WASHINGTON — An Orthodox rabbi and former Towson University professor who secretly videotaped women as they prepared for a Jewish ritual bath was sentenced to 61/2 years in prison Friday after a D.C. Superior Court judge heard 90 minutes of emotional testimony from victims.
Bernard "Barry" Freundel, 63, was taken into custody immediately after Judge Geoffrey Alprin handed down the sentence. Many in the packed courtroom clapped as the man who was considered an authority on Jewish conversion was escorted away.
Freundel pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of voyeurism, admitting that he videotaped dozens of women at the National Capital Mikvah in Washington. A mikvah is a bath typically used by married Orthodox women and converts to Judaism. Freundel used tiny cameras hidden in items including a clock and a tissue box to record the women as they undressed and prepared for the bath.
Alprin called the case "one of classic abuse of power and violation of trust."
"The defendant essentially lured the victims to the mikvah," the judge said.
Each voyeurism count was a misdemeanor that carried a penalty of up to a year of incarceration and up to a $2,500 fine. In addition to the prison sentence, the judge ordered Freundel to pay $13,000 in fines to a fund for crime victims.
Freundel, who once led the Kesher Israel congregation in Washington, addressed the court before the judge sentenced him. He exhaled deeply as he approached a podium.
"I'm sorry, truly sorry," said Freundel, who wore a navy suit and red tie. "I apologize from the depths of my being."
Freundel said he has been in intensive therapy for months and felt a sense of relief when he was arrested in October.
Many of his victims, who were not identified by name in court, called him a danger to the community. More than a dozen victims spoke at the sentencing.
Some of them described how, as converts to Orthodox Judaism, they trusted Freundel to guide them through a deeply personal spiritual process. They said the rabbi often made up reasons for why they needed to repeat their immersions in the mikvah. Some said that because Freundel handled their conversion, the ordeal has left others in their community questioning whether they are truly Jewish.
The mikvah ritual is supposed to be a cleansing experience that brings a woman closer to God, but some victims said that is now tainted by Freundel's crimes.
"He violated a sacred and holy ritual and made it into something wrong and disgusting," one woman said.
Several women said the rabbi exploited them in other ways, pressuring them to do unpaid clerical and household work for him.
Seven people, including two rabbis, spoke on Freundel's behalf. Supporters called Freundel a gifted teacher and said locking him up would benefit no one.
After the sentence was announced, Freundel's lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, asked the judge if he would allow his client to report to prison at a later date.
"He knew this was coming," Alprin replied. "I will not allow it."
Many in the courtroom applauded.
Prosecutors had recommended a 17-year-sentence, saying Freundel's case "falls on the extreme end of the voyeurism spectrum." His defense team argued for a sentence of community service, contending that Freundel already had been punished enough by his fall from grace.
Harris said after the hearing that he planned to appeal the sentence, which he called "harsh." He added that Freundel has not been working and has been living alone in a rental apartment.
One of his victims, Bethany Mandel, 29, said she felt the sentence was fair. The Baltimore Sun typically does not identify victims of sexual crimes, but Mandel has spoken publicly about the case before and spoke to reporters Friday outside the courthouse.
Mandel expressed sympathy for Freundel's wife and children.
"I feel so badly for his family," Mandel said. "I hope that people realize that he didn't just hurt us. He hurt his wife and he hurt his children, who are all really wonderful people."
In a statement after the sentencing, acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen said D.C. prosecutors hope victims "will find some solace in the justice meted out by the court today."
Freundel taught classes on religion and ethics at Towson. He was suspended after his arrest in October and resigned from the school after his guilty plea.