Sanford Heisler and Chaikin Sherman Expand Class Action Against Rabbi Voyeur and Religious Institutions by Adding Beth Din of America As A New Defendant

Posted August 16th, 2016.


For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos,201-493-1027[email protected]

August 16, 2016, Washington, DC – Today, Sanford Heisler, LLP and Chaikin Sherman Cammarata Siegel P.C. filed an amended complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on behalf of victims of Rabbi Bernard “Barry” Freundel, the rabbi currently serving a prison sentence for recording naked women at a Jewish ritual bath called a mikvah.  The Superior Court of the District of Columbia recently appointed Sanford Heisler, LLP as interim class counsel in this class action litigation, which is the only pending class action lawsuit in the country stemming from Rabbi Freundel’s mikvah voyeurism.

The mikvah is used primarily as the last step in conversions to Judaism and by Orthodox married women who are religiously required to immerse after their monthly menstruation.  The amended complaint details the intimacy of the mikvah ritual, in which women are required to disrobe completely and clean themselves thoroughly before immersing themselves. Rabbi Freundel has already admitted that he “defiled [this] space that was supposed to be private, sacred and healing” and has pleaded guilty to 52 counts of criminal voyeurism; prosecutors identified many more recordings showing female mikvah users partially or completely naked.

“The women who came to the mikvah were promised – both implicitly and explicitly – a private space free from male onlookers,” said David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler, LLP and lead counsel for the proposed classes.  “Defendants flagrantly broke their promises, egregiously breached their duties to the women who used the mikvah, and let Rabbi Freundel’s crimes go unchecked for years. We will ask a DC jury to hold all defendants liable and impose punitive damages in order to send a strong message that even institutions draped in the cloak of spirituality won’t escape punishment when they violate their legal obligations.”

In addition to suing Rabbi Freundel, the lawsuit brings claims against the religious institutions that enlisted Rabbi Freundel’s services and put him in positions of authority over the vulnerable women who used the mikvah. The amended complaint names four of these institutions as Defendants: the National Capital Mikvah, Inc., the Jewish ritual bath that served as the site of Rabbi Freundel’s crimes; the Georgetown Synagogue – Kesher Israel Congregation, the prominent DC Modern Orthodox synagogue that employed Rabbi Freundel for twenty-five years and purported to provide Orthodox rabbinic supervision for the mikvah; the Rabbinical Council of America, the organization of Orthodox rabbis that empowered Rabbi Freundel to direct Orthodox practices nationwide regarding religious conversion; and as an additional Defendant, the Beth Din of America, the religious court that authorized Rabbi Freundel to oversee the Orthodox conversions that he used to target victims.

The amended complaint brings claims on behalf of two classes of women: (1) all women who used the National Capital Mikvah prior to Rabbi Freundel’s arrest, and (2) the women who used the National Capital Mikvah prior to Rabbi Freundel’s arrest specifically in connection with religious conversion.

The amended complaint presents damning details about these religious institutions that gave Rabbi Freundel authority over the mikvah despite repeated warning signs.  The complaint charges that the Kesher Israel synagogue overlooked complaints that Rabbi Freundel behaved inappropriately with female congregants and expressly discouraged congregants from speaking out against Rabbi Freundel; additionally, the complaint alleges that the National Capital Mikvah endorsed suspicious “practice dunks” – an act with no basis in Orthodox Judaism – that Rabbi Freundel used as a ruse to record naked female conversion students; and further, the complaint alleges that the Rabbinical Council of America and the Beth Din of America broke their promise to ensure the “modesty” of female converts, despite complaints accusing Rabbi Freundel of sexual improprieties and the exploitation of conversion students.

“The complaint accuses Orthodox religious institutions of sitting idly by as Rabbi Freundel committed his crimes,” said Ira Sherman, Managing Partner with Chaikin Sherman Cammarata Siegel P.C. “Rather than preventing or investigating Rabbi Freundel’s crimes early on, these religious institutions repeatedly endorsed Rabbi Freundel as a religious leader whom vulnerable women were required to defer to and obey.”

The amended complaint seeks damages in excess of $100 million, including actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.  The two classes bring claims against Defendants for intrusion upon seclusion; negligent hiring, training, retention, and supervision; negligent infliction of emotional distress; breach of warranty; premises liability; and negligence.  Additionally, several female mikvah users and their husbands bring individual claims for loss of consortium.