Responding to strong international condemnation, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has backtracked on its decision to review conversions performed by Rabbi Barry Freundel, the American rabbi charged with secretly filming women in his synagogue’s ritual bath.
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In a statement published Tuesday afternoon, the Chief Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor announced: “After a thorough reviewing of the various aspects of Jewish law on the issue, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel now announces that past conversions of Rabbi Freundel will not be affected by recent events. Anyone with a conversion certificate from Rabbi Freundel will not face special problems when approaching the Chief Rabbinate with questions of marriage or any other questions.”
On Monday, Haaretz reported that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was looking into conversions performed during the period when Freundel allegedly had hidden cameras installed in the shower stalls near the synagogue’s mikveh. It had no intention, though, of reviewing conversions overseen by Freundel prior to then. The first accusations against Freundel began to surface in 2012.
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) – an umbrella organization for the Modern Orthodox movement in the United States – announced on Monday that all conversions ever performed by Freundel were valid. The announcement created intense pressure on the Chief Rabbinate to back down and not interfere with decisions taken by the religious Jewish establishment abroad.
Following a day of intensive deliberations, the Chief Rabbinate succumbed to the pressure.
In its statement, the Chief Rabbinate did say, however, that conversions performed by Freundel in the future would not be recognized. When asked how it would even be possible for Freundel to perform conversions in the future considering that he was stripped this week of all his titles and functions, the spokesman said: “Things like this have happened. Who knows? He might find a small following somewhere.”
Freundel, the rabbi of Kesher Israel, a prominent Modern Orthodox congregation in the Georgetown neighborhood, was charged last week with six counts of voyeurism. It is estimated that he performed dozens of conversions while serving as head of the Washington D.C. area rabbinical court. At least four of the women he converted moved this year to Israel, where the Chief Rabbinate is the final authority on who qualifies as a Jew for the purpose of marriage.
Responding to the Chief Rabbinate's decision, Rabbi Seth Farber, the executive director of Itim, an organization that advocates on behalf of converts issued the following statement: "I'm glad the Rabbinate recognized their mistake and the unnecessary suffering that they caused legitimate converts, and I hope in the future, it will be quicker to act in the spirit of Jewish tradition and protect converts from feeling vulnerable." Itim was in negotiations with the Chief Rabbinate's office all day on the matter, he added.