By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have heard that you are the rabbi in charge of the Dallas mikvah, so I decided to address my feelings to you over the recent charges of voyeurism against Rabbi Barry Freundel from Washington D.C. The widespread outrage this has fostered and its effects cannot be underestimated; so many women who were users of his mikvah feel violated beyond words, and especially his female conversion candidates who feel the very rabbi bringing them into Judaism was perverting Judaism for his own lusts and gratification, besides their feelings of being violated. I, personally, feel I need some reassurance that such a thing could never happen in Dallas. I would also hate to think that the crime Rabbi Freundel allegedly committed would be a reason for them not to consider using a mikvah and thereby deny themselves the beauty of that mitzvah.
— Julie W.
All of my colleagues and myself share your outrage over what has allegedly transpired by a (heretofore) respected rabbi who misused his power to violate women in their most private and holy of times. We are all deeply embarrassed that this crime could have allegedly happened in even one mikvah out of the many thousands worldwide. This is a crime on many levels. Among the crimes which we cannot forgive is the breach of trust which he has effected in the minds of many. This may cause women to not trust rabbis who are completely and impeccably trustworthy, which may cause a breakdown in the crucial relationship between rabbi and congregant. My heart goes out to the many women who, rightfully so, feel so crushed by this breach of trust and have had their worlds shattered by this.
I feel that events such as these are times for all of us to engage in deep introspection and take a fresh look at how we are “running the show” in our mikvaos.
In Dallas, there are actually a few mikvaos. I am in charge of the halachic rulings of Mikvah Israel of Dallas, the central mikvah open to the wider Jewish community. The board and president of Mikvah Israel are all women of the highest caliber who pride themselves in the safety and integrity of our mikvah. Many safeguards are built into the mikvah and its ancillary structure to insure the highest degree of privacy, discreetness and dignity of the users. The mikvah’s cleanliness and presentation is paradigm. The dedicated mikvah attendants are trained for ultimate respect of each woman’s privacy as well as to provide their every need. A system is in place that no user should even be aware of who else is using the mikvah that night. A system of external cameras and door locks are in place to ensure the safety from any external threats. The list goes on.
That being said, in response to the current above-mentioned alleged voyeurism, we are currently investigating independent sources, such as the Dallas Police Dept., who can periodically check the facility to ensure it to be free of any potential security breaches; as a public building we can never be too sure and want to take every precaution to ensure the complete safety and dignity of every user of the mikvah. We are also looking into other ways we can further enhance our mikvah structure and process, thereby providing an even more meaningful and joyous experience for the participants.
I feel this is also a time to renew mikvah outreach and education — to “turn lemons into lemonade” — by disseminating the profound beauty of this mitzvah, which has so greatly enriched the lives of untold numbers of women throughout Jewish history. We are looking into programs to do just that, to combat darkness with light. This is with a prayer to the Al-mighty that those women who were violated should be cured of their pain and find it in their hearts to rediscover the beauty of this mitzvah. The follies of one man should not seal them off forever from the timeless beauty of a mitzvah through which they join hands with millions of Jewish women throughout the ages who have propelled themselves to incredible levels of holiness and closeness to their Creator, and may they rediscover peace and happiness in their Jewish lives.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.