A settlement has been reached in a $100 million class-action suit against an Orthodox synagogue in Washington whose rabbi secretly videotaped naked women immersing themselves in a mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath.
The suit was also brought against the Rabbinical Council of America (the main organization of Orthodox rabbis in the United States) the Beth Din of America (the main Orthodox rabbinical court) and the administrators of the mikveh that rented space from the synagogue.
According to the terms of the settlement announced on Tuesday, the plaintiffs will receive a total $14.25 million. As is common in class-action suits, the number of plaintiffs who will be eligible for the settlement money has yet to be determined, but an estimated 150 women are believed to have been videotaped while dipping themselves in the mikveh as the final step in their conversion to Judaism.
Before he was arrested in October 2014, Barry Freundel, the rabbi who secretly filmed these women, served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Kesher Israel and was considered one of America’s most prominent Orthodox rabbis. He began serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence in May 2015 after pleading guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism in a scandal that stunned the American Jewish community.
After the arrest of the so-called “peeping rabbi,” the Rabbinical Council of America revealed that it had investigated earlier allegations of impropriety made against Freundel but had taken no action. In their class-action suit, filed in December 2014, the plaintiffs claimed that the synagogue and the council were aware of Freundel’s behavior before the secret cameras were discovered but did nothing to stop him.
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The settlement stipulates that every plaintiff in the class action who has been identified as having been videotaped will receive a minimum of $25,000. Depending on how many times they were videotaped, whether their conversion to Judaism was affected, and whether they suffered physically or mentally as a result of the rabbi’s actions, they could be eligible for much bigger sums as well.
In August 2016, Congregation Kesher Israel moved to dismiss the case. Rather than oppose the motion, lawyers representing the plaintiffs decided to enter into negotiations on a settlement.
In an email sent to members of Kesher Israel, Andrew Cooper, the president of the congregation, wrote: “Although Kesher is confident that it would have been found without fault if the case were litigated to final judgment, Kesher believes that resolving the case at this time is in its best interest, as well as the best interests of the Kesher community and Freundel’s victims. The settlement would enable all parties to avoid the burdens of further litigation, and would allow Kesher to continue its focus on serving the needs of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., without the distraction of the lawsuits.”
He noted that the settlement would be financed entirely by insurance.