RCA sets panel to review conversion process in wake of Freundel scandal


(JTA) – The Rabbinical Council of America formed a committee to review its conversion processes two weeks after a leading conversion rabbi, Barry Freundel, was arrested on voyeurism charges.

On Wednesday, the RCA said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, its honorary president and spiritual leader of Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J., will chair the committee to look at the Orthodox group’s Geirus Protocol and Standards conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.

The committee is comprised of six men and five women and includes two female converts to Judaism; Abby Lerner, the admissions director and a teacher at Yeshiva University’s high school for girls; Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York’s Kehilath Jeshurun and Ramaz school; Bracha Rutner, a female adviser of Jewish law; a variety of rabbis, and a psychotherapist. The two converts on the panel are Evelyn Fruchter, a litigation attorney, and Bethany Mandel, a recent convert of Freundel’s who penned a proposed Bill of Rights for converts after the scandal broke.

The committee has been asked to report its findings and recommendations to the RCA Executive Committee by Jan. 31.

The RCA committed to forming the panel following the arrest of Freundel, spiritual leader of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington. Freundel was charged with voyeurism after a witness allegedly saw him installing a clock radio with a hidden camera in the women’s showers of the congregation’s mikvah. He has pleaded not guilty.

Freundel was suspended from his position at the synagogue and by the RCA, which extended the ban to his activities with the Beth Din of America, a rabbinical court.

“The RCA recognizes the inherent sensitivities and vulnerabilities involved in the conversion process and will do all it can to ensure that such victimization will never be repeated,” RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky said in a statement announcing the committee. “We believe the formation of this committee, reflecting a cross section of our community, is an important first step in this regard.”

RELATED: For prospective Orthodox converts, process marked by fear and uncertainty


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