- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - A once-prominent Orthodox rabbi who secretly videotaped scores of women undressing and using a changing room at a Jewish ritual bath was sentenced Friday to approximately six-and-a-half years in prison.

More than a dozen of the some 150 women Rabbi Bernard Freundel filmed spoke during the hearing, some with voices breaking and others in tears. Before he was sentenced, Freundel told the judge he was “disgusted” by his actions, calling what he did “reprehensible.”

“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry,” he said.

Prosecutors had asked that Freundel be sentenced to approximately 17 years in prison. His attorney had argued community service was an appropriate sentence.

Freundel, 63, acknowledged as part of a plea agreement in February that from 2009 to 2014, when he was arrested, he secretly recorded women in a showering and changing area of The National Capital Mikvah in Washington, a ritual cleansing bath he worked to have built. A statute of limitations would have barred prosecutors from charging Freundel for every recording, however, and he pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism, each count punishable by up to a year in jail.

The judge overseeing Freudel’s case, Geoffrey Alprin, called Freundel’s actions “despicable” and an abuse of power. He ordered Freundel to serve 45 days in prison for each of the 52 counts.

Freundel’s attorney Jeffrey Harris had argued that any sentence longer than a year would be illegal. Each of the counts was punishable by a year, and the law required them to run concurrently, Harris argued. The judge disagreed, but Harris said after the hearing that he plans to appeal and called the sentence “harsh.”

The women who spoke during the hours-long hearing described a range of emotion from bouts of depression to nightmares. Some said Freundel’s actions have made them wary of locker rooms or dressing rooms. One woman said she avoids looking at pictures of her wedding because Freundel officiated at it.

“I feel tainted and dirty by what Rabbi Freundel did,” said one. “How could I have been so foolish?” said another. “Please protect us from this man,” one told the judge.

Other women spoke to Freundel directly. “Why? How could you do this to me?” one woman asked, saying he had turned her “life upside down.” Another woman told him: “I forgive you.”

The Associated Press does not identify victims of sex crimes. However, one of the victims who has been vocal and used her name, Emma Shulevitz, said after the hearing that the sentence was “a good long time.”

Before one of Freundel’s recording devices was discovered in October and he was arrested, Freundel had led the Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington for 25 years and was particularly sought out by people who wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism.

Some of the women Freundel videotaped were women whose conversion to Judaism he was supervising. He also invited female students from classes he taught at Towson University in Maryland and Georgetown University’s law school to visit and use the mikvah for the sole purpose of recording them, prosecutors said.

Freundel acknowledged as part of his plea agreement that he used recording devices hidden in a clock radio, a fan and a tissue box holder. In some instances he used up to three recording devices to capture women from different angles. His recordings captured women undressing, using the toilet and entering and exiting a shower, prosecutors said.

Freundel was fired from the synagogue about a month and a half after his arrest. In court Friday he said he was relieved when he was arrested and that he has been trying through therapy to understand his actions. He blamed his actions in part on “childhood degradation” that has “haunted” his life. He did not elaborate.

“I recognize that I created something of a phobia about a place that should be sacred and I’m sickened by that,” he said.


Follow Jessica Gresko at https://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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