Pop Culture & the Making of an Alleged Rabbi-Voyeur

Remember that Duran Duran music video, “Girls on Film?”

I thought of it today when I found out that local rabbi Barry Freundel was accused of wiring his synagogue’s mikvah (ritual bath) as a continuous, live-streaming peepshow.

Actually the first time I heard, I didn’t understand what the crime was.

Because it would never even occur to me that a widely respected religious figure would ever even think of violating his congregants in such an indiscriminate yet intimate way.

The truth is I still cannot understand. In a world literally soaked in porn, couldn’t he find an easier way to get his X-rated fix?

But there was something more deliberate here, if the accusations are true. It's about victimizing people who trust you. And that is what makes me, frankly, want to puke when I think about this.

It is not only men who are voyeurs. Lena Dunham is one, too. Yet - perhaps because she is a female, and typically would be the target of same - her version is unusual, compelling, highly rewarded and recognized.

To me, it doesn't work. In Girls, she shoves women’s (and men's) nude bodies in our faces, for no other reason than that they are there.

It's offensive. Their most intimate moments - her most personal, sexual emotions and expressions - are splayed out for us as if revealing something artistic.

But really, it's just for the meaninglessness of it. That's all.

Lars von Trier does not hate women, although from Nymphomaniac - a movie almost entirely about peeping in on a woman's deviant sex life - you might conclude the opposite is true.

After all, we find the heroine beaten up badly as the movie starts.

And as it continues, her sheer self-hatred at having normal human emotion becomes our hatred of her for being such a “whore.”

What keeps the film from being woman-hating though, is its focus on telling the story. Not judging, just telling it all.

Back in the real world, I am part of a community deeply, deeply traumatized. At the circus that is now all things Freundel.

I am crying tonight for the women whose trust was destroyed, whose privacy was violated in a totally shattering way, for the husbands who have to look at him and imagine him looking at their wives.

For the children of all ages whose religious belief will be sorely tested by this.

Maybe we will have the intelligence to use this episode as a “teachable moment.” To have compassion for the Freundel family. To get the victims help. To get legal redress for them. To make sure that the rabbi gets psychiatric care, if he is indeed guilty.

But we probably won’t...probably. Because popular culture turns on profit. The more extreme the behavior, the more money passes hands.

And so stories like this are at least 50% about the sexual thrill of imagining the whole violation.

Rather than actually changing things. So that it becomes horrifying, socially taboo to exploit a human being sexually, or for that matter in any way, at all.

It is actually hard to imagine a world like this. It's almost impossible even to think it.

But we have to think it, don't we?

Because the problem is not a deviant boogeyman lurking in an alley.

It is the average consumer, watching average TV and clicking average click-bait. It is us.

Waiting, in the most bored fashion possible, for something interesting to happen.

To take us away from our less-than exciting existence.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: Snapsi Ctajikep / Flickr