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D.C. synagogue fires Rabbi Barry Freundel

(JTA) – The board of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Washington synagogue, Kesher Israel, fired the rabbi and said he must vacate his residence by Jan. 1. Freundel had been on suspension without pay since his Oct. 14 arrest on voyeurism charges for allegedly installing secret cameras in the shower room of the mikvah adjacent to the Orthodox shul. Freundel’s residence is owned by the synagogue. The synagogue board made its decision last week and announced it to the community in an email sent Sunday and in a notice posted on the synagogue website.

“The decision by the Board of Directors was made under extraordinarily difficult and unfortunate circumstances,” the board said in its announcement. “The alleged acts leading to this step were a gross violation of law, privacy, halakha, and trust. They breached the high moral and ethical standards we set for ourselves and for our leadership.”

The ritual bath, known as the National Capital Mikvah, has been scrutinized to make sure no other hidden devices remained. Last week, Freundel also was formally terminated as the mikvah’s supervising rabbi.

Freundel also has been suspended without pay from his position as associate professor at Towson University in suburban Baltimore, where he taught in the philosophy and religious studies department. The rabbi apparently took students on field trips to his synagogue and the mikvah, and university officials said last month they were concerned that some students may have been secretly videotaped at the mikvah in varying states of undress.

The next court date for Freundel, who has pleaded not guilty to six counts of voyeurism, a misdemeanor crime, is Jan. 16. Misdemeanor charges in Washington carry maximum sentences of 12 months. In theory, if found guilty Freundel could be sentenced to six successive yearlong terms.

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