From the Archive: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — and the rabbis

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 14:44

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Wikimedia Commons)

David Greenglass, whose testimony against his sister and brother-in-law — accused spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — played a central role in their conviction, recently died at age 92.

JTA had minimal coverage of the Rosenbergs’ trial for spying for the Soviet Union. However, in September of 1950 — soon after the couple was brought before a federal grand jury — it made note of a Denver Post editorial noting that “many of the persons implicated in espionage against the United States have been American citizens of Jewish descent.” The editorial, which named Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass as examples, praised a Denver rabbi, Manuel Laderman, for blasting Communists, “particularly Communists of Jewish descent,” in a Rosh Hashanah sermon.

In the months before the Rosenbergs were executed, there were numerous unsuccessful rabbinic appeals, from overseas, for clemency: 22 Israeli rabbis on Nov. 18, 1952;
Britain’s chief rabbi on June 12, 1953; and Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities on June 16, 1953. While Israel’s two chief rabbis initially were reported to have signed onto the November letter, the Ashkenazi one (Isaac Herzog) denied he had signed and the Sephardic one (Ben Zion Usiel), said he regretted signing it.

In the United States, Rabbi Abraham Cronbach of Cincinnati was one of only three clergy members urging clemency; he officiated at the Jewish couple’s funeral on June 21, 1953.

Rabbinic opinion the Rosenbergs’ execution was divided, at least in New York:

Rabbi Ira Eisenstein said from his pulpit the Synagogue of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (Conservative) that “Jewish tradition is unalterably opposed to capital punishment.” Rabbi David J. Seligson, in a sermon at the Central Synagogue (Reform) declared that “a true judgment was passed upon the Rosenbergs in accord with our American principles of evidence.”

Years later, JTA noted in a feature story on a Los Angeles retirement home for “aging Jewish radicals” — many of them former Communists — that the home’s courtyard featured “a rose bush planted in honor of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”

More Orthodox Women Dance With Scroll for Simchat Torah

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 06:00

Many Orthodox synagogues now allow or even encourage women to dance with scrolls on Simchat Torah. More than 100 Israelis shuls have joined in the trend.

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Temple Mount visits halted due to violence

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 05:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian demonstrators protested near the Temple Mount after Israel Police limited worshippers’ access due to fears of violence amid growing tensions.

Jewish visitors were permitted to ascend the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning, but the visits were halted by noon after the protests became violent.  Arab-Israeli leaders joined the protests, including Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas of the Balad party.

Wednesday is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, and a day when many Jewish pilgrims visit the holy site.

Visits to the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning were restricted to Palestinian men over 50 years and women, though the Palestinian Maan news agency reported that women also were denied entry.

Israel Police reportedly said they had received “information on young Arabs intending to cause disturbances to public order at the end of prayers.”

On Monday, Israeli forces quelled riots on the Mount by pushing the protesters into the Al Aksa Mosque and locking the  door. Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Monday for the first time during the Sukkot holiday.

Music City Roofers Invites People to Join in 21 Day Fast and Prayer...

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 02:15

As part of a tribute to the heroes and everyone effected by the events of 9/11/2001, Music City Roofers (musiccityroofers.com) sponsors a funds raiser and invites people in America and from all over...

(PRWeb September 11, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12161074.htm

A Las Vegas Jewish New Year Story: Bet Knesset Bamidbar, the Largest...

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 02:15

…Finds its Match in New Rabbi, Steven Rosenberg

(PRWeb September 09, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/09/prweb12145221.htm

Rabbi Barry Freundel Arrested — Suspected of Peeping on Women in Mikvah

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 17:47

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been charged with spying on women bathing in his own synagogue’s mikvah. ‘Such a beautiful thing is now kind of tainted,’ one woman said.

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20 Rabbis Join Rallies in Ferguson as Anger Keeps Building

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 16:45

Two months after the Michael Brown shooting, protests in Ferguson, Missouri are showing no signs of dying down. And now rabbis are joining the struggle.

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D.C. rabbi Barry Freundel arrested, charged with voyeurism

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 15:14

Rabbi Barry Freundel

(JTA) — Rabbi Barry Freundel, the longtime spiritual leader at Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., was arrested and charged with voyeurism after the synagogue board alerted the authorities.

Freundel, 62, was taken away Tuesday in handcuffs after uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department searched his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, Washingtonian magazine reported.

A statement from the board of directors emailed to congregants said it had suspended Freundel without pay.

“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials,” said the statement. “Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

The D.C. police declined to provide further details beyond the charge. “We had an arrest of a Bernard Freundel, a 62 year old male who was arrested for voyeurism,” a police spokesman said.

Freundel, who is in police custody, is expected to have an initial appearance in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday.

Freundel has led Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue, for more than two decades. The congregation’s members include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The rabbi also serves on the executive council of centrist Orthodoxy’s Rabbinical Council of America.


Am Yisrael Buy: Pro-Israel app aims to counter flurry of BDS ones

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:37

Two New York University students participate in an Israeli products “buycott” to combat Israel Apartheid Week, March 2010. (Courtesy of The David Project)

The latest Israel technology wasn’t developed at the Technion, nor was it hatched by a startup in Tel Aviv. In fact, it didn’t come from Israel at all.

Am Yisrael Buy, a new app (available on Apple, Android and Windows Phone) designed to help users locate and buy Israeli products, is the brainchild of Rabbi Daniel Cohen, 49,the spiritual leader at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, N.J.

A screenshot of the Am Yisrael Buy app.

After learning this summer about apps being developed to advance the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the rabbi said he “went looking for a pro-Israel app and couldn’t find one that was standing up to BDS.”

So Cohen, who sees BDS as a movement geared toward “isolating and destroying the Jewish state,” took it upon himself to create Am Yisrael Buy, which launched just before Rosh Hashanah. Some 2,500 users have downloaded it so far; it includes a list of Israeli products for purchase, as well as links to Israeli media outlets and Israeli organizations.

For now, the effort pales compared to the technology on the other side. Using the Buycott app, which catalogues products and their affiliations and lets users set up campaigns to either support or avoid certain products, pro-Palestinian activists created a “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel” campaign, which now has over 400,000 users. In contrast, Buycott’s “Support Israel and Boycott Terrorist Organizations” has just under  12,000 users.

While Buycott wasn’t designed specifically for the BDS movement, several other apps have been, including two separate ones that share the title “Boycott Israel.” And in March this year, the BDS movement announced that it was creating an app that offered a comprehensive database of Israeli products, and a barcode scanner to help everyday consumers boycott the Jewish state.

Interestingly, despite their different goals, Am Yisrael Buy and the BDS apps are similar in that they share information about Israeli products. A consumer wishing to buy Israeli goods could easily download a BDS application and repurpose it.

But Cohen insists that building an app with a pro-Israel message is vital.

“I’ve always taken the view that it’s better to put out a positive message,” he said. “Quite frankly, a specific BDS app, by downloading it, you send a message, whether you intend to or not, that you are supporting BDS. The commerce is important, but equally important is the message that the American Jewish community in general is supportive of Israel. So each download of [my] application goes in the column of supporting Israel.”

Cohen said he hopes to clean the app’s interface and attract people with greater technical know-how to work on the app. But he’s not looking to monetize it or start a company.

“For me it’s about the mission, the love for Israel, and the commitment that brought me into the rabbinate and made me an avid Zionist,” he said. “I’m just very fortunate to be in a position where I can make a difference.”

Palestinians Clash With Troops on Temple Mount

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 09:54

Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters and shut down access to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound on Monday in a deepening dispute over access to the area, the third holiest shrine in Islam which is also revered by Jews.

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Rabbi Gil Steinlauf Wins Wide Support From Conservatives After Coming Out as Gay

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 21:47

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf has been stunned by the supportive response to his announcement that he is gay. The reaction reflects a dramatic in the Conservative movement in recent years.

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Ban Ki-Moon Slams Israel for Jerusalem Holy Site 'Provocations'

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 10:27

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israel for building in the settlements and condemned “provocations” at holy sites in Jerusalem.

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Women Can Dance With Scroll on Simchat Torah

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 07:42

Women are permitted to dance with a Torah scroll on the Simchat Torah holiday, a national-religious rabbinical organization has ruled.

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Israel Police push Arab rioters into mosque to clear Temple Mount for visitors

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 04:35

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel Police pushed Arab rioters on the Temple Mount into the Al-Aksa Mosque and locked them inside.

The rioters had collected rocks, firebombs and broken pieces of furniture in preparation for attacking police and Jewish visitors, according to reports. They also used barbed wire to barricade parts of the site.

Police raided the compound early Monday morning following morning prayers at the mosque, when they were attacked by the rioters.

The Israeli forces used stun grenades, tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to contain the rioters, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Monday for the first time since the start of the Sukkot holiday.

Among the visitors Monday morning was right-wing Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, who requested permission to bring a group to visit the Temple Mount following holiday prayers at the Western Wall.

“A pilgrimage to the courtyard of our Holy Temple should accompanied by poetry, drums and song – not the background sounds of explosions and gunshots as riot police officers prevent the rioters from leaving their mosque,” Feiglin wrote in a Facebook post following the visit.

Police began clamping down on security in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday, adding extra patrols and closing the major streets around the area to traffic. Tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers from Israel and abroad gathered at the Western Wall Sunday for the traditional Birkat Kohanim, or priestly blessing prayer.

On Friday, Israel Police restricted the entry of Muslim men to the Temple Mount to those over the age of 50 in response to riots at the holy site two days earlier. Four policemen were injured during the violence and at least five protesters were arrested, according to Israel Police.

Sim Shalom will Hold Jazz High Holiday Services at Zeb's;...

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 03:15

The Sim Shalom Online Synagogue will hold its Jazz High Holiday Services at Zeb’s Sound and Light in Chelsea – and that celebration will include a very special guest.

(PRWeb September 08, 2014)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/08/prweb12085561.htm

Buffalo's Oldest Synagogue Razed Despite Protest

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 13:19

The oldest synagogue in Buffalo was demolished despite the efforts of two demonstrators, who chained themselves to a pillar in the building.

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Historic Buffalo synagogue demolished despite demonstrators

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 11:45

(JTA) — The oldest synagogue in Buffalo, N.Y., was demolished despite the efforts of two demonstrators who chained themselves to a pillar in the building.

The Jefferson Avenue building was demolished on Saturday after the demonstrators, identified as David Torke and Rabbi Drorah Setel, were peacefully removed and detained by police, the Buffalo News reported.

Police said the building posed a safety hazard and thus was condemned. Preservationists said it should have been listed as a historical landmark.

The building, which was designed in 1903 by A.E. Mink, once was the home of Congregation Ahavath Sholem, also known as the Jefferson Avenue Shul. It was sold in 1960 to Saints Home Church of God and later to Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, which owned it for about 30 years. The building has been empty since 2005.

At first the demolition crew did not realize there were people in the building. Eight other demonstrators remained outside the structure.

80,000 Visit Western Wall for Sukkot Prayers

Sun, 10/12/2014 - 08:59

The Temple Mount was closed to non-Muslim visitors as about 80,000 Jewish worshippers visited the Western Wall for Sukkot holiday prayers.

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