Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How could the Freundel scandal happen in the Modern Orthodox world?

There's far too much publicly available evidence now to hope that Freundel is innocent, that this is a misunderstanding, or that he was framed. He was visible on the camera numerous times, setting it up. The courts will eventually deliver a verdict, but at this point, there can be little doubt that Barry Freundel committed the crime.

Now we have to ask ourselves some very hard questions. Many of us have blamed the occasional scandals of deviant individuals in the Charedi world on the cloistered nature of that world, and of the objectification of women that accompanies it.

But Barry Freundel was a leading light of the Modern Orthodox world, which prides itself on opening up roles for women, where interaction between the sexes, while having careful boundaries, is acceptable. Where women are, supposedly, not objectified. Modern Orthodox women become doctors, lawyers, and professors. They are not cloistered in the home, told that their primary role in life is to become a mother.

So what is it that made Freundel do what he did? Every man has a sex drive and every heterosexual man enjoys the sight of attractive women. But this is far beyond just glancing at women, or even looking at online pornography. This was the premeditated setting up of cameras and recording women who trusted and looked up to Freundel. It was the exploitation and abuse of a power entrusted by a community. It was intricately planned. And he did it again and again. Which means it wasn't a momentary lapse by an otherwise praiseworthy individual.

Instead, it means that Barry Freundel was a fraud. A fake. He presented a face to the world that became admired and respected, yet he was fooling us all.

How can such a man have become such a prominent and respected rabbi in the Modern Orthodox community? Was he an isolated case, someone who was just manipulative enough to make us think he was authentic? Or did he start out authentic and became a charlatan sometime over the years?

Either way, we have to ask ourselves if something's rotten in the state of Modern Orthodoxy, something deeply wrong with way we choose our leaders. Was this just isolated, or do we now have to take a second look at all our leaders? Is our supposedly enlightened version of Orthodoxy still guilty of objectifying women in a way that either encouraged or enabled such a man to commit the acts he did?

Where do we go from here?

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