By Amy Powell
Shortly before Rabbi Barry Freundel was arrested on charges of voyeurism for allegedly planting cameras in the synagogue’s mikveh areas, HBI’s graduate research associate, Rachel Putterman, highlighted the potential for danger in Fresh Ideas from HBI, The Beauty and the Horror of the Mikveh.
At the time, some readers criticized Putterman for being extreme or even unrealistic. Looking back, her work was prescient. Shortly after her post appeared, the Freundel abuses came to light. Unlike so many issues in the news cycle, this one stubbornly stays alive for good reason. As Putterman noted in her piece, there is much about mikveh practices that requires close examination and change.
What seems clear in the month since Freundel’s October 14th arrest is that this potentially isolated incident is born of a system without the necessary checks and balances. The discussion surrounding this inexcusable breach emboldened women and men to come forward and tell numerous stories revealing abuses of power both in the realm of the mikveh and in the process of conversion. We also see reaction from governing authorities such as batei din and the Rabbinical Council of America.
Here are some articles that best highlight the much-needed discussion that has ensued in the scandal’s wake:
- Female mikveh guides subjecting naked, vulnerable women to shame as they check for hangnails and so forth in Frimet Goldberger’s blog in the Sisterhood, When the Mikveh Is An Ordeal of Faith
- Objectification of the female body by male rabbis in Danya Ruttenberg’s blog in the Forward Thinking, Why Rabbi Freundel Story Makes Me Physically Ill
- Rabbis inspecting underwear and panty liners to give rabbinic rulings on staining between cycles in Tomorrow Nightby Pionit Almonit in The Torch.
- A call to take back the mikveh by Elyse Goldstein in the Sisterhood, After Mikveh Scandal Make Us Feel Clean Again
- The need for oversight, protection for converts and general healing in JOFA Executive Director Sharon Weiss-Greenberg’s opinion piece in The Jewish Week, Mikveh Needs To Be A Safe Place.
- HBI Author Elana Sztokman in a JTA op-ed on the abuse of power by the Orthodox rabbinate, What the Freundel Scandal Says About Orthodoxy
- Ethan Tucker on the core texts anchoring the discussion about mikveh practices and possible pathways forward in The Times of Israel, Immersion, Dignity, Power, Presence and Gender
- Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director, Carrie Bornstein in The Times of Israel, Breaking the Mikveh Monopoly, on opening the leadership of the mikveh to multiple stakeholder to avoid future scandal.
- Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel on Centralizing Authority on Conversions Hurts Converts and Rabbi Mark Dratch on Why the RCA’s Conversion System is Better Than The Alternative, both in op-eds for JTA.
- In Mikvah Best Practices, JOFA publishes a list of best practices from around the globe.
At HBI, we have always supported scholarly research and publishing to develop fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender worldwide. For example, Michal Roness has written, in Gender, Religion, and Family Law, published in the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law, about the process that led to the accreditation of the first cohort of yoatzot halacha or rabbinical law advisers who provide advice to women on how to observe the laws of family purity.
As Rabbi Freundel’s case winds through the legal system, there will be more evidence revealed and more discussion. It is our hope that those that hold roles in these sacred spheres will pay close attention.
Amy Powell is HBI’s communications director.