Jewish Men Should Take Comfort in the Barry Freundel Voyeurism Case

For those who haven’t heard yet, some Jewish guy named Barry was arrested for installing a hidden camera in the women’s mikveh at a Washington DC shul that sports members like Jack “Secretary of the Debt” Lew and Joe “Let’s Bomb Everything” Lieberman.

Barry is the Rabbi of the shul. He’s been the Rabbi since 1989. Barry is also on a bunch of committees for stuff like conversion, Beis Din of America something, and he teaches as an adjunct professor for an ethics course or some other ironic thing. He converts women to Judaism. But not anymore.

He was caught installing a dream machine 1980’s looking radio clock with a hidden camera in it just outside the shower.

Dream Machine Hidden Camera Radio Clock
Dream Machine Hidden Camera Radio Clock

While installing this thing in the Mikveh right outside the shower, my favorite line in the article happened:

On Sept. 28, a woman in charge of the bath’s changing area and showers noticed Freundel “plugging in a clock on the sink inside the changing area, right by the shower,” an affidavit says. She told the rabbi that there was already a clock on the wall, according to the document, and he responded, “This clock will help with the ventilation in the shower.”

That gem has to go on a T-shirt.

Rabbi Barry Freundel is suspected to have secretly videoed hundreds of women over several years dating back to 2010. Deleted files containing women’s first names from his shul were found on his computers. The amount of hardware this guy had raises an eyebrow itself.

Police listed items seized from the rabbi’s home as six external hard drives, seven laptop computers, five desktop computers, three regular cameras, 20 memory cards and 10 flash drives. Police have said the camera in the bath and another found in the home were part of clock-radios in which the hidden device was linked to a motion detector.

I have one laptop in my home, and one in my office. That’s it.

Those reading this may notice I’m taking a humorous approach to this whole thing rather than an “Oh My God what a Chillul Hashem!” approach. It’s because I don’t trust Rabbis to begin with. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust any people who happen to be Rabbis. I trust my brother and my father, both Rabbis, but that’s because I know them, more or less. I just don’t trust anyone BECAUSE he’s a Rabbi, and I think the world would be a better place if people were more inherently skeptical of people with religious authority.

The less trust in power and authority that people have, the better. That extends to doctors, government officials, financial advisors, and anyone claiming to be an expert. With Google, you can check up on whatever anyone says to you these days.

This case, though, had me thinking of several things. First, the Tefila Zakah that men are supposed to say before Yom Kippur. This is one of those guilt-trip weird psychedelic compositions written by a sad soul about how many demons he gave birth to through chronic masturbation. Then my head skipped to a pasuk from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) I remembered from Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos about nobody going through life without sinning. I’d bet a dollar that Shlomo, or whoever wrote the book, had auto-erotic self stimulation in mind. These days the chronic guilt trip among men is coupled with internet pornography.

So all you men who klopped על חטא for watching porn and other common sins, put things in perspective. These sins would include seeing a prostitute, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality for the gay people out there, or any number of consensual sexual sins. The perspective is this: When you’re watching porn, you may be hurting yourself, but it’s voluntary and you’re not harming anyone against their will. If you’re gay and you have a relationship with another man, you’re not harming anyone against their will. You’re not getting off on invading the privacy of another.

But the line from watching women naked on a screen who have been paid and agreed to be filmed, or any other sexual sin, is very, very far from something like voyeurism, where you are deliberately invading, violently, the life of another. This is a sin against the Non Aggression Principle, and is entirely different in nature.

If Barry Freundel were a normal man committing sins that most men commit, he would sit at home and get off on regular pornography, or see a prostitute, or whatever. Not that this would be perfectly fine, but it would be excusable, at least to me, maybe not to his wife. But I’m trying to imagine the moment in Feundel’s head when he decided he was going to cross the line past the Non Aggression Principle and watch women undress without their consent.

There has to be something very qualitatively different about the brain of someone who decides do do this, something very different from your average everyday guy who masturbates to pornography. I believe I speak for most men when I say that if someone showed me a voyeur video of vulnerable women I would be sick to my stomach and I’d have the urge to punch the guy in the face who took it.

If I try to get into Barry’s head for even a second, think about what it would be like to take pleasure in seeing this kind of stuff, I can’t do it. Unless I pretend I’m actually an evil person taking pleasure in the vulnerability of these poor women.

The reason I have an inherent skepticism of anyone in the position of power like a Rabbi, is that anyone in a position of power is there because some part of him wants power over people. That automatically means he’s suspect.

So let this case infuse you with skepticism. It’s healthy. And if you’re a guy who commits the same sins that most guys do all the time, take it easy on yourself. You’re not a violent voyeur.

My wife includes this chiddush that I actually like a lot. When giving tzedaka, the highest form of tzedaka is anonymous, so neither the giver nor the receiver knows who got it or where it came from. When dealing with violence, or violations of the NAP, it’s almost the opposite. With rape, at least you are not cowardly enough to hide yourself from your victim. She knows who you are, you know who she is.

But voyeurism in some ways is worse. The victim doesn’t know who you are, or even that she is a victim.

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Halachic Proof that Circumcision is a Violation of the Non Aggression Principle

Someone commented on a previous post:

There are many justifications for Milah vs. NAP. I wrote a lot about this for the drawer, so just ask, and i can write it here. To start, it is a clear benefit to the child in the social sense, the same way extra fingers are removed. Having it later is more painful.

In that post I had said the following about circumcision.

And in the end, Judaism forces me to be a minarchist, of a sort. To draw a line from my own personhood instead of from something outside myself. To have just a little intuition of my own. I circumcised my son without his consent, and thereby broke the NAP, the holy of holies of libertarian law. I hated it. I cried. And then even I, the uncontrollable libertarian radical teeming with hatred of the State, drew a line from within to circumscribe power. I did, and will do brit milah, and that’s it. I can’t explain why in any logical terms other than God told me to. And I will not go any further than that into the realm of power over other men. Not ever. Not one inch.

Anyone who wants to read my back and forth with Walter Block on bris milah can do so here, at Economic Policy Journal.

My position is that a bris on an 8-day old baby necessarily violates the NAP. It is an unnecessary surgery, and despite the benefits of circumcision, there are also drawbacks. Never mind what they are, the fact is that the kid has no say in whether to do it or not, and it should be his decision. Other issues such as dressing, bathing, feeding, putting in a crib by force, disciplining, etc. are issues of safety and child rearing, and if these are not done, a child will have serious problems in life.

The other side claims as this commenter did, that it is a clear benefit to the child socially. Perhaps so, but a child can decide this when he is, say, 6 or 7 when he may begin becoming embarrassed by having an ערלה (foreskin) for whatever reason. If he decides to do the surgery then voluntarily then fine. That wouldn’t violate the NAP at all, assuming a 7 year old has the capacity to voluntarily do something. (Let’s not complicate things.)

But this kind of argumentation is beside the point. There are obviously ways to justify circumcision as not violating the NAP, whether you make a medical, social, or child rearing argument, none of which I accept, but let’s assume I do. Still, there is the halachic issue of what a bris actually is, and here we get into a more Talmudic form of argumentation.

Taking the case of a child born circumcised, or an adult conversion where the man is already circumcised, we clearly see that one קיום (fulfillment aspect) of a bris is itself the violence of the act. Why? Because a child born circumcised still needs to be wounded by his father. A convert who is already circumcised also needs to bleed in order to be converted. Without a הטפת דם ברית, (drawing of covenant blood) a father does not fulfill the mitzva of circumcision on his son who is born circumcised.

Now say what you want about circumcision itself. Wounding a baby for the sake of wounding a baby for no purpose other than to fulfill a mitzvah is clearly a violation of the NAP. And it is an integral part of the bris. Blood must be drawn. This is also why a Gomco clamp is considered פסול (unsatisfactory) for circumcision, because with a Gomco there is no bleeding.

Clearly then, one kiyum of a bris is violence. Certainly, it is absolutely minimal. One prick, one drop of blood, and nothing more than that. But it is still there. One point of a bris is to violate the NAP, and therefore my point still stands. Judaism forces me to be a minarchist of a sort, and draw a line demarcating violence from within myself.

Indeed, to say עד כאן. “Up to here, and no further.”

To reinforce the idea that above the NAP is God Himself, and as sure as He is the One Who commanded me to observe the NAP, He is also the One Who commanded me to violate it in the case of circumcision.