Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the time period in which they fall call for soul searching, repentance and apology when necessary. In that spirit, Rabbi Bernard Freundel, who is serving a six-year sentence for installing secret cameras in the mikvah ritual bath adjacent to his Washington, D.C., synagogue offers this statement to the community:
No matter how many times I attempt to apologize, it will never be enough. There are simply no words available to sufficiently assuage the hurt that I caused among conversion candidates, congregants, students, family, friends, and rabbinic and academic colleagues. I am sorry, beyond measure, for my heinous behavior and the perverse mindset that provoked my actions.
On May 15th, as I sat in the courtroom listening to the victim impact statements, each felt like a blade entering my gut. The speakers expressed their feelings of rage, hurt, humiliation, vulnerability and violation. How could I have been so incredibly blind, so unaware of my own impact on others? I ask myself that question every day. Through therapy, I came to understand the psychological underpinnings of why I acted in this despicable way. But I have not yet fully grasped how I could have been so completely oblivious to the harm I was doing to others.
I shook the faith foundations of those who were approaching Judaism with determination and the trepidation of leaving their previous lives behind; I defiled a space that was supposed to be private, sacred and healing; and I caused people to feel unsafe, abused and objectified. I did this to people I genuinely cared about, people to whom I was close, and I shattered the worlds of those I loved most.
Throughout my lifetime, I never wanted to disappoint people, to cause people to feel that I was arrogant, untrustworthy, unapproachable or abusive. But I now understand that this is how people have felt. I became a rabbi precisely because I wanted to help people, as well as being drawn to the depth and the scholarship of Judaism, and I have tainted that miserably. I wanted to help folks heal, and in many instances, I have instead triggered their past traumas and caused new pain. I am sorrier than anyone can imagine for what I have done.
My preference would be to apologize individually to each person I have hurt. However, I recognize that reaching out to convey my regret could cause further harm to some and that such contact would be unwelcome. Therefore, I thought that the only solution would be to apologize publicly.
Additionally, I am aware that my actions have had very negative repercussions not only in the D.C. area, but throughout the Jewish world. In particular, I would ask forgiveness from other rabbanim and Orthodox scholars, who may have had to fight harder than normal to uphold halachic standards of observance in the face of criticism.
Finally, I would like to apologize to anyone who saw me as stoic, hubristic or unreachable. I work every day to improve, but I know I sometimes still miss the mark. In the absence of anything else, I would like to repeat how completely sorry I am for my behavior and actions. There is no excuse for what I’ve done. Again, I’m truly sorry.
September 8, 2015