Jewfem Blog

Why Israel Funding Non-Orthodox Mikvehs Is a Step Forward — and Backward

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Gafni

lior zaltzman The Israeli government – currently in the midst of various financial crises like a doctors’ strike and a revolt by municipalities protesting major cuts to education – has miraculously found 10 million NIS for something that until now has never really existed. That is: non-Orthodox mikvehs. The new initiative to create non-Orthodox ritual baths is the result of a compromise of sorts in which ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, pushed through his “Mikveh Law” that gives municipalities the power to ban non-Orthodox Jews from immersing in state-funded mikvehs for their own personal use. The bill is a disaster, another act of zealot control over who gets to convert to Judaism and over who gets to decide who the gatekeepers of the Jewish people are – only this time the debate takes place over the uncovered bodies of the most vulnerable members of the tribe at their most delicate, intimate moment.   YouTube Israeli lawmaker Moshe Gafni The idea that the state – any state – should be passing bills about any of this is outrageous, a violation of basic rights to privacy and the privacy of spiritual practice, and a huge stain on the State of Israel. This new jolt of funding for this new thing called non-Orthodox mikvehs, which comes from the Prime Minister’s Office for Diaspora Affairs is meant to be a salve for Jews of the world. After all, it seems to be acknowledging the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversion. And it is real money for real facilities, which is always nice. But this actually might have the opposite effect. It is a way of marking and denoting non-Orthodox Jews as officially “other”. There is currently one mikveh in Israel that is considered by the state to be “not Orthodox” – that is, the mikveh in Hannaton run by Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David. Although she has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University on the Jewish law, or_halakha_, of mikveh practice and has Orthodox ordination as a rabbi, these credentials are not recognized by the state as giving her authority to run a mikveh. Read the rest at The Forward: http://forward.com/sisterhood/347527/why-israel-funding-non-orthodox-mikvehs-is-a-step-forward-and-backward/

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What I Posted on Facebook About the Freundel Case

From Lilith: October 15 at 8:21amIf this is true — IF, of course — the implications here are enormous. Women in Orthodoxy have been complaining about rabbis who carry all kinds of patriarchal and misogynistic ideas with them into the community and into their work. If this story is true, it confirms women’s deepest pains in dealing with certain orthodox rabbis. Layers and layers of practices that hurt women…. - See more at: http://lilith.org/blog/2014/10/what-i-posted-on-facebook-about-the-freundel-case/#sthash.j5do9iFI.dpuf   Read the rest here: http://lilith.org/blog/2014/10/what-i-posted-on-facebook-about-the-freundel-case/

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Barry Freundel's crimes

Convicted of recording 52 women naked in the mikveh, with another 100 women who are past the statute of limitations.... Untold emotional, psychological and spiritual damage to the women..... victims who can no longer step foot in synagogue, who can no longer trust rabbis, who no longer want to be Jewish, who are reliving nightmares of abuse, who do not want to go the mikveh, whose marriages are strained, whose identities are in question...... Below is a detailed description of the crimes of Barry Freundel. Read it and tremble.   SUPERIOR COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CRIMINAL DIVISION - MISDEMEANOR BRANCHUNITED STATES OF AMERICACase No. 2014-CMD-18262 Hon. Geoffrey AlprinSentencing Date: May 15, 2015V.BERNARD FREUNDELUNITED STATES' MEMORANDUM IN AID OF SENTENCING The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, respectfully submits this memorandum in aid of sentencing. The defendant, Bernard Freundel, is before the Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to 52 counts of Voyeurism, in violation of 22 D.C. Code §§ 3531(6) and (c), involving surreptitiously videotaping 52 separate women. In light of the extraordinary scope of the defendant's crimes, the premeditation and planning involved, the substantial abuse of the defendant's position of exceptional trust, and the severe impact on the victims, the United States submits that a sentence of 208 months of incarceration would serve the interests of justice in this case. In support of its recommendation, the government relies on the following information. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORYBetween approximately 1989 and October 2014, the defendant, Bernard Freundel, was the sole rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, located at 2801 N Street, NW, Washington, D.C. The defendant also taught courses on ethics at Towson University for approximately five years, and seminars on Jewish law at Georgetown Law Center since the early 1990s. The defendant's influence was felt not only within Washington D.C., but around the world. For years, the defendant was a leader in an effort to establish uniform standards for conversions to Orthodox Judaism in the United States, and to ensure that many American conversions would be accepted by Israel. At one time, his reputation was that only his conversions would be guaranteed to be deemed valid by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. As a result, people came from all over the region and the globe to study with the defendant and convert with him as their sponsor. In 2005, a Jewish ritual bath (known as a "mikvah") opened at 1308 28th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Known as the National Capital Mikvah, the building is located across a courtyard from Kesher Israel.' A mikvah is used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by individuals as the final step in the Orthodox Jewish conversion process. The use of the mikvah and many of its attendant rituals and blessings are prescribed by Jewish text and tradition. As an initial matter, immersion in a mikvah is regarded as an intensely private and spiritual experience. As noted in a community...

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Is Orthodox culture responsible for creating the Freundels of the world?

[Published on JTA] MODIIN, Israel (JTA) — With the news that Rabbi Barry Freundel, a prominent Orthodox rabbi, has been arrested for peeping at the naked bodies of his female congregants through a secret camera in the mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, many disturbing questions are being raised about the implications of his suspected transgressions: Does it matter that Freundel is an Orthodox rabbi? Is he just a regular (alleged) creepy pervert? Or did his position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? Did Rabbi Barry Freundel’s position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? On the one hand, there are some really lovely and good-hearted Orthodox rabbis who have nothing to do with Freundel and abhor the entire story; they do not deserve to be demonized by association. One bad apple — or rabbi, as it may be –  shouldn’t spoil the whole basket. Furthermore, there are sex offenders in pretty much every culture, religion, ethnic group and social class. Violence against women is ubiquitous, unfortunately, so perhaps the particulars of the offender’s social context are not relevant. On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the multiple layers of power, authority and gender hierarchy involved in this story. After all, the scene of the alleged crimes was a mikvah, where women are naked, exposed and reliant on a system of intricate rules about their bodies that have been determined by men. Jewish women traditionally use the mikvah to immerse — fully nude — following menstruation or during conversion, and in some cases to mark significant life events. The practice of ritual immersion is usually overseen by female attendants, except in the case of Orthodox conversion, when three male rabbis also must be present to give approval. If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women. Moreover, Freundel may have targeted female converts — the subset of mikvah-goers who are most at risk of abuse. These very women often do not have enough security in their social position or Jewish knowledge to question the strange demands made by rabbis in the shower room. Thus the scandal raises disturbing questions about the social structures that give men like Freundel unfettered power over Orthodox conversion. (Freudel himself has been extremely active on the conversion issue in recent years, maintaining control of the Rabbinical Council of America’s Conversion Committee and speaking widely as an expert on conversion.) Read more: http://www.jta.org/2014/10/21/default/op-ed-what-the-freundel-scandal-says-about-orthodoxy-1#ixzz3GoGXgpwA

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