24 May 2011

Israeli government task force recommends legislation to protect citizens from cults

Jerusalem Post - May 24, 2011

Welfare Ministry calls for legislation to fight cults

Authors of special report dealt with recent fallout from Goel Ratzon, who had 17 wives and 39 children.


The government must create comprehensive legislation to combat the phenomenon of cults in Israel and provide a clearer definition of what constitutes cult activity, a report published Monday by a special Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs task force has recommended.

Authored by the team of professionals that dealt with the fallout of Israel’s largest cult to date – that headed by Tel Aviv polygamist Goel Ratzon – the 48-page report focuses on four main areas: preventive action, therapeutic intervention, legislation and government involvement.

In its conclusion, the report calls for the government to formulate legislation that would curtail the activities of these groups, create a clearer definition as to what is a cult, and provide guidelines for all relevant government ministries to pool resources and work together.

“The subject of cults is a complex issue,” commented Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs Moshe Kahlon in a statement. “This phenomenon is indeed marginal, but its effects are far-reaching: It affects families, adults and children.”

The creation of the task force followed the January 2010 raid on Ratzon’s compound by police and welfare officials after a six-month undercover operation that gathered enough evidence to charge the 60-year-old with rape and incest. Since then, a special Welfare Ministry unit has been tasked not only with providing rehabilitative treatment for the cult leader’s 17 wives and 39 children, but also with creating a comprehensive program and recommendations for national policy to tackle between 80-100 other cult groups operating here.

A spokeswoman for the Welfare Ministry said the report was the first comprehensive look into how Israel should deal with its cults, and that the task force looked at a wide range of sources from around the world. Currently, no legislation exists to prevent cult activity here, although polygamy is illegal.

The authors recommend defining a cult as a group that converges around one person or idea and adopts thoughtand behavior-controlling methods. Cults, they said, encourage emotional dependency, loyalty, obedience and subordination to the leader. The leader is a person who takes advantage of the members to promote the cult’s goals and causes emotional damage and physical, economic and social detachment from other members of the cult, their relatives and the surrounding community.

In addition to creating legislation and defining cult activity in Israel, the report also recommends increasing public awareness of the phenomenon and even holding workshops for teens so they understand the dangers of becoming involved.

Its recommendations also include the creation of a national body that will immediately intervene with cult activities, and the establishment of a national hotline for the public to report on such groups. The National Insurance Institute should also be involved in providing rehabilitative services and financial aid to those able to free themselves from cult activity.

As well as its recommendations, the research also provided detailed guidelines for social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, educational professionals and other professionals who might find themselves working with former cult members.

The guidelines divide the process into two parts: focusing on preventing vulnerable individuals from joining cults or curtailing their involvement in the early stages before they are too drawn in, and rehabilitative assistance and therapy for those who have fled or been rescued from these groups.

Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs director general Nachum Itzkovitz said that for victims of cult activities and their families it is a “deeply rooted crisis that requires the involvement of the government and Israeli society to help tackle this phenomenon and find ways to provide the correct assistance and preventive aspect.”

This article was found at:


Rehabilitation continues for survivors one year after Israeli cult leader charged with rape, incest, and enslavement

Woman whose escape from Israeli cult led to rape, incest, enslavement charges against leader says state has abandoned her

'Wives' and children of Israeli cult leader begin recovery from abuse with help from specialists and family members

Prosecuting Israeli cult case reveals difficulty of protecting children from religion-related abuse

Israel's Knesset Committee for the Rights of the Child holds emergency meeting on cult case


  1. http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/israel-police-busts-ultra-orthodox-cult-suspected-of-abusing-women-and-children-1.376578

    Israel Police, in cooperation with Jerusalem district officers and social services, arrested nine members of a cult living in Jerusalem and in the Tiberias area over the past few weeks, on suspicion of carrying out emotional and physical abuse of women and children over a two year period,

    An undercover investigation into the cult was initiated following a complaint submitted by a young women to Jerusalem Police two and half months ago. The details of the arrests were revealed on Tuesday.

    The investigation was uncovered at the beginning of July following a raid that police carried out for social services on the residences of cult members, two in Jerusalem and on3e in Tiberias.

    During that raid, police arrested an ultra-Orthodox man from the Bratslav sect suspected of leading the cult; the suspect is unofficially married to six women, most of them divorced with children.

    The man allegedly sent the women and the children to various parts of the country to collect money for the maintenance the cult, as well as putting on shows featuring children in order to collect funds for the group.

    Another suspect was arrested as the alleged right-hand man of the cult leader, as was a third suspected of filling in on occasion for the cult leader. The three are suspected of carrying out serious physical and sexual abuse, including rape, on some of the women and children.

    The main three suspects will be presented with indictments tomorrow on charges of imprisonment, abuse, serious sexual abuse and slavery, Jerusalem Police said.

    Deputy Director of Jerusalem Social Services, Menachem Geshel, said that this was the most serious serious case he had ever come across in all the years he has worked in social services.

  2. Jerusalem Post - Social ministry: Cults difficult to identify and break


    After nine people detained in connection with polygamy case, welfare official says “We need to be careful because not every family built like this is a cult."

    Jerusalem police referred to Tuesday’s announcement of the arrest of the leader of a polygamous Breslov cult as a “Goel Ratzon number two,” in reference to the Tel Aviv cult leader who was arrested a year and a half ago similar charges, who had 17 wives and 39 children. Following Ratzon’s arrest, the Ministry of Social Services and Welfare created a special branch of the ministry with 20 social workers to deal with cults in the country.

    There are an estimated 80 to 100 cults operating in Israel. Cults are difficult to break up because authorities can only intervene if there is clear evidence of abuse. Due to the secretive nature of most cults, and the complete mental domination over members of the cult, it is difficult for social workers or police to clearly state that abuse is present.

    “We are building a process of how to deal with other families in similar situations, and are working on identifying certain signals that mean that cult could be starting before it’s completely built up,” said Yael Hermel, director of services at the new branch.

    “We need to be careful because not every family built like this is a cult, we need to really understand the nuances to identify the cult,” she said.

    Following the break up of the Ratzon cult, the Ministry released a 48-page report focuses on four main areas: preventative actions, therapeutic intervention, legislation and government involvement.

    In its conclusion, the report calls for the government to formulate legislation that would curtail the activities of these groups, create a clearer definition on what is a cult and provide guidelines for all relevant government ministries to pool resources and work together.

    “We were at their house four times in past year, in cooperation with police, but it was very difficult to break them,” said Ruth Matot, the head of children at risk branch of the Jerusalem municipality. “When we finally started to understand what was going on, to hear their stories, it was very difficult for me to see. It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in 30 years.”

  3. Young woman recounts her escape from Israeli cult

    In mid-May, a young woman called the Israel Center for Cult Victims, asking that her identity be kept secret. "I live in a Jerusalem collective," she told center director Rachel Lichtenstein. "I'm not certain, but I think it's a cult."

    That call led to the exposure of the Jerusalem cult whose ringleader, D., was indicted yesterday along with two other members.

    In several meetings with center staffers, the caller, in her early twenties, revealed the story of her life in D.'s house. She later agreed to complain to the police. Her detailed testimony about the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted on the household's women and children led to an investigation that ended with the police and welfare authorities raiding the house. The women and children were sent to shelters; D. and two others were arrested.

    Now, according to her lawyer, Ami Savir, the complainant will be the key prosecution witness in the trial.

    The complainant's courage is impressive. She was the youngest of the household's women, and apparently the only one who ever escaped from the cult.


    First, she was cut off from her job and family, then came a "lengthy process of brainwashing and deification" of D. by his wives, who portrayed him as the direct heir of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of Bratslav Hasidism. Eventually, aided by what the complainant described as D.'s charisma, she came to believe this, "and by virtue of this faith, he was able to control, dominate, administer beatings, threaten, humiliate, demand confessions, and rape," Savir said.


    D. imposed strict rules, and all the women and children were required to confess to him about their acts and thoughts, Savir continued. "Punishments were handed down even on account of thoughts. In one case, a boy was punished for having a sexual fantasy."

    The result was blind obedience to D.'s every wish - making the complainant's decision to escape even more remarkable.

    Everyone in the household was convinced that D. was a prophet, Savir continued. That enabled him to threaten that dire things would befall anyone who disobeyed him, and to claim obedience would bring spiritual enlightenment. The complete absence of all contact with other people, especially family, bolstered his rule, as did collective participation in punishments: "If the punishment was a beating, they would all join in."

    The complainant's escape was not an all at once happening: She made several attempts that ended with her return, after D. sent his women to entice her back. ... [read the full article at the link above]

  4. Israeli town tries to oust Scientology school

    Israel Today October 02, 2011

    Residents of the central Israel town of Yehud are concerned after a school affiliated with the Church of Scientology opened in their Tel Aviv suburb with the start of the new school year.

    Locals had tried to block the opening of the new Atid School, but their protests were apparently registered too late. But that won't stop them and the anti-missionary group Yad L'Achim from continuing their efforts to remove the school.

    The Atid School previously operated in the central town of Holon. It was started so that Israeli members of the Church of Scientology would have a place to send their children to be taught in line with their religion. But after Holon residents complained that the school was actively trying to "recruit" local children, it was forced to shut down and find a new home.

    Despite the backlash, Israel's Ministry of Education has officially recognized the Atid School, meaning it is eligible for government funding, and can issue diplomas to Israeli students.

    It should be noted that Yad L'Achim targets Messianic Jews with the same or greater vigor that it goes after adherents of Scientology. Only in the case of Messianics, Yad L'Achim has had greater success, but also greater setbacks.

    Many Messianic Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel are blocked, at least temporarily, because of Yad L'Achim pressure on the government. Israel's only Messianic day school, Makor HaTikvah, is still struggling to gain academic recognition because of similar pressure.

    At the same time, the Israeli media has enthusiastically covered the assault on local Messianics, creating a wave of sympathy from average Israelis and increasing interest in the faith of their Messianic brethren.


  5. Parley to explore legislation aimed at curbing cults

    By RUTH EGLASH, Jerusalem Post November 10, 2011

    “Currently there is no law in the State of Israel to guard individuals against the sects and their influence,” says Dr. Gabi Zohar.

    A panel of academics and professionals from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services will meet Thursday to discuss the possibility of creating legislation to legally outlaw sects and cultish practices in Israel.

    The one-day symposium, which will explore the ethical dilemma of curbing such groups and attempt to sharpen the definition of what constitutes a cult, comes five months after a first-of-its-kind government report recommending a set of laws to curtail such groups and clearer guidelines on how the relevant government authorities could work together to stop them.

    “Currently there is no law in the State of Israel to guard individuals against the sects and their influence,” said Dr. Gabi Zohar from the International Center for Health, Law and Ethics at the University of Haifa, who will chair Thursday’s forum. “This means that cults are able to function freely in our society and do whatever they please.”

    “The conference will examine what exactly constitutes a cult, based on the findings of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Service report and outline a standard infrastructure that will form the basis of a law against cult activities,” he continued, adding that there is a fine line between civil liberties and laws restricting freedom of choice expressed in the cults, so it is not straight forward.

    That issue will be discussed too, said Zohar, a clinical social worker who provides treatment to families of cult victims.

    According to information presented by the Welfare Ministry, there are roughly 80 groups actively operating in Israel today that could be clearly defined as a cult. In addition, experts suggest that thousands of individuals have chosen to adopt the beliefs of a particular group and live their lives according to principals demanded by a single leader or guru.

    In many cases, cult members are brainwashed into cutting off all ties with their parents, siblings and even their children and instead encouraged to build up their connections with other members in the cult, the ministry’s report found.

    Over the past two years, authorities have publicly ousted two such cults – the first a Tel Aviv group belonging to Goel Ratzon, a guru who had some 20 wives and 40 children living according to guidelines that he created; the other group was based in Jerusalem and Tiberius and included six women and multiple children that believed in the communal living dictated by a 55-year-old man that followed the Breslov Hassidic movement.

    Due to the lack of laws, the cult leaders could not be indicted on charges of leading a brainwashing sect, rather they had to be arrested on other charges such as child-sex abuse and rape.

    Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs director-general Nachum Itzkovitch said Wednesday “for the victims and their families, cults represent a deep-rooted problem. It is up to the government and Israeli society to be aware of this phenomenon and find a way to treat and prevent it from happening.”


  6. Indictment: Jerusalem cult members abused minors

    Prosecution files severe indictment against three wives, three children of cult leader; details harsh punishment for young members, including whipping, sexual abuse

    by Aviad Glickman ynetnews.com Israel February 14, 2012

    An indictment filed with the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday against three wives and three children of the leader of a religious cult details how he and his followers "educated" the cult's younger members through physical and mental abuse.

    In one of the incidents mentioned in the indictment, a child who took food from the kitchen without permission was sexually assaulted and ordered to remain completely naked for a week.

    In another incident, the cult leader suspected that one of the children sexually abused one of his daughters. As punishment, one of the wives and two of the leader's daughters committed lewd acts against the child and placed his head into a bathtub filled with water – to the point where he almost suffocated.

    The cult leader has 15 sons and daughters, 11 of whom are his biological children. All have been removed from their home and placed under care of social services.

    The investigation into the cult began when social workers received a complaint by one of the women embroiled in the cult, alleging abuse.

    A subsequent police search of the premises uncovered further evidence to substantiate the complaint, including restraints, stun guns and wooden rods.

    According to the indictment, the children were whipped, interrogated by family members and were the victims of continuous sexual abuse.

    The evidence suggests that the children, who were all home-schooled by the cult leader, were virtual prisoners in their home and were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by the male members of the cult.

    The female members of the cult – both the leader's six wives and the wives of other members, were also physically and sexually abused by the leader.

    The three wives and three children have been charged with committing lewd acts, abusing minors, sexual abuse and witness intimidation.

    A few months ago D., the cult's leader and two other of its male members were charged with multiple counts of enslavement, abuse, sexual abuse, false imprisonment, rape, sodomy, indecent acts and aggravated assault. According to the prosecution, the leader would humiliate his wives and children, sexually assault them and even cause them to sexually abuse each other.

    According to the prosecution, two of his children, who are minors, were charged with conspiring to interfere with the investigation by hiding key witnesses from the authorities. With the wives' knowledge, the children rented a house near the Sea of Galilee and stocked it with food, electrical appliances and other necessities.

    In addition, the female defendants with one of the prosecution's female witnesses and tried to convince her not to testify by offering her gold rings, a diamond and NIS 2,000 (about $540).

    The prosecution asked that the court extend the defendants' remand until the conclusion of all legal proceedings against them, citing public safety.

    Attorney Boaz Kenig, who represents some of the defendants, said his clients have denied the charges and slammed the prosecution for filing "such a severe indictment based on the false testimony of a delusional minor."


  7. ISRAEL: Battling abuse and a community’s disapproval


    TEL AVIV, 20 February 2012 (IRIN) - Ruth (not her real name) suffered for five years before she summoned up the courage to escape her abusive husband and fled their home with her two young children.

    Her story is not just another tragic tale of abuse; in making her decision, Ruth had to overcome a lifetime of inhibitions. She was born into an ultra-orthodox Israeli sect, where women are raised to serve their husbands and to consider the family their most important asset. In a community where women are forced to stay at home, observe strict modesty rules and keep what happens in the house private, Ruth had to break many taboos to survive.

    Battered women who choose to leave have found their community and families unsupportive. “You shamed me," was one mother's response when her daughter begged for help after being severely beaten by her husband only days after the wedding. Another pregnant woman escaped from her husband and was shut in a room in her former school; although her family wanted to help they were afraid for their reputation.

    Women's exclusion from various public activities in the ultra-orthodox community has been highlighted recently after women in these communities were ordered to sit in the back of buses, separated from men.

    Ultra-orthodox Jews are an extremely closed community and differ even among themselves with different sects, some of whom may work and even serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, while others do not recognize the state of Israel and take no part in any interaction with civil or government organizations, live in isolated neighbourhoods and operate their own education and self-help system. Young girls are educated separately and differently from their male peers and are married off as early as 17 in arranged marriages. They do not interact with the men they marry before the wedding.

    Once married, they will shoulder the entire burden of the household, some will work part-time while husbands study at religious schools from 18 to old age. Most ultra-orthodox families live below the poverty line; this, coupled with the fact that most men have no experience of family life, breeds frustration and at times leads to domestic violence.

    According to Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour statistics, only 49 percent of ultra-orthodox women have some employment and their wages are 54 percent lower than those of secular women; 56 percent of ultra-orthodox Jews live below the poverty line.

    Raising awareness

    For many years, ultra-orthodox rabbis failed to acknowledge the problem of domestic violence, claiming this “only happens amongst the secular population”, but a tiny NGO that runs the only shelter for battered and abused religious women has put the issue in the spotlight.

    Bat Melech (a king’s daughter) is a small NGO striving to help these women: only 8 percent of Israel’s population - 650,000 men, women and children - are ultra-orthodox, yet in the 15 years of operating, 750 women and 3,000 children have stayed at the shelter.

    The Ministry of Social Affairs is well aware of the problem, according to spokesperson Roni Malkai. “The issue requires delicate handling and must involve the community and the leading rabbis. The Ministry of Social Affairs and social services is in charge of the shelter operated by Bat Melech and we’ve also opened three centres across the country for treating domestic violence in the ultra-orthodox sector. We believe this community is undergoing some changes from within and the slightly raised awareness of the options for battered women is in itself a change.”

    The closed community and the women’s rare encounters with welfare or social services make providing help difficult. The NGO, run by religious staff, has a better chance of raising awareness of available help.

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    Noach Korman, founder of the NGO, estimates the women who use its services are only a fraction of those who need help. “Many are too afraid to leave, the price they will pay is high, it’s nearly excommunication, it’s going against the way you were raised.”

    The NGO runs a hotline and receives roughly 100 calls a month from battered women, neighbours and concerned rabbis. It conducts day seminars for rabbis, to teach them how to help women in their communities.

    Sal’it Geva, the shelter’s manager, explains that at least 25 percent of the women go back to their husbands after they leave the shelter. "It’s just too hard for them; I know of families who told their daughters ‘go back to your husband, you shame me, this is not the way I brought you up'.”

    Those who choose to stay in the violent situation know well that the odds are against them; in the community where marriages are arranged, leaving one’s family will have a great effect not only on the woman but on their children’s chances to marry "properly". A runaway mother "brings down the value of the family".

    Ruth’s story

    Ruth took advantage of a short break in her husband’s constant watch over her and escaped. "The neighbours said nothing, the community said nothing, I think they knew all these years. I was afraid of him, I had no money of my own, and he would monitor my every move. In the [religious] community he was considered a righteous man, his rabbi tried to convince me I was crazy, but I knew I wasn’t, my sister called the shelter and was told I had to leave to get help.”

    The women leave the shelter after six months and must start from scratch, with no family ties, no community help and hardly any vocational training, yet most report a sense of empowerment and happiness. As Ruth says: "Finally I managed to leave with both my children. It’s not an easy thing, it’s a challenge but I feel I changed my life and theirs.”

    [This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


  9. Unorthodox? Try This: A Young Hasidic Wife Breaks With Her Tradition, Writes Tell-All Book

    by Jesse Kornbluth, Editor of HeadButler.com

    Huffington Post February 24, 2012

    Decades ago, when I was reporting a story on New York sex clubs for Playboy, the proprietor of one club showed me a special door that provided Hasidic rebbes a discreet exit when their congregants showed up to be serviced.

    I admire that foresight. "Below the belt, all men are brothers," Henry Miller wrote, but really, it just wouldn't do for a sect that preaches the kind of chastity for women that the Taliban would approve to have its holy men cavorting with loose women -- some surely shiksas -- in full view of the members of their sect.

    I thought of this hypocrisy when I dropped in at The Corner Bookstore to meet Deborah Feldman, who has just published a memoir of her 23 years in the Satmar sect. In this unlikely venue -- the bookstore is on Madison Avenue at 93rd Street, a chip shot from New York's posh private schools and apartments that sell for eight figures -- the writer and her friends were bracing for trouble, for Feldman is about as popular in her former community as Eichmann. She gets hate mail: "R U ready to CROKE?" There's a web site called Exposing Deborah Feldman as a fraud. The comments on her YouTube videos are vile. So a few robust guys showing up to disrupt an author event -- not out of the question.

    I can see why her former community might be peeved by Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. The author says she is nervous about being out in the world with a controversial book, but you'd never know it from watching her on The View. In her first TV appearance, she's eloquent, appealing and just emotional enough. A potent mix --- the next day, women snatched up every available copy. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

    What's so shocking? Well, everything. Her father is brain-damaged. Her mother is English, a hothouse flower, in no way suited to an arranged marriage to such a damaged man. So... she leaves. And leaves her daughter behind. That's scandal #1.

    Her grandmother isn't up to the unexpected job of mothering: "Her whole family was murdered in the concentration camps, and she no longer has the energy to connect emotionally with people." Left to herself, Deborah becomes a reader of "forbidden" books; she connects with Roald Dahl's characters, "unfortunate, precocious children despised and neglected by their shallow families and peers."

    There's no room for nonconformity in this community. "I had to believe everything I was taught, if only to survive," she writes. And what was she taught? In the slow-track classes for girls, nothing very academic, for a girl could realistically have no higher destiny than marriage at 17 and motherhood a year later.

    Can a Hasidic girl be alone with a man? She says: Not even if other women are present. She says: Doors must be kept open. She says: No singing aloud. Blouses buttoned at the neck, skirts to the floor.

    Deborah never quite submits. She warns the man who will become her husband: I'm not easy to handle." She's already told us that she's "hungry for power, but not to lord over others, only to own myself." It will take her years to leave, but you can see the jailbreak coming a hundred pages away.

    Emotional distance from a husband -- that's not limited to Hasidic marriages. It's the sex that will shock readers unfamiliar with the ways of the Hasids. On their wedding night, Deborah's husband is unable to penetrate her. She gets shingles in the ritual bath. (A friend has a nightmare story; her husband entered her in the wrong place and ruptured her colon.) Fifteen pages later, Deborah is no longer a virgin. You'll be relieved to read that, but you won't cheer.

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    There's not much joy in Deborah's romantic life. Hasids believe that women are unclean 14 days a month -- the days of their period, plus another week. For seven days after she stops bleeding, a wife must check herself twice a day with a white cloth handkerchief. If she's not still spotting, she goes to the bath and is pronounced clean. Which means she gets to sleep with her husband when she's most fertile and he's randy as a goat.

    There are other disconnects along the way, but as in so many things, the real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies -- male control of women. That old story. We see it in far too many places; dehumanizing women is a key component of fundamentalist cults, from hardcore Muslims to certain Republicans.

    Men who oppress women -- they say they love them, but it seems more like they fear and hate them -- haven't been taught that sex is our reward for making it through the day. Like their women, these men have been sold the idea that sex is just for procreation. No wonder they feel like they're the ones who are oppressed.

    There are claims in this book that Hasids have disputed. I can't tell what's true. But I'm sure of one thing: Men who can't live equally with women aren't worth living with. No doubt girls all over Brooklyn are buying this book, hiding it under their mattresses, reading it after lights out -- and contemplating, perhaps for the first time, their own escape.


  11. Orthodox community lashes out at wife who turned back on Jewish community and left a trail of broken hearts with explosive memoir

    By Daisy Dumas and Beth Stebner, Daily Mail UK February27, 2012

    She told the world her story of a loveless arranged marriage and religious restrictions, but now, the Orthodox Jewish community that she left is firing back.

    Deborah Feldman, 25, left her ultra-conservative Satmar community in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn more than two years ago, and says she hasn’t looked back.

    But to her neighbours and former husband, she has left little more than feelings of hurt and betrayal, as her former community says Ms Feldman paints a misleading picture of Hasidic life.

    Following a whirlwind book tour, including a lengthy interview on ABC’s The View, Ms Feldman is blazing her own trail apart from the conservative religious community in which she grew up.

    However, her family says things revealed in her memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, including that she was trapped in a ‘loveless’ marriage, came as news to former husband Joel Feldman.

    Mr Feldman’s uncle Izzy Berkowitz told the New York Post an entirely different story. ‘(Deborah) was crazy about this boy. She was dying to get married.’

    Ms Feldman said on the View that she had known her husband-to-be only half an hour prior to their marriage.

    Mr Berkowitz continued: ‘He did everything and anything for her, but she never appreciated anything no matter what he did.’

    He speculated that she ‘lacked happiness’ and could never be content. Another neighbour in the conservative Williamsburg community said Mr Feldman felt ‘betrayed’ by Ms Feldman’s portrayal of him in her memoir.

    In one passage, she writes: ‘Whenever (Joel) feels libidinous… he approaches me much in the same way I imagine a dog pounce on a leg of furniture.’

    ‘We feel insulted,’ neighbour Pear Engelman said of Ms Feldman’s book. ‘It paints the whole community in a bad light.’

    In one passage of the memoir, she writes of a shocking tale in which a 13-year-old Satmar boy is murdered by his father for masturbating, and the whole gruesome story is covered up by the Orthodox volunteer ambulance corps Hatzolah.

    She wrote that the boy had his penis cut off and was nearly beheaded by his livid father. In defence, New York Jewish Week said the story was in fact about a 19 or 20-year-old man who committed suicide.

    When asked about her stance by the Jewish Daily Forward, Ms Feldman replied: ‘I don’t have a response. I am not a journalist…You read the book, you saw how I portrayed that story.’

    She now lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her son, who is almost six.

    At just 17, Ms Feldman found herself in an arranged marriage.

    Sex was dysfunctional. In an interview with the New York Post, she remembers never hearing the word 'sex' or 'vagina' mentioned and intercourse was a dark, fumbled affair after which her husband called the rabbi who then declared her consummated and 'unclean'.

    'If you’re sitting on a sofa, you have a divider between you. It makes you feel so gross. You feel like this animal in the room.'

    The rabbi has the final word on sex and health - even inspecting underwear 'in a zip lock bag' to declare whether a woman's period is kosher or nonkosher.

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    For two weeks of each month, her husband was not allowed to touch her, or even come into secondary contact with her. 'If you’re sitting on a sofa, you have a divider between you. It makes you feel so gross. You feel like this animal in the room,' she told the newspaper.

    In a note from the author, Ms Feldman explains the roots of Satmar Hasidism, a Jewish sect that is largely shielded from modern life - and one that she believes, she told the Post, is no better than extreme Muslim fundamentalism.

    A reaction to the atrocities of Holocaust, the sect is named for a Hungarian town that was the home of a rabbi who fled to the U.S.

    'Hasidic Jews in America eagerly returned to a heritage that had been on the verge of disappearing, donning traditional dress and speaking only in Yiddish, as their ancestors had done,' she writes.

    'Most important, though, Hasidic Jews focused on reproduction, wanting to replace the many who had perished and to swell their ranks once more. To this day, Hasidic communities continue to grow rapidly, in what is seen as the ultimate revenge against Hitler.'

    In the book, she describes how she was forbidden from speaking in English and was told that 'impure languages' act as welcome mats 'put out for the devil.'

    She told the Post that the emphasis on faith was so all-pervading that every day she was forced to put her life into the hands of God - and health and safety was all but ignored by her family and friends.

    She rode in a car without a seatbelt, never visited a doctor and was made to respect all older Hasid men, even if they posed a threat to her wellbeing.

    She suggests that at age 12, she was sexually assaulted by a cousin and was made to feel it was her problem: 'It’s obviously all your fault and not his, and you need to keep quiet about it,' she told the newspaper.

    In her memoir, she recalls hiding her contraband Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott books: 'Once a year when Zeidy [grandfather] inspects the house for Passover, poking through our things, we hover anxiously, terrified of being found out. Zeidy even rifles through my underwear drawer. Only when I tell him that this is my private female stuff does he desist, unwilling to violate a woman’s privacy'.

    Stories of a different world - promises of hope and glimpses into what could be - the books opened the author's eyes to a future beyond Satmar Hasidism.

    It was the birth of her son, now five, combined with the classes she had enrolled in at Sarah Lawrence College, that flicked a switch in the young Brooklyinte's head - she knew that there was more to life.

    A car near-fatal crash was the final straw, and on leaving the hospital, she packed her bags and moved in with her college friend.

    Throwing herself into life as a young, independent single mother, Ms Feldman is set on making up for lost time - relishing the simplicities of day-to-day living that she was denied in her ultra-conservative upbringing.

    Ms Feldman describes how much she enjoys visiting restaurants.

    'I think I love eating out more than most people,' she says, 'because I was never allowed to do it. Women aren’t allowed to eat out.'

    Hair is another area in which she relishes having freedom. For a year, she followed the Satmar expectation of women to shave their heads and wear wigs. 'I have a hard time cutting my hair now, because I remember how long it took to grow it out the first time,' she says.

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    Her clothing was as restrictive as her language - at 11-years-old, dressing rules became stricter, she told the Post, forcing girls to 'only wear high-neck blouses, with woven fabrics, because their theory is that woven fabrics don’t cling. T-shirts show boobs.'

    Swimming suits were 'ridiculous' full-body cladding, consisting of 'nylon fabric and thick, floppy, long sleeves, and pants covered with an extra layer of material to make it look like a skirt.'

    She now celebrates her body and womanly curves, wearing short dresses and comfortable knits.

    The decision to leave Hasidism and her family - she now has primary custody of her son - she says, was not made lightly. She received emails from her closest relatives encouraging her to commit suicide and says she is now a pariah - but that the book acts as 'protection'.

    '[My relatives] are terrified of having their actions become public. So it’s an insurance policy, in a way.

    'There’s a reason why Hasidic people in New York get away with so much. There’s this sort of tacit arrangement: They don’t do anything the media can criticize,' she told the Post.


    'I have secrets too. Maybe Bubby knows about them, but she won’t say anything about mine if I don’t say anything about hers. Or perhaps I have only imagined her complicity; there is a chance this agreement is only one-sided. Would Bubby tattle on me? I hide my books under the bed, and she hides hers in her lingerie, and once a year when Zeidy inspects the house for Passover, poking through our things, we hover anxiously, terrified of being found out. Zeidy even rifles through my underwear drawer. Only when I tell him that this is my private female stuff does he desist, unwilling to violate a woman’s privacy, and move on to my grandmother’s wardrobe. She is as defensive as I am when he rummages through her lingerie. We both know that our small stash of secular books would shock my grandfather more than a pile of chametz, the forbidden leavening, ever could. Bubby might get away with a scolding, but I would not be spared the full extent of my grandfather’s wrath. When my zeide gets angry, his long white beard seems to lift up and spread around his face like a fiery flame. I wither instantly in the heat of his scorn. “Der tumeneh shprach!” he thunders at me when he overhears me speaking to my cousins in English. An impure language, Zeidy says, acts like a poison to the soul. Reading an English book is even worse; it leaves my soul vulnerable, a welcome mat put out for the devil.'

    Source: Simon and Schuster/Amazon


  14. Lawmakers call for legislation to criminalize cults

    By RUTH EGLASH, Jerusalem Post July 11, 2012

    Cults are currently legal and there are no laws to allow authorities to arrest or prosecute cult leaders.

    Lawmakers on Wednesday called for the creation of legislation that will criminalize cult activities and allow prosecutors to bring cult leaders to justice.

    Information shared at a special hearing of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, headed by Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, said that cults are not illegal and currently there are no laws to allow the authorities to arrest or prosecute cult leaders. Rather, in two recent cases where authorities did manage to break up a cult and arrest its leader, it was only after receiving reports of sexual assault and child abuse.

    According to a special report compiled last year by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, there are roughly 80 groups actively operating in Israel today that could be clearly defined as a cult. In addition, the report suggests that thousands of individuals have chosen to adopt the beliefs of a particular group and live their lives according to principals demanded by a single leader or guru.

    In many cases, cult members are brainwashed into cutting off all ties with their parents, siblings and even their children and instead encouraged to build up their connections with other members in the cult, found the report.

    “How can it be that there are hundreds of women who report being victims of cults but in the government shelters there is only one woman receiving help?” asked Hotovely during the hearing, which included representatives from the ministries of justice and welfare, as well as legal and other experts on the subject of cults.

    Hotovely said that based on the information she had received, “there is a strong need for legislation that will stop the phenomenon and bring cult leaders to justice.”

    “Religious freedom should be protected up until it becomes criminal,” commented Kadima MK Shlomo Molla at the meeting. “I call on the Justice Ministry to create an inter-ministerial committee that will formulate legislation to determine when cult activities become criminal.”

    Molla’s calls were supported by representatives of the State Prosecutor’s office, who also called for a legal solution that would allow them to prosecute cult leaders for related criminal activities.

    In many cases, cult members are brainwashed into cutting off all ties with their parents, siblings and even their children and instead encouraged to build up their connections with other members in the cult.

    “The greatest problem in addressing cults is identifying them because of all the secrecy in their activities,” said the state prosecutors. “Any legal solution must address how authorities identify these cults.”

    Over the past two years, two large cults have been ousted. The first, a Tel Aviv group belonging to Goal Ratzon, a guru who had some 20 wives and 40 children living according to guidelines that he had laid out for them; the other group was based in Jerusalem and Tiberius and included six women and multiple children that believed in the communal living dictated by a 55-year-old man that followed the Breslav Hassidic movement.

    Due to the lack of appropriate laws, however, those cult leaders could not be indicted on charges of leading a brainwashing sect but were eventually arrested on other charges such as child sex abuse and rape.

    The victims of these two cults did receive free legal advice from the Justice Ministry and all the wives and children linked to Ratzon were housed in government-run shelters for two years. They continue to receive support from legal and welfare services today.

    Ever since Ratzon’s case was made public in January 2010, the welfare ministry has been calling on the government to create legislation to outlaw all cult-like groups.


  15. First Scientology centre in the Middle East opens in Israel

    By Sandy Rashty, Jewish Chronicle August 23, 2012

    Israeli academics and politicians attended the opening ceremony for the controversial religious movement, frequently attacked as a cult, at the former Alhambra theatre, a 1937 Art Deco building, in Jaffa.

    But Meital Lehavi, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council, said: “Jaffa is a house for everyone, accepting everyone.

    “I am confident that by sitting together, thinking together and working together, we keep Jaffa the home for everyone. This new centre will have an important part in leading the way."

    Dr Rimon Kasher, from the Department of Biblical Studies at Bar-Ilan university, said the centre made an important contribution to the region.

    “I believe Scientology is the only religion that can create a connection or even affinity between the different faiths and the only one that can relieve the tension between religions.

    “It is my hope that this will mark a turning point for not just the entire Israeli society, but for all of the Middle East.”

    David Miscavage, Scientology's chairman of the Religious Technology Centre, spoke at the opening ceremony.

    Israeli architect Eyal Ziv worked on the centre’s Alhambra theatre and called it a “Jaffa jewel.”


  16. Israeli embarrassment over officials' warm welcome for Scientology

    By Nathan Jeffay, The Jewish Chronicle online
    August 30, 2012

    The Israeli government has distanced itself from a new Scientology centre in Jaffa, insisting that its employees who attended the opening event last week did so in a strictly personal capacity.

    Scientology — a controversial movement often accused of being a financially-driven cult and blaming the Holocaust on modern psychiatry — put out a press release claiming that “national and city dignitaries” gathered to open the centre.

    The “national” figures were two employees of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mohammad Kaabia and Rania Pharyra, who are respectively Director for the Bedouin Sector and Senior Coordinator on the Status of Minority Women.

    A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two employees attended “solely as private citizens who are deeply involved in promoting social issues in their sectors”, on the invitation of an anti-drugs organisation. Scientology’s mentioning of their place of employment “was done without their knowledge [and] without their consent.” The spokeswoman at the new Scientology centre, sought for her comment for this article, did not return calls.

    In contrast to the distancing at the Prime Minister’s Office, a prominent local politician was enthusiastic about her attendance. Tel Aviv-Jaffa council member, Meital Lehavi, a former deputy mayor, called the opening a “nice event”. Ms Lehavi, who is not a Scientologist, commented: “I think that Tel Aviv is a pluralist city, the most pluralist in Israel, which accepts everyone. Each time a new group comes we have questions as to if it’s ok but I think it should welcome everyone.”

    Anti-missionary organisations are concerned. “It is a danger to the public,” said Aaron Rubin, a senior figure at the Orthodox-run Yad L’Achim


  17. Breaking out of Scientology’s iron grip

    The Church of Scientology opened its gleaming new center in Jaffa with great fanfare last month. But the notoriously secretive organization does not appreciate when its members ask too many questions, as some have found out.

    By Danna Harman | Haaretz Sep.30, 2012

    The Church of Scientology opened its gleaming new center in Jaffa with great fanfare last night. But the notoriously secretive organization does not appreciate when its members ask too many questions, as Dani and Tami Lemberger found out.

    Last month the controversial Church of Scientology opened its lavish, multimillion-dollar new center in Israel, and some 1,000 members and guests flooded into what used to be the famed Alhambra Cinema in Jaffa to celebrate the occasion.

    There were men wearing skullcaps and women wearing traditional Muslim head covering. There were Ethiopians with decorative tattoos on their foreheads, and whole families of Russian speakers. All of them wore little round stickers with the Scientology logo affixed to their clothing, identifying them and granting them entrance to the meticulously restored 1930s Art Deco building on Jerusalem Boulevard.

    Two long blocks of Jaffa’s busy main thoroughfare were closed off. Private security guards in black jeans and t-shirts kept order outside the building, and gold and silver confetti was blown into the crowds that gathered in the street. Colorful balloons were released into the air, endless welcome speeches were made, and later, mini-pitas were served along with lemonade up on the fourth floor.

    One person missing from the celebrations was Dani Lemberger, who headed the Church of Scientology’s Haifa mission for the past 20 years. But not attending the festive opening is the least of his problems. Lemberger and his wife Tami − who herself was recognized as one of the worldwide church’s top counselors, or “auditors,” as they are known in Scientology parlance, in both 2000 and 2002 − are getting stiffed by a lot of people these days. Business associates are abruptly breaking off ties. Former students are crossing to the other side of the street when they see them. Close friends are letting their phone calls go to voice mail.

    Spiritual seeker

    The reason, says Lemberger, is obvious. The very church to which he and Tami dedicated their adult lives − climbing up its ranks, getting commendations and endlessly defending from those who charged it was nothing but a cult − has, this summer, gone and excommunicated them. The story of how it all went wrong, says Lemberger, (on the day before the Jaffa center's opening,) as he kicks off his shoes and settles back in his Haifa office to recount the long tale, began way back in 1986. That was the year Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard died -- and the year a charismatic young high school dropout and church faithful named David Miscavige took over.

    read the full article at:


  18. Scientology Makes Few Waves in Israel

    By LAUREN E. BOHN Associated Press ABC News November 8, 2012 (AP)

    TEL AVIV, Israel

    The Church of Scientology has apparently found one place where its presence doesn't set off alarms, protests and demonstrations, and that place is one of the world's most religiously fraught countries — Israel.

    In August, Scientology opened a gleaming new headquarters in the ancient port city of Jaffa, part of Tel Aviv. Since then, visitors and the curious have streamed through with no incidents.

    And this in a country where Jews and Muslims harbor clashing claims over the same holy sites, sometimes sparking violence, and competing Jewish streams disparage each other openly and often.

    Scientology has confronted charges in many countries that it is a dangerous cult that brainwashes its followers and confiscates their assets. Its leaders deny that.

    "Like any new religion, people have misconceptions and much doubt, but we simply use logic to think life out for ourselves and are taught to question and debate everything," said Sefi Fischler, the church's spokesmen in Tel Aviv.

    According to its website, Scientology believes man is an immortal spiritual being with unlimited capabilities. Its practices include spiritual counseling.

    Created by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, the Los Angeles-based movement claims millions of members worldwide, including celebrities like actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. It has been blamed as the catalyst behind the well-documented breakup of Cruise and his ex-wife Katie Holmes.

    Germany, France and Russia are among the governments that keep a close eye on Scientology, and court cases have been filed against the church in some places.

    In contrast, there hasn't been much public opposition in Israel.

    While a 1987 Israeli parliamentary commission declared it a cult, the practice of Scientology in Israel is legal. The new headquarters has some 200 staff and claims to serve thousands.

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    Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for Tel Aviv's mayor, said the new center is a testament to Israel's spirit of religious tolerance.

    "Within just a few blocks of the center, you'll find numerous synagogues, several mosques and churches, 4,000 years of Abrahamic monotheistic religions expressing themselves," he said. "The Scientology center is simply showing that Tel Aviv is one of the most pluralistic cities in the Middle East."

    "When it comes to all we strive for, for freedom, to be included and embraced by one's fellow man, there is no group that better bears these marks than Scientology," Mohammed Kaabia, the prime minister's adviser on Bedouin Arab affairs said in a statement issued by the Scientology center.

    Kaabia and another representative attended the August opening, but the prime minister's office has since distanced itself from the event, saying the two officials were not there in an official capacity, attending as individuals invited by an anti-drug organization.

    Despite the lack of public protests at its new center, the church has no shortage of detractors. A group of Israeli Scientology defectors, claiming corruption within the church, started a breakaway center in the northern city of Haifa.

    Yad L'Achim, an Israeli anti-missionary group, criticized the government for what it said was too warm a welcome.

    "Politicians have diplomatically welcomed the center, because politics is all about being nice," says Daniel Asor, a spokesman for the group. "Scientology is a cult, and this is a dangerous development."

    Israeli movie director Erez Meshulam said the presence of the new center is disastrous. "Scientology ruined my marriage by convincing my wife, in return for thousands and thousands of dollars, that her soul could be cleansed," he said. "I fear this means more people will be fooled."

    Church officials dismiss such criticism as baseless.

    Fischler said the center hopes to bridge gaps among religions in the country. He noted its anti-drug and literacy efforts and outreach programs to prison inmates.

    "Now with the building open, we can invite everybody in and show them who we are," he said.


  20. Police nab head of child-abusing cult

    Majd al-Krum resident accused of instructing his group of 11 families to spread feces on kids’ faces as punishment for misbehavior

    By GAVRIEL FISKE, Times of Israel May 21, 2013

    A resident of the northern town of Majd al-Krum is suspected of leading a cult that routinely practiced child abuse, it was revealed on Tuesday.

    The man is accused of leading a group of six families and instructing them to discipline their children by spreading feces on their faces, beating them, withholding food and/or tying them up.

    The leader is also accused of sexually assaulting several of the women in the group. The case came to light after one of the women filed a complaint with the Karmiel police.

    The families also turned their salaries over to the leader.

    The man was taken into custody following a lengthy investigation and was remanded for eight days.


  21. Head of Jerusalem sadistic cult convicted

    Court finds man guilty of physically, mentally, sexually abusing six women, dozens of children, some of them his own

    by Aviel Megnazi Ynetnews Israel September 10, 2013

    The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday convicted the head of a "sadistic cult" and his assistant, who were arrested two years ago.

    The two were found guilty of most charges, including sex offenses, holding individuals in slavery conditions and abusing women and dozens of children, some of them the biological kids of the cult head.

    The "family" included six women and dozens of children. The head of the cult convinced the women to join him pleasantly, but once they did – he turned their lives into a living hell, including physical, sexual and mental abuse, both against them and against their children.

    Two of the women were removed from the courtroom as the verdict was being delivered after causing a commotion. "There was only love in the house," one of them said later. "It's all a lie."

    A gag order has been placed on the full indictment in a bid to prevent the identification of the dozens of young children and their mothers. According to a summarized version cleared for publication, the main culprit, D., was charged with holding individuals under conditions of slavery; physically, mentally and sexually abusing minors and their mothers, false imprisonment, rape, sodomy and indecent acts, as well as serious violence offenses.

    According to the indictment, D. saw himself as the successor of a well-known figure from his Hasidic movement and the person chosen to distribute his doctrine in the world. He got more and more women to join his cult by convincing them of his "powers."

    Once these women fell into his trap, his pleasant behavior was replaced with violence, abuse and contempt – which moved on to the next generation when the children were born.

    The indictment says D. headed a "family" of six women and dozens of children, some of them his biological kids, who lived in apartments in Jerusalem and Tiberias, and treated them brutally and violently, doing "whatever he wanted."

    He was accused of fully controlling the women and children's lives, turning the kids into beggars and distributing his religious doctrine from dusk till dawn, using cruel measures to punish them according to his unexpected caprices, erasing their personality and distorting their thoughts.

    The punitive measures, according to the State Prosecutor's Office, were carried out with unusual cruelty, using harsh violence, imprisonment, starvation, physical and mental abuse and humiliation, including serious sex and violence offenses and keeping the children away from their mothers.

    D. was accused of 15 different counts, including serious sex offenses against his stepdaughters and other children. According to the State Prosecutor's Office, the brutal regime in the "family" home and his full control over the women and children stemmed from his charismatic personality and spiritual traits they attributed to him.

    Two men who used to visit the home were also accused of committing serious sex and violence offenses, allegedly under D.'s orders. One of the offenders, whose was also convicted Tuesday, stayed in the "family" home and took an active part in the violence and sex offenses for many years. The other man was accused of committing the offenses in a single incident.

    Personal journals kept by the women and children helped police investigators base their case. The diaries pointed to the details of the shocking affair, which was revealed in August 2011 by one of the women who complained to the authorities.

    A search of the detainees' homes revealed electric shockers, ropes and rods, as well as medical documents from different hospitals across the country, which point to physical injuries suffered by the children.


  22. Sadistic cult leader sentenced to 26 years

    Man abused and enslaved six women and dozens of children, some of whom continue to support him

    BY STUART WINER AND SPENCER HO The Times of Israel October 17, 2013

    A man who headed a religious cult that physically, mentally, and sexually abused a group of women and their children was sentenced to 26 years behind bars by the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday.

    The man, 58, who has remained unnamed in the media, was also ordered to pay a total of NIS 100,000 (some $28,000) to his victims. A second man, who was an accomplice in the crimes, was sentenced to six years in prison. The separate trial of a third man involved in the case is still underway.

    Prosecuting lawyer Sagi Ofer had asked for a sentence of 65 years for the cult leader and 20 years for his deputy.

    “They have been given a sentence that isn’t trivial, but we believed that in cases like this it should be heavier,” Ofer said. “A punishment is supposed to convey a message to victims and minors who had the courage to complain.”

    Despite the conviction, some of the cult’s women continue to support their leader, a resident of Jerusalem who associated himself with the Breslov Hassidic movement. They claim that witnesses were threatened into giving testimony.

    The women called the proceedings “a lie,” adding that “we love this man and it was good to be with him.”

    Last month the man and his assistant were found guilty of sex offenses, violence, confinement in conditions of slavery, and abuse of women and minors, including some of who are his own children. The court found that the man exploited his family’s religious faith, and their belief in him as a spiritual leader, in order to perpetrate the crimes against them.

    A key witness in the case was a stepchild of the cult leader. The witness’s mother remains dedicated to the cult and did not speak to her son at the trial, Ynet reported.

    The case shocked the country when it came to light in August 2011 after one of the women broke free and alerted authorities to the conditions that the man imposed on his followers. According to the court verdict, the group was composed of the man, six women, and 17 children. The convicted man convinced women to join with him in what initially appeared to be a pleasant life. However, once under his control, the women faced continued physical and sexual abuse, as did their children.

    Initially, nine members of the family were arrested, including three men and six women, but only the three men were indicted. The children were placed with foster families.

    The case not only made headlines for the severity of the charges, but also for a court-mandated gag order on the case meant to shield the victims, women and young children, from being identified. Initially, only a heavily edited version of the original indictment was released to the public.

    Police used the information in personal journals kept by the women and children to uncover details about the abuses and build their case.

    The women and children were subject to daily “confessions” and “judgments” and were punished by means of imprisonment, starvation, physical and mental abuse, humiliation, sexual abuse, and severe violence, according to the indictment. Police found numerous torture devices when they searched the house.


  23. Hasidic cult suspected of prostituting women 'to save Israel'

    Police suspect group of four led women into having sex with non-Jews and exploited them sexually by making them addicted to drugs and alcohol.

    By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz September 7, 2014

    Judea and Samaria District police arrested four people on Sunday suspected of leading a cult under which they used women as prostitutes and took sexual advantage of them under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

    The suspects allegedly told the women they had to have sex with non-Jewish men "to save the people of Israel and bring redemption nearer."

    The police launched an undercover investigation four months ago after a complaint was filed against the cult for exploiting female recruits. Police say they discovered the cult operated all over Israel and induced women into believing that redemption for the Jewish people would arrive through so-called "sparks," meaning having sex with non-Jews.

    The four suspects include two Kiryat Arba residents, a 60-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman, a 47-year-old Ashkelon resident, abd a 39-year-old woman from Jerusalem. The cult leaders allegedly charged non-Jewish men money to have sex with the women and tried "to make the girls newly religious" through their sexual relations with the non-Jewish men.

    The cult leaders made the women dependent on them by supplying them with drugs and alcohol and forcing them to have sex under the influence of these substances.

    A spokesperson for the Kiryat Arba-Hebron Council commented that "the family is known the social services in the local authority, but the level of cooperation between the sides is negligible, and completely rejected by the family." The spokesperson explained that social services representatives investigated the couple over six months ago regarding certain allegations after confirming the rumors, and they strongly denied any wrongdoing.

    "Despite this, the social services department handed over the matter to the Israel Police," stated the spokesperson. "The Judea and Samaria District Police conducted an investigation into the matter and the couple was arrested this morning. Care for the couple's children is the responsibility of the social services department."

    "If the suspicions turn out to be true, then I call on the authorities to use the full weight of the law," said Malachi Levinger, the head of the council. "We as a civilized society will not tolerate these or similar kinds of offenses."

    Four years ago, the cult of Goel Ratzon, who lived with 17 wives and 38 children, was revealed. He was charged with dozens of sex offenses, including rape, sodomy and indecent assault. The Tel Aviv District Court is to render a ruling in Ratzon's case this week.


  24. Tel Aviv cult leader Goel Ratzon convicted of sex crime charges

    The 64-year-old polygamist, first indicted in 2010, was found guilty of aggravated rape and other sexual offenses, but was acquitted of enslavement charges.

    By Revital Hovel | Haaretz September 8, 2014

    The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday convicted Israeli polygamist and cult leader Goel Ratzon of numerous sex offenses, including rape and committing sexual against family members, some four and a half years after he was first indicted.

    The 2010 indictment outlined Ratzon's lifestyle in a way "that will rattle the mind, the imagination and question human morality," according to the document filed at the Tel Aviv District Court four years ago. "The suspect enslaved and appropriated his 21 wives for many years, in acts which contradict social norms, in a way which was common during the darkest times of human history," the indictment read.

    On Monday, the 64-year-old was convicted of carrying out sexual offenses against six of the seven victims who testified against him, some of whom were his daughters, and most of whom were minors. He was found guilty of aggravated rape, sexual offenses against family members, sodomy and indecent assault.

    The court however acquitted him of the precedent-setting charge of enslavement. The verdict was delivered by a closed-door panel of judges headed by Nurit Achituv, Miriam Diskin and Raanan Ben Yosef.

    Maayan, one of Ratzon's wives, levelled harsh criticism at the court and the fact that Ratzon was acquitted on the slavery charge. "There is no law and there is no judge in the State of Israel. I was in complete slavery. If the State of Israel had not released me, I would have been serving a life sentence," she said.

    Ratzon was accused of subjecting his family of 21 'wives' and 38 children to strict disciplinary measures, but claimed that the women and children lived with him on their own accord.

    Some of the measures Ratzon imposed on his family were found in a rule book that included:

    1. No women shall marry nor shall any woman attack another, either verbally or physically. Fine: NIS 2,000, to be paid into the family kitty.

    2. No woman shall question another about her whereabouts. Fine: NIS 100.

    3. No conversation is permitted in rooms other than the living room. It is forbidden to talk nonsense. Fine: NIS 200.

    Police began investigating Ratzon in June 2009 after receiving a complaint about abuse from one of the women. He was considered by his companions to be the savior (Goel in Hebrew) of the universe, and was attributed godly and supernatural abilities. Many of the women had his name and portrait tattooed on several parts of their bodies.


  25. Alleged cult leaders deny forcing women to work as prostitutes

    Court extends remand of the two men suspected of forcing women to have sex with customers in order 'to save the Jewish people and expedite the redemption.'

    By Yair Ettinger | Haaretz September. 12, 2014

    Two men, who were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of leading a cult that forced women to work as prostitutes and held them in bondage, were remanded into custody for seven more days by a Jerusalem court on Thursday.

    The suspects, David Dvash from the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba and Gad Zarad from Ashkelon, are suspected of forcing the women to have sex with non-Jewish men “to save the Jewish people and expedite the redemption,” police said. Six other suspects were also arrested in the case, two of them women.

    The police representative told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Thursday that additional complainants had come forth to testify against the group this week. Consequently, Zarad is now suspected of “serious offenses” against minors as well, he said.

    Dvash and Zarad denied the allegations against them. Their lawyers had filed an insanity plea for them on Sunday. On Thursday the judge sent the two for psychiatric observation.

    The suspects’ lawyers said their clients confirm taking part in group sex, but this was done under agreement, as part of “open relationships.”

    Dvash’s attorney Alon Davidov said the two were “adults with alternative lifestyles, perhaps indigestible to the conservative guys in the police, but they didn’t perpetrate all the serious offenses the [police] are trying to pin on them.”

    Zarad’s attorney David Barhum said his client “admitted he had group sex but denies the use of any coercion, exploitation or abuse.”

    Barhum said after the court session that Zarad’s acts were not motivated by religious or nationalist ideology. Davidov said Dvash was “convinced everything he did was to help the people of Israel…to bring it closer to redemption…it all comes from his deep faith.”

    He stressed repeatedly that his client had committed no criminal offense and the case consisted, at most, of moral offenses.

    The attorneys denied the existence of a cult and said the case is based on the testimony of one complainant, Zarad’s former partner.

    The police asked Judge Yaron Mientkavich to extend the suspects’ custody by 10 days. The judge said the suspicions were “substantiated to a satisfactory degree for today’s session” but extended the custody by seven days only, urging the police to advance the investigation significantly.

    The suspects were apprehended after a four-month undercover investigation following a complaint by a woman who said the cult was exploiting its female recruits.

    Among the suspects are Dvash’s 40-year-old wife and a 39-year-old woman from Jerusalem. All but the two main suspects have been released.

    Dvash, 60, a well-known figure in the settlements, is married to two women and father to 15 children by both wives. Zarad, 47, is suspected of pimping the women and supplying the drugs with which the group controlled the women.

    The suspected cult leaders allegedly took money from the men to have sex with the women and tried to pressure the women to become Orthodox through their sexual relations with the non-Jewish men.

    The clients included, among others, Palestinians from the West Bank and foreign workers living in Tel Aviv.


  26. Consider This: Religious experience or cult?

    By NAOMI RAGEN, Jerusalem Post OPINION September 23, 2014

    Lichtenstein is passionate about saving those who have been taken in by charlatans in religious garb spouting mystical gobbledygook.

    Perhaps because we live in the Holy Land, the idea of closeness to our Maker, and adherence to His will, is commonplace even among the most secular Israeli, particularly around Rosh Hashana, when Israelis from all backgrounds and religious levels turn their hearts and minds toward the idea of spiritual growth and healing, trying to find their way to a more intimate relationship with their God.

    This longing for a purer life, has, unfortunately, given rise to a vast number of psychopathic and criminal gurus, ranging from completely secular to ultra-Orthodox, who prey on the most intelligent and innocent of victims.

    The recent court case against Goel Ratzon is a case in point. This self-styled healer based in Tel Aviv advertised his services as a mediator and psychologist for troubled couples and young women. Slowly the men left, but the women stayed. Ratzon offered them marriage and life in a commune. Eventually, he amassed 30 “wives” and over 60 biological children, many of whom he physically and sexually abused, including committing incest with two of his daughters and fathering six of his own grandchildren.

    Ratzon, who was convicted on September 8 of severe sex crimes, was nevertheless acquitted of the crime of enslavement. Israeli television broadcast the scene outside the courtroom where Ma’ayan, one of Ratzon’s “wives” and mother of six of his children, broke down in sobs at the verdict.

    “There is no law and no judge in Israel!” she declared. “I was under complete enslavement.”

    “The court has ruled that men in the State of Israel have the right and approval to take women and torture them, [and to be] acquitted because they didn’t cross the physical abuse border.” Ratzon, who called himself God, created his own “Torah” which the women were forced to study and obey.

    Orthodoxy too has been used to lure victims to abusive cults. In 2011, an 18-year-old religious girl from a broken home visited Jerusalem. While standing next to the Bridge of Strings, she was approached by a woman she slightly knew, who invited her to learn about Breslov. Naïve and troubled, she found herself joining a communal household led by a gray-bearded “prophet,” who espoused what he said was Breslov hassidism, all the while trying to seduce her and make her part of his harem. Unlike the other women who succumbed to the physical and emotional abuse and sexual perversities visited upon them daily, which stunned them into terrified obedience, the youngest novitiate bravely found her way to the Israel Center for Cult Abuse, and its director Rachel Lichtenstein.

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  27. A petite young woman in a dark wig, Lichtenstein is a former Bais Yaakov girl, who became involved in the center after working against missionaries in Yad L’Achim. Disturbed at being told not to get involved with victims of missionizing haredi cults because it was beyond their mandate, she moved over to the center, first as a volunteer, and then as full-time director.

    Lichtenstein is passionate about saving those who have been taken in by charlatans in religious garb spouting mystical gobbledygook whether claiming to be quoting from the Kabbala or the Bhagavad Gita.

    She described a typical case: An innocent young girl is invited to a lecture on Kabbala. The girl walks into a crowded room, where the leader and teacher sits up front in a place of honor, surrounded by devotees who hang on his every word.

    After months attending lectures, she is finally introduced to him personally. She is thrilled, overwhelmed by the honor. As he shows her more and more attention, she is flattered, feeling special. After all, so many admire this man, he is so holy, so learned, and he has singled her out. More months go by. And when the leader feels she is ready, he explains to her that her special kapara (atonement) and task in life is to bring the fallen sparks of holiness back to the world by sleeping with anyone he tells her too. He roams the streets, picking up men and sending her to sleep with them while he watches, pocketing the fee. She collects money for him, cooks for him and cleans for him. One day, he tells her to pick up a friend of his who is being let out of prison. She drives down to get him. As the released convict sits next to her, he asks: ”What is a nice, pretty young girl like you doing with this man? Don’t you know that he and all his friends are criminals and he is only using you?” This, she tells Rachel, is the first time she allows doubt to enter her mind about what is really going on. Her awakening is harsh and slow, her recovery taking years of intensive psychological treatment before she can rebuild her shattered sense of self. Just weeks ago, a similar cult was unmasked in Kiryat Arba run by hassidim of a messianic cult that drugged and prostituted women for cash, convincing them to sleep with gentiles because their act “would bring about redemption for the Jewish people.”

    Normal people reading this might find it hard to believe that a regular, intelligent person could be fooled in such a way. Britain’s Cult Information Center, however, states that people in cults tend to be “intelligent, idealistic, well-educated, economically advantaged, intellectually or spiritually curious, and any age.” Cult recruitment techniques work equally effectively on PhD holders or high-school drop-outs. The only common characteristic is that the cult candidates are going through a difficult time in their lives that leaves them vulnerable.

    The haredi world, with its emphasis on belief in a charismatic leader, complete obedience and discipline, leaves many of those searching for a deeper religious experience particularly susceptible.

    continued below

  28. What is the difference between a valid religious experience and a cult? According to Robert J. Lifton, an expert in the field of cult studies, cults exert total environmental control, controlling all information. The cult’s truth is absolute, members even depending on the cult for definitions of reality.

    People are taught the meaninglessness and futility of their former way of life, and the necessity for a rebirth. All situations are reduced to black and white, with no gray areas, and the leader is infallible, cult members dependent upon him for information before they can make the slightest decision. Even child-raising is abandoned to the leader, the parents’ allegiance often measured by their willingness to follow the leader’s directives, even if it involves abusing their own children. In some parents, this is a stress reliever, freeing them from deciding anything, even child care.

    Interestingly, secular Jews seem equally exposed to the same mind-control techniques.

    Take Anat and Shmuel, average, middle- class, secular Israelis who are well educated with good jobs – she is a teacher, and he a systems analyst. They live in a spacious one-family house. Small children run in and out, and a 15-year-old is glued to her cell phone on the sofa.

    One would never guess that until three years ago they and their children were members of an oppressive Krishna cult that controlled every aspect of their lives.

    Beginning with a weekly lecture on meditation and higher consciousness, they were slowly drawn in until they agreed to move up North to join a new community with all their new friends.

    As Anat, a lively, talkative woman tells it, slowly the noose began to tighten: “You have no one to talk to, except members of the group.” Their leader began filling their minds with the suggestion that they had been abused by their families. They broke all family ties. If they ever expressed doubts out loud, they were reported and punished with hours of verbal abuse.

    For Anat, the end came when she was told that her children were evil, and must be raised by the group leader. She and her husband and family left, cutting all ties. But others stayed.

    “They are still recruiting people,” Anat tells me. “They bring an Indian market with dresses and handicrafts to kibbutzim, and all the while they’re recruiting.” “Why don’t people leave?” I asked her.

    “It’s like waking up from a bad dream. You have to face yourself. How did I let this happen to me? It is devastating, and takes years to rebuild your ego. For some, it’s simply easier to stay and never admit the truth.”

    In short, all seekers of purity, beware. If someone offers you spiritual growth, but winds up telling you what to think, and how to behave 24/7, you aren’t having a religious experience, but a criminal one. Get out and call the police.


  29. Head of polygamist cult Ratzon sentenced to 30 years in prison

    By YONAH JEREMY BOB, Jerusalem Post October 28, 2014

    Prior to his January 2010 arrest, Ratzon had 21 "wives" and over 40 children from those wives who were part of his cult over a period of around 30 years.

    Cult-leader Goel Ratzon was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 years in prison on his convictions for sex crimes and financial fraud.

    He will serve 25 years from Tuesday's sentencing after already having been in prison for more than four years already while his trial proceeded.

    In September, Ratzon was convicted of most of the sex crimes he was accused of and financial fraud, but acquitted of enslaving people by the Tel Aviv District Court regarding several wives and children.

    Prior to his January 2010 arrest, Ratzon had 21 "wives" and over 40 children from those wives who were part of his cult over a period of about 30 years.

    Ratzon was indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court in February 2010 on a litany of charges, including multiple counts of rape, sodomy, molestation of minors, fraud and the unusual charge of spiritual enslavement.

    The decision was handed down by a three judge panel, including Nurit Ahituv, Miriam Diskin and Ra'anan Ben-Yosef - though it was issued several hours late when the Israel Prisons Service bizarrely forgot to bring him to court from his Beersheba prison cell.

    The fraud charges against Ratzon described him as defrauding his wives out of their money and manipulating them into serving as his slaves.

    While Ratzon's conviction had been likely to lead to significant jail time from which he, at 64, may not emerge while still alive, some of his ex-wives were disturbed that he was acquitted on the spiritual enslavement charge.

    Opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised the conviction for sex crimes, adding, "this is an important step toward uprooting the phenomenon of exploiting women at its roots" and that the state had sent a message that "the bodies and souls of women are not a free for all."

    MK Michal Rozen (Meretz) said too many cults still exist in Israel which abuse women and children and that the Knesset must pass new legislation to fully tackle the phenomenon.

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  30. The indictment said Razon’s 21 wives were made to feel they were “required to serve [him] and fulfill all of his demands,” allegedly including sexual acts. It accuses Ratzon of using his standing and the women’s adulation to demand that some of them perform sexual acts on him.

    The indictment describes a chilling account of Ratzon’s alleged deeds, including one instance where he allegedly forcibly inserted his fingers into a 17-year-old girl, and when she protested, told her “don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

    The indictment also details Ratzon’s abuse of a girl he allegedly molested almost daily for two years, starting when she was 15.

    Soon after his arrest in 2010, Ratzon had said he did not understand why he was under arrest since “stroking” minors did not constitute rape.

    He also maintained throughout that all actions he undertook were with the consent of his wives and that they were permitted to leave his cult at anytime.

    The indictment repeated threats Ratzon allegedly made to his wives in which he threatened to harm their health or that of their children if they did not obey his wishes.

    “I have the power to save and the power to destroy. If you do things that I forbid then I will make sure you and your children are stricken with serious illnesses,” the indictment quotes one witness as saying Ratzon told her.

    Ratzon was also accused in the indictment of using different methods to strip the women of their personal identities, including forcing them to tattoo his name and image on their bodies, and requiring them to change their given names to ones of his choosing.

    The women were then reportedly required to break off all ties with their families and friends, and were not allowed to have any social life or connections whatsoever outside of the communal house.

    They were also allegedly subject to repeated verbal abuse and humiliation by Ratzon, in order to strip them of their self-respect and independence.

    Ratzon also allegedly wielded absolute control over the women’s movements, allowing them to leave the house only with his approval and requiring them to report to him all excursions, except to their workplace. He also reportedly forbade them from wearing sunglasses when outside with him, so that he could follow their gaze at all times.

    The women were allegedly forced to dress modestly, were not allowed to use television or Internet without his approval, and were forced to attend to Ratzon at all hours of the night whenever he desired.

    The indictment also states that Ratzon required the children to line up and kiss his feet every time he entered the house, allegedly to reaffirm his superiority.

    Ratzon is accused of demanding the women hand over their money to him, which the indictment alleges brought a number of the women to bankruptcy, including one who ran up a debt of NIS 400,000 funneling money to Ratzon.

    The women were allegedly required to hand over their paychecks and their national insurance child allotments into a communal account that Ratzon exercised “absolute” control over.

    Ben Hartman contributed to this report.


  31. The Hasidic Community Is Not a Cult - No Kool-Aid in Those Black Hats

    By Joseph Berger, Jewish Daily Forward November 18, 2014

    At a recent talk I gave on my new book, “The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles With America,” a friend in the audience came away with some rather sharp comments, agreeing with some of the points I made, but finally dismissing Hasidim with the words “They’re a cult.”

    Although the book has a half-dozen chapters on the controversies, or the “battles,” in which Hasidim have been embroiled — instances of sex abuse of young men by teachers; violations of zoning laws by Hasidic sects seeking to build bigger houses for their teeming families; modesty squads that bully clothing merchants and housewives into following a rigid interpretation of demure dress; publicly financed buses on which men and women sit in separate sections — I never addressed the question of whether Hasidism was a cult.

    My book tried to treat Hasidim and their version of Judaism in a respectful fashion, portraying their daily lives and practices and explaining their 300-year-old history and philosophy. The book was an effort to introduce Hasidim to people who may have only a glancing familiarity with them, but who I felt need to know them better because they have become a more important and politically powerful force in Jewish life. To put it simply, I treated Hasidism as another flavor of Jewish thought, like Reform or Reconstructionism, but not a cult as that word is pejoratively applied.

    The definition of “cult” is itself open to argument. One person’s cult is another’s religion. But generally the term cult as used today denotes a religious group with a deviant set of beliefs whose magnetic leaders engage in physically and mentally coercive control and abuse their positions by exploiting followers for sex and personal enrichment.

    As I pondered my friend’s viewpoint afterward, I agreed that he could have made a number of arguments to show that the Hasidim are a cult. They have followed charismatic leaders, their rebbes or grand rabbis, men like Joel Teitelbaum (the late founding leader of Satmar), the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch or the late Naftali Halberstam of Bobov. Such leaders often achieved their status not by spiritual or intellectual excellence or a democratic community vote, but by dynastic lineage. Many Hasidim will not marry, seek an occupation or even choose a surgeon without consulting their rebbe. It is easy, then, to make comparisons to charismatic leaders associated with cults — like Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple, or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who famously married off hundreds of followers in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden.

    And arguments for cultlike brainwashing can be made, too. In their effort to focus their young men on Talmud study and keep them away from secular distractions, Hasidic yeshivas usually stop teaching secular subjects like history, science and literature after the eighth grade. The approach keeps Hasidim tethered to jobs in the Hasidic community — like that of yeshiva teacher or kosher slaughterer — and makes it difficult to work outside it. To many, keeping members intellectually shackled to the community qualifies as cultlike.

    continued below

  32. I could go on but there are big differences that I feel make it difficult to brand Hasidim as a cult in the way that term has been popularly used in recent decades. Rebbes have not been known to take advantage of their followers to amass personal riches or a sexual harem, as many cult leaders did in the 1960s and ’70s. Yes, there have been many Hasidic individuals who have been accused of sexual abuse, but these were mostly cases of ordinary sect members, and they drew attention because of the blatant hypocrisy of someone posing as a “pious one” — the literal definition of a Hasid — while committing such acts.
    There is also no statistical evidence that such abuse is any more rife among Hasidim than among other Jews, Christians or Muslims. True, the Hasidim tried for decades to handle such matters clandestinely within their community, edging out prosecutors and other law enforcement officials who might have wanted to put the abusers in jail, but Hasidim try to keep all their legal and ritual dealings within the community, with each sect maintaining a court, beit din, for divorce and business disputes.

    Most important, Hasidim per se are not a deviant religious movement. They practice the same Judaism that Orthodox and other devout Jews have practiced for hundreds of years — observing the same holidays and rituals and adopting the same core beliefs, albeit with their own distinctive twists. They may observe their faith with more intensity and in a more all-encompassing manner.

    On Yom Kippur, for example, some frail Hasidim in Brooklyn’s Boro Park or Williamsburg will choose to give themselves nourishment through an IV drip rather than violate the prohibition against eating — even if esteemed rabbis have said they should not fast at all. But Hasidim circumcise their male infants, avoid hametz at Passover and say the Shmoneh Esrei three times daily, just like most observant Jews do. Their affinity for antique clothing styles and for side locks, and their 19th-century standards of modesty, strike some as primitive, but the essentials of how they practice their religion are still characteristically Jewish.

    Their consuming study of Talmud does not qualify as ideological indoctrination, and the pressures to conform to this supposedly outmoded way of life do not quite amount to psychological intimidation. True, it is not easy to leave a Hasidic sect; enormous lifestyle changes are required. Children of a marriage broken by defection have to navigate Hasidic and secular households and often choose the Hasidic one as the more familiar path. And most Hasidim are not educationally equipped to thrive professionally in the world outside the Hasidic walls. But there is no abundant record of beatings or hostage taking of those who choose to leave.

    Hasidism has been around for 300 years. There are not many cults that can say that.

    Joseph Berger is a reporter at The New York Times and the author of “The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles With America” (Harper Perennial, 2014).


  33. Former Hasidic Jew sues the province for getting a poor education

    Yohanan Lowen, who attended Hasidic schools in Boisbriand, seeks more than $1M in damages

    CBC News November 18, 2014

    A former member of a Boisbriand Hasidic community is suing the Quebec government for more than $1 million for damages he says he suffered from getting a poor education.

    Yohanan Lowen, 36, told CBC that the Hasidic schools he attended in Boisbriand focused on the teachings of the Torah, rather than teach him the provincial education ministry’s mandatory curriculum.

    “I started to learn a-b-c-d when I was the age of 29,” Lowen said.

    Lowen left his community in 2010, and said his lack of education has been a major setback.

    He said the Quebec government is to blame for letting that happen, and that other children in the community are in the same situation.

    “Like every other human being in Quebec, they deserve everything that a regular child deserves and God never said that ultra-Orthodox children must have a miserable life,” Lowen said.

    Legal action

    Lowen issued a legal notice to the education ministry, youth protection agency, the schools and school boards involved, and Quebec's attorney general.

    There could be further legal action if others come forward, according to Julien Pelletier, the executive director of the legal clinic Juripop.

    “We don't reject the option of a class-action [lawsuit] to get some compensation for … a system that failed him,” Pelletier said.

    Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc said he would not comment on the issue because it could end up before the courts.


  34. Rabbi Involved in Cult Case in Jerusalem Seminary Arrested

    Seminary in Sanhedria raided and Rabbi Aharon Ramati arrested amid media storm; since 2014, parents have said he is running a 'cult.'

    By Tova Dvorin, Arutz Sheva May 3, 2015

    The director of a Sephardic haredi girls' seminary in Jerusalem has been arrested on Sunday, following a string of accusations from concerned parents that he was running a "cult" and using mind control techniques to exert his influence over the girls' private decisions.

    Earlier Sunday, the Israel Police raided the Be'er Miriam seminary in Sanhedria following a media storm over the allegations. The raid is being conducted as part of criminal investigation into its director, Rabbi Aharon Ramati, a social worker involved in the case said.

    The raid team included investigators from the Jerusalem District Police's fraud unit, its leader, Superintendent Isaac Simon, as well as a team of social workers.

    The team was accompanied by representatives of all the emergency agencies including the Fire Department, the Gas Authority, representatives of the Jerusalem income tax depot, the Social Security, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the collection enforcement authority at the Justice Ministry, and municipal officials. Each of the representatives conducted their own investigation of the premises during the raid.

    The Gas Authority has determined that the seminary's gas connection is pirated; gas has been shut off for the building and for several nearby buildings for security reasons as the investigation continues.

    Fraud investigators seized evidence upon entering the premises and have questioned six of the women involved so far, they said.

    In May 2014, Ramati was asked to leave Jerusalem within 30 days after the allegations first surfaced. Ramati never left, however, and there has been little police involvement in the case until now.

    Tensions have mounted over the intervening months - so much so that concerned parents staged a protest in April.

    Girls involved with the seminary, including one escapee, spoke to Channel10 earlier this year and revealed that Ramati had allegedly an iron grip on his students, specifically who they married - and even details of their married lives. Parents stated that they had been banned from their daughters' weddings after questioning the rabbi's authority.

    The seminary has no connection to the similarly-named Ba'er Miriam Seminary in Har Nof, which is a one-year program for English-speaking students.


  35. Accused Jerusalem ultra Orthodox cult leader barred from teaching girls

    Police investigates Aharon Ramati, the head of a women's seminary, after families complained students had been held there against their will.

    By Yair Ettinger | Haaretz May 28, 2015

    The head of the Be’er Miriam women’s seminary in Jerusalem, Aharon Ramati, has been forbidden to manage any educational institution and can teach only men for a period of 70 days or until he is indicted, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled this week.

    Over the past several weeks, Ramati has been the subject of a police investigation following complaints filed by some of the students and their families, who claimed that some of the students who dormed there had been held against their will in an institution they claimed was being run like a cult.

    Ramati, his wife, and a few students were arrested and released, but Judge Miriam Kaslassy agreed to some of the state’s demands and imposed restrictions on the controversial rabbi, whose work has been criticized by several leading Haredi rabbis. The complaints led the Jerusalem municipality to close down the seminary.

    Ramati, through his attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, objected to the state’s demand that he be forbidden to engage in any type of education during the investigation, and declared that he had never drawn a salary from Be’er Miriam, had not managed it, and does not have rabbinical ordination or a teacher’s license. He thus argued that he cannot be blocked from doing anything. “Education is his guiding principle,” said Ben Gvir. “He [engaged in it] out of love for the Jewish people, not as a livelihood.”

    The judge rejected this approach and decided to ban Ramati from “managing, directly or indirectly, this seminary or any other educational institution including as a teacher, acting as a supervisory rabbi or spiritual counselor for 70 days or until an indictment is filed, the earlier of the two.”

    With regard to Ramati’s request to “educate the Jewish people in accordance with his worldview,” she wrote, “The respondent is permitted to pursue these passions with the sons of Israel (men and not women), and this only because the plaintiff [the state] has agreed to limit the ban, and not due to any determination regarding the investigation material that has accumulated that distinguishes between men and women.”

    Former students who left the school say that under Ramati’s influence, the girls cut off contact with their families. For example, they must give up their cell phones, as well as any other means of communication with the outside world, when they start at the school.


  36. Suspected Ramati cult re-emerges

    Beleaguered families of women who follow rabbi Aharon Ramati find their daughters trapped inside a seminary where they live in squalid conditions. Since all participants are adults, the state currently has little power to intervene.

    by Elisha Ben Kimon Ynetnews February 13, 2016

    In February 2013, late in the evening hours in a secret apartment in Jerusalem, the family members of a young woman from southern Israel found out where she was, after a long period of not seeing her. Not long before, they found out that she was about to get married, so they decided to take action to free their daughter from the clutches of the cult she was sucked into.

    The date was chosen carefully, a few days before the wedding. The mother arrived at the entrance of the house while an escape vehicle waited outside, in which several family members waited. The mother went to the door, knocked and heard her daughter’s voice. "Come home, please,” her mother implored in Yiddish. "We love you”. The daughter did not even hesitate. "Get out of here!" she shouted, "I don’t want to see you!”

    The operation failed. After a long discussion mediated by lawyers, the family members met the intended groom directly, but did not manage to reason with him and called it quits.

    This cult continued to operate until it was shut down by court order due to substandard health conditions, but in the past few weeks more testimonies have come forth that Aharon Ramati, who has in the past been arrested and suspected of heading the cult, has returned to run it from another apartment in Jerusalem.

    he parents of the daughters who study at Ramati’s seminary that managed to get inside, described harsh living conditions. “The police and courts do nothing,” a mother whose daughter belongs to the cult, said. Her daughter filed a restraining order against her, after a few dozen visits the mother made to the seminary. “We have been in this struggle for several years and we are still not able to create any changes. We feel helpless.”

    They did not open the door
    These events are just a small part of a nearly-hopeless struggle by family members of young women who have been drawn into various religious cults. This struggle almost seems impossible when the women are over 18, since responsibility over their actions is no longer in the parents’ hands, and the parents have to prove that the cult indeed brainwashes their daughters.

    continued below

  37. In Israel this is twice as hard since there is no law that defines a harmful cult that has to be shut down. As a result, cults can operate in Israel almost without interruption, while authorities can act against them only by catching their leaders on legal technicalities such as sanitation violations, tax evasion and other crimes and other infractions.

    One person who joined the fight in helping the families in their struggle against the seminary
    is MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid). She met with parents and appealed to the Ministry of Health to examine the conditions in which the daughters live .

    "From the moment I discovered what was going on at the Be’er Miriam (“Miriam’s Well”) seminary headed by Rabbi Aharon Ramati, who attracts many young women, I met many family members and I became aware of the size of the phenomenon," said MK Lavie. "I joined the struggle with the families who have daughters who study there."

    "We brought about an investigation and the closure of the place, but unfortunately the activity has recently been started anew in another location. The sad thing is that years ago the senior rabbis - the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv - called it a 'dangerous cult' and stated that 'the daughters of Israel must not study with him or go to his location, his branches, or any place under his instruction,' and called for the immediate closure of the institution. "

    Unbearable helplessness
    The Ramati affair exploded a year ago, after many parents filed complaints which suggested Ramati was running a cult. All those girls who came to his seminary came to learn with him, lost touch with families, and became more and more extreme. After examining what was going on, it was revealed that the girls live in a neglected apartment under austere and difficult conditions.

    After receiving evidence of the cult, the Jerusalem Police raided Ramati’s apartment and seized computers and documents. Health Ministry officials arrived as well, confiscating edibles that were improperly stored. Ramati himself was arrested and spent several days in custody, and then released on house arrest, but not indicted.

    Recently, following many reports, MK Lavie turned to the Ministry of Health to check living conditions in the apartment where the girls live, but the Ministry presented a claim highlighting the difficulty of dealing with the matter. "After receiving the request MK's request, the county's sanitation coordinator went to given address, where one of the women opened the and claimed that the place is not an institution or organization but merely somewhere a few girls are living together. Since we do not go into private apartments, we left," the Ministry reported, “If there is evidence that the place is an institution, we will conduct further inspections."

    "The helplessness faced by the families is unbearable and the ongoing question of how to intervene without harming the girls remains unanswered, floating in space," says MK Lavie, adding, "I'm working on all possible levels: Legislative, governmental, municipal and non-parliamentary, and I am currently co-authoring a bill together with Orly Levy-Abekasis, a bill that seeks to legally define an abusive cult in a way that will enable direct action against cults."


  38. Law and order: Cult-busting bill gets ministerial approval

    By LAHAV HARKOV Jerusalem Post February 14, 2016

    MKs propose letting the public submit legislation to the Knesset

    Proposal includes first legal definition of an abusive cult; leading a cult would be considered a crime carrying a 10-year prison sentence.

    Legislation defining abusive cults and giving the authorities tools to fight them was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday.

    MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu) called the bill, which she proposed, “the first step towards formulating an overarching policy and building a broad and effective system to fight abusive cults.”

    If the bill becomes law, it will be the first time a cult is defined by law and differentiated from other, non-abusive religious groups.

    The bill states that an abusive cut its “a group of people, incorporated or not, who unite around a person or idea in a way that takes advantage of a relationship of dependence or authority or of emotional distress of one or more members by using methods of control through thought processes and behavioral patterns and acts in an organized, systematic and sustained pattern while committing crimes according to Israeli law.”

    Holding a leadership position in a cult would be considered a crime with a prison sentence of 10 years.

    In addition, the bill creates a system of confiscating property obtained as a result of an abusive cult’s activities, which is similar to that in the Law to Fight Organized Crime.

    The legislation also proposes that the Welfare Ministry create an online database of information about cults, their leaders, their activities and location, as well as a department for helping victims of abusive cults.

    Levy-Abecasis said in the past two decades, two committees recommended that the government do more on this matter, including passing laws, but they did not until now.


  39. MKs war on cults – will others be caught in the crossfire?

    Anti-cult bill would grant courts expansive powers.

    By David Rosenberg, Arutz Sheva February 16, 2016

    What constitutes a cult and what is a legitimate social group or organization? It’s a question that has long plagued liberal democracies who have tried to balance the rights of religious freedom and free association on the one hand with the need to protect citizens from abusive cults on the other.

    MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is looking to give the answer. The Yisrael Beytenu MK has drafted a bill in conjunction with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the Likud that would define dangerous cults and empower the state to take drastic actions to break them up.

    This is not the first time such legislation has been proposed. Isaac Herzog, now leader of the Israeli Labor Party, proposed such a measure while serving as Welfare Minister, with previous legislative attempts to clamp down on cults going back to the 1980s.

    Nothing came of these earlier proposals, but Levy-Abekasis is confident her bill will be adopted. It was approved yesterday by a ministerial committee and has won support of haredi MKs.

    The earlier bills failed, she argues, because they were too broad and could have been used to target religious groups or political movements. “There was a need to sharpen the definition of what is a dangerous cult,” explained Levy-Abekasis.

    Yet it is unclear how effective this new legislation will be in distinguishing cults from other groups and organizations. Levy-Abekasis laid out the basis of the legal distinction, defining dangerous cults as any group of people organizing around a person and idea where members are dependent on the central figure, or where the central figure’s authority includes control over members’ behavior or thought control.

    The bill would give judges the discretion to apply this definition to any group or organization, seize their assets, and refer
    members to psychological counseling.

    When asked whether the law could be applied to Hasidic movements centered around a Rebbe or revered spiritual leader, Levy-Abekasis responded that any movement exhibiting the traits laid out by the bill could be brought to court.


  40. MKs bid to tackle harmful cults that ensnare 20,000 Israelis. But it’s not so simple

    From polygamous sexual predators to the ‘Jewish Taliban,’ sects draw in large numbers of susceptible adherents. Will new legislation break the spell? Or does it go too far, threatening religious freedom?

    BY MARISSA NEWMAN, political correspondent The Times of Israel February 22, 2016

    Ten years ago, when L., a Jewish mother of four from northern Israel, began studying Krishna Consciousness with a group in her home twice a month, she found some of the teacher’s behavior slightly “strange” but the teachings enthralling. Drawn to the philosophy, the formerly Orthodox woman — who says she left organized religion, but never God — didn’t think much of it when the families involved began relocating to the community where the teacher lived.

    Within four years, L., now in her forties, and her family would be living in a Hare Krishna commune in Harish, a small town south of Haifa, where, according to her account, the teacher would be controlling the day-to-day decisions of the 40-strong community.
    The members — including her husband – would grow convinced their parents had sexually abused them. Most of them would cut off all ties with their families, and the teacher would insist their relatives were in cahoots with Israeli anti-cult group Yad L’Achim. One woman would stop seeing her 6-year-old daughter on the leader’s instructions. Those who appeared to cast doubt on the teachings, or the leader’s actions – including L. herself — were shunned by the members of the community. And for a long time, feeling somewhat indebted, and caught in the tight-knit social framework, she would be too afraid, too torn to leave.

    “What’s the problem with cults? That it’s not so clear what’s happening there. By the time you realize how insane it is, you’re already inside. Every time there were little things, another red flag, and another red flag, but until the puzzle pieces fall into place, it takes time, and by then you’re already in it,” she tells The Times of Israel on condition on anonymity. She stresses that she opposes the Harish group but not the Hare Krishna movement as a whole, which she still appreciates.

    Throughout her experience, L. knew something was wrong, and she told her husband so. But, she says, “there’s always this dissonance between the high-level spiritual knowledge and the day-to-day conduct.” Then, four years ago, the family picked up and left the community and Harish – and four other families did the same.

    After leaving, she didn’t consider going to the police. “One of the main problems with harmful cults is that sometimes there is no criminal element, or it is difficult to prove criminal activity, and then it’s as if there’s nothing to do,” she says.

    Enter a new bill proposed by Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which has the coalition’s support and passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

    The bill would for the first time in Israel’s history enshrine in law a definition of a “harmful cult,” and allow the courts to jail cult leaders for up to 10 years and seize their assets. But, in its current formulation, which will still likely be revised before it is brought to the three votes needed to pass it into law, there is one caveat: it would only apply to cult leaders who committed other crimes, thus compounding their sentences. This stipulation ensures that religious leaders won’t face prosecution merely upon allegations of “cult-like” features. It also won’t help people like L., who needed therapy after leaving her community.

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  41. As the bill passes its first hurdles in the Knesset, some researchers maintain that the definition of “cults” is inherently problematic, and could be applied to a broad range of groups. They maintain that accusations of “brainwashing” and cult members losing their free will is scientifically invalid, that the legislation is “vague” and could compromise religious freedoms. If Israel adopts the legislation, it will be repeating mistakes other countries made in the 1980s, warns one.

    Defining a ‘cult’

    It was likely one of the most dramatic moments in the five-year trial of a notorious polygamist who led a harem in south Tel Aviv with over 30 women and girls, and fathered over 60 children, including with his own daughters. The court had sentenced self-styled spiritual guru Goel Ratzon to 30 years in prison in October 2014 for a slew of sex crimes, including rape and sodomy, but found him not guilty of slavery. And standing outside the courtroom, one of Ratzon’s former “wives,” identified only as Maayan, was sobbing uncontrollably.

    “It seems that in the State of Israel, pimps, people who pimp other peoples’ body and soul, can continue to do so,” she cried to a group of reporters. “They have the right – because there is no law and there is no justice.”

    As the former victim’s comments underlined, Israel – which does have human trafficking and abuse laws, and can prosecute for bodily harm – has no explicit legislation that recognizes or criminalizes cults, or harm to the “soul” that comes as a result of membership in one.

    Ratzon was perhaps the most prominent case in recent years, a period that also saw the rise of the on-the-run Lev Tahor sect, founded in Canada and currently in Guatemala, and allegations against Rabbi Aharon Ramati at a Jerusalem seminary that he was running a cult. (Ramati was briefly arrested and later released to house arrest. The court barred him from running a school for 70 days.)

    The dearth of legislation in Israel on this matter has created “a hotbed of harmful cults,” said Levy-Abekasis in the Knesset on Wednesday, pointing to the government’s several failed attempts to crack down on the phenomenon in the past 30 years. Apart from the jail time and frozen assets, the bill also calls on the Welfare Ministry to build an online database of Israeli cults, including the names of their leaders (the suspected cult leaders will be contacted in advance to have a chance to defend themselves, it stipulates), and all cult victims will have a legal guardian appointed to represent them.

    The bill defines a cult as a group that “rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of controlling mental processes or patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.”

    According to the director of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, there are some 100 cults active in Israel, with 15,000-20,000 adults and 3,000 children in their ranks.

    Rachel Lichtenstein, the director of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, says what makes a group a cult is never ideology, but rather the techniques of control exercised by its leader. The criteria she lists include having a leader at the center, emotional, psychological, and occasionally economic exploitation, social sanctions and humiliation, isolation of members from their families, surveillance, and more.

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  42. The group gathers testimony and, once it receives a number of reliable accounts (she stresses the organization will never rely on a single account), it will classify some groups as cults. (The organization identifies the Harish group as a cult, based on the testimonies of 15 families who left).

    “There has been no initiative by the authorities to take a stand,” she says. When people leave cults “they have no opportunity to sue,” she says. “They go the police and are told: ‘You did it all willingly.’”

    30 year of failed attempts

    The bill marks the first time the anti-cult efforts have reached Israel’s legislature (countries such as France and Belgium have anti-cult laws).

    In the late 1980s, a interministerial Knesset committee compiled a report on these groups, but the recommendations in the several-hundred-page report – which were approved by the Knesset in 1995 — were never implemented.

    In 2011, a report filed with the Welfare Ministry urged the government to take action against what it estimated was some 80 groups – but said there was little study of the issue (the report numbers were based on the Israeli Center for Cult Victims’ data). The phenomenon was “marginal” in Israeli society, it noted, but information about the groups was also limited.

    The report also cites research profiling the average cult member in Israel: around 25 years old upon joining, most were Israeli-born (86%), middle-to-upper-class, with 12 years or schooling or more. Some 44% reported a personal crisis prior to joining the group, 60% had sought some psychological counsel during their lives, 11% had previously been hospitalized for mental illness, and 15% were discharged from the army due to mental illness.

    While entrenched in the cult, you are “not operating out of free will,” maintains L. After receiving complaints, the ISKCON umbrella group for Hare Krishna at one point intervened and representatives conceded to her that there was a problem. The organization sent in other teachers, gave the leader a warning, and kept tabs on the group, but L. maintains their response – which she says strengthened her resolve to leave — was insufficient. “I think they needed to tell everyone there, listen there’s a problem here. They didn’t do that.”

    While she was in the group, L. says, there was a certain amount of control over her mental faculties. “There are people who will say it doesn’t exist, but of course it does.”

    Dr. Adam Klin-Oron, an anthropologist of religion, fellow at the Van Leer Institute, and professor at Ben Gurion University, is one of those people.

    “There is wall-to-wall academic consensus that this term [brainwashing, or control of mental processes] is not valid. That there is no such thing as mental control,” he says.

    “In the 1980s there was a wave of ‘brainwashing’ claims, and then parliaments around the world examined the issue, courts around the world examined the issue, and reached a clear ruling: That there is no such thing as cults… that the people making these claims are often not experts on the issue. And in the end courts, including in Israel, rejected expert witnesses who claimed there is ‘brainwashing.’

    “It’s as if Israel is repeating the mistakes of other countries, and is not learning from them,” he adds.

    Klin-Oron maintains the bill is problematic in various ways: The phrasing is too vague and open to interpretation, allowing the government to crack down on any group it doesn’t approve of, he argues.

    “If now, in Israel, they don’t like, for example, Reform Jews, they could decide to call them a cult. I don’t see a situation in which that would happen, but there are precedents…. If another government rises that doesn’t like the ultra-Orthodox, they could declare Satmar a cult,” he says. “Who said that a Gur Hasid chooses at every given moment, in an autonomous way, how to behave?
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  43. Who said someone in the army chooses how to behave, and has mental control over his behavior? Every group that has some sort of surveillance can be considered in this way.”

    He also argues that leaders of these groups who committed crimes — such as Goel Ratzon — are punished for those crimes “very severely by the state, so why do you need the law” to add more charges?

    Finally, he maintains that many people interviewed while inside a group, including some of Ratzon’s former wives, report being satisfied. “You’re supposed to decide for mature adults that their choices are unacceptable to you? There are nearly no precedents to this in Western states for mature adults,” he says.

    New religious movements (NRMs, a term he uses in lieu of “cults”) also have a remarkable amount of turnover, he says. “People come and leave, come and leave,” he says. “So if from the moment you entered the group, they started controlling your mental processes, how are people leaving?”

    Prof. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, a clinical psychologist of religion and professor at the University of Haifa, was on the original Knesset committee looking into cults in the late 1980s, but he left after a year, because “nothing came of it.” Both the prosecution and defense in the Ratzon case asked him to testify on their behalf. He declined. Beit-Hallahmi does not recognize the term “cult” and says it’s a “vulgar” classification.

    “Obviously there is exploitation of people in a terrible way, but this exploitation exists in many other frameworks,” he says, citing fans of the Beitar Yerushalayim soccer team, often accused of racist violence, as an example.

    Beit-Hallahmi notes that when minors are involved, the authorities certainly should intervene. But adults who choose, for example Belz Hasidim, to donate money to their leaders do so out of faith.

    He also thinks the bill won’t change the situation on the ground.

    “There was a law in the 1970s [against proselytizers who offer money]. And nothing happened afterwards. No one was prosecuted…. No one went to jail,” he says. “From the perspective of freedom of religion in Israel, I don’t think anything will change. The same freedom that existed before will continue after,” he says.

    L., for her part, says the bill is “a little problematic” but “it’s important, because if it doesn’t happen, “then any crazy leader with some knowledge and some charisma can play with people’s minds. It’s insane.” At the same time, it must be balanced so “that it doesn’t harm individual freedoms, because you can’t tell people what to” do or believe.

    L. argues that the case is like “undue influence” where elderly people are convinced to sign leases, and the intimidation can be likened to domestic violence or sexual harassment where the victims remain silent.

    “Why don’t they tell anyone? Because they’re afraid. Because their boss influences them, psychologically, in a way that makes them afraid to talk. They don’t know what will happen as a result. And why doesn’t a battered woman say ‘my husband beat me, help me’? Because she’s afraid of him. It’s the same psychological reaction that makes people afraid. The leader frightens them, threatens them, causes them to be anxious all the time and just trust them.”

    The bill will deter cult “leaders from acting so brazenly, with such control,” she says.

    Lichtenstein, of the Israeli Center for Cult Victims, concedes the issue is “complex” and “not black-and-white.” But she says while the legislation won’t shut down these groups “tomorrow,” is nonetheless “so important.”

    With this difficult issue, you “have to be very cautious,” she says, but the government “must also not be afraid to take initiative.”


  44. The recent attempt to pass a law in Israel dealing with cults and a forthcoming bill to curb sects in Russia reminds me of a response to an editorial in La Presse newspaper that I wrote in 2000. This text which I feel is pertinent can also be can be found on the following page of our website : http://infosect.freeshell.org/infocult/ICPubs.html

    Mike Kropveld
    Executive Director, Info-Cult


    Pierre Gravel's editorial, "Sectes: l'information avant les lois" which appeared on Sunday October 29, 2000, in La Presse raises a number of important points.

    M. Gravel mentions France`s initiative to give the government the right to disband groups and to consider mind manipulation (manipulation mentale) as an offence. He indicates that such an initiative would be difficult to accomplish in Canada because of the Charters of Rights and Freedoms. Instead of new laws, he states that public support should be given to organizations that provide information that will enable people to make informed choices.

    Info-Cult has been doing this throughout Quebec for the past 20 years.

    We agree with Mr. Gravel's idea of limiting the government's power to legislate in this area. Existing laws are sufficient in dealing with the multiple problems associated with cults and cultic groups. There are laws in place to deal with fraud, physical and sexual abuse etc. What is lacking, however, is a political willingness on the part of those responsible to pursue cases involving "cults" when they occur. This means that they must be informed about the cult issue so as to aid those who are in distress or who have complaints. Creating new laws is not the answer.

    To begin with, the "cult" phenomena begs to be examined more closely in all its nuanced complexities. In recent years, whenever the word "cult" is used to describe a group, images of death and destruction, like those associated with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan, and the Order of The Solar Temple in Quebec, most often come to mind. It is these gruesome and tragic acts that reinforce the public's perception of cults as being dangerous. This leads people to look to the government to resolve the problem.

    Pierre Gravel points out that Quebec has had its share of cult-related incidents, using as examples the Solar Temple, the disciples of Roch "Moise" Theriault and the Apostles of Infinite Love. But, it is important to realize that these events represent a very small percentage of the landscape of movements.

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  45. The majority of new groups, even those that may be considered cults, are not potential tragedies waiting to happen; neither will every person involved in such a group be harmed. Every year there are new groups that form - religious, spiritual, educational, therapeutic, human potential, occult etc. A number of them may, at first glance, appear bizarre because their beliefs or lifestyles are different from the norm. This does not necessarily mean that the group is a "cult" and constitutes a threat to its members or others. The issue is not a group's belief, but rather its actions and conduct. Does the group harm individuals, physically or psychologically? Do they pose a threat to society? If the response to these questions is in the affirmative, the government can and should intervene.

    In responding, one of the important challenges facing democratic government bodies is that fine line between implementing Draconian measures which would infringe on individual freedoms, and doing nothing.

    Information, as M. Gravel states is one remedy open to a democracy. We strongly support the idea of making information about "cults" available to the public, as well as implementing educational programs about this issue.

    As early as 1980, a 780-page government report , entitled "The Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario", highlighted the need for information and public education. These recommendations have been echoed by our own provincial government representatives, professional organizations and others, here in Quebec. Other countries have produced similar reports. With such a broad consensus regarding the need for information and education, what has been the stumbling block toward providing such a service to the public?

    Government agencies can play a more active role and consult with groups and individuals already providing this much needed public service. The government could also serve as a catalyst in:

    -providing adequate professional mental health services to "cult" members, former members, and their families,
    -providing funding for research to study the impact of "cults" in Quebec,
    -encouraging public debates and discussions on the cult phenomena.

    By taking these important preventative measures, unnecessary tragedies and abuse in all its forms, might be prevented or significantly limited. The time has come to address the concerns raised by the actions of "cults" and to respond in a democratic fashion respecting the rights and needs of everyone.



  46. Israels Cult Crackdown Could Snare Yoga, Rabbis, and Meditation

    by JAY MICHAELSON, Daily Beast March 13, 2016

    A radical new law is more about right-wing nationalism than protecting Israelis from dangerous religious leaders
    Amid all the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—most recently, last week’s horrific stabbing of 10 civilians, including one American citizen—the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has found time to introduce a strange “anti-cult law” meant to combat New Age sects in the Jewish state, but which could also impact yoga ashrams, controversial rabbis, and meditation groups.

    Contrary to appearances, the conflict and the cults are closely related to one another.

    The bill, proposed by Israel’s nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party and supported by the conservative governing coalition, would provide an additional charge for any spiritual leader charged with other crimes: leading a “harmful cult.”

    A harmful cult is defined elliptically in the bill as any group that “rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of mind control or controlling patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.”

    If a spiritual leader is charged with another crime—kidnapping, say, or embezzlement, or fraud—this additional crime could be added onto it.

    The consequences are severe, not just for the cult leader, but for followers as well. Once a “harmful cult” has been established, the state could appoint custodians to make decisions on the members’ behalf, even if they are adults who have have freely consented to take part. Such a custodian could implement forced deprogramming sessions, take control over finances, and actions that would otherwise constitute kidnapping, like holding or institutionalizing members for re-education.

    Now, if any of this sounds like a throwback to the “Satanic Panics” of 1970s and 1980s America, that’s no coincidence. Several groups of Israeli and European religion scholars have sharply criticized the bill for being outdated and vague. Tomer Persico, a researcher at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute and co-author of a letter opposing the bill, told The Daily Beast that “thought control” simply “does not exist.” Said Persico, “Theories of ‘brainwashing’ have abounded in since the 1950s, but any attempt base a criminal case using them, or even simply to verify them, have so far failed. Such theories have been rejected by experts worldwide, and in 1987 by the American Psychological Association. To put them in the Israeli law book would be an act of foolishness.”

    Even the word “cult” has been discarded in academic circles as being, essentially, a slur. The term scholars have used for decades now is “new religious movements.”

    Ironically, the anti-cult bill defines “harmful cult” so broadly that it could easily include several Hasidic sects. Consider the messianic Chabad-Lubavitch sect, which rallies around their dead rebbe as messiah, demands significant temporal and financial contributions from members, uses methods of behavior control (including specific interpretations of Jewish law), and operates in an organized, systemic, and sustained fashion.

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  47. All it would take is one Lubavitch rabbi to be charged with sexual abuse, or fraud, or any other crime, and the largest Hasidic sect in the world could, legally, qualify as a “harmful cult.” Of course, that’s not going to happen, but it shows how overly broad the language of the bill is.

    Criticisms aside, though, why is this law being proposed in the first place?

    Well, for one thing, Israel really does have a lot of new religious movements and sects. The “Israeli Center for Cult Victims,” which actually exists, estimates over 100 such sects active in Israel today, with up to 20,000 adults participating in them.

    That’s equivalent to over 900,000 Americans, proportionally speaking.

    There are many reasons why are “cults” so popular in Israel.

    First, only strict Orthodox Judaism is recognized by the state of Israel (the Orthodox rabbinate has a monopoly on weddings, funerals, conversions, and other such events), so that leaves a huge gap where progressive religion would normally reside, driving many spiritual seekers to more fringe alternatives.
    That’s especially true because Israelis have a love affair with India and the Far East, trekking there on their gap years between the army and college, and sometimes never returning. Among Sephardic Jews, belief in magic, spiritual healing, amulets, and mysticism are far more common than among Ashenazim. That’s why Israel produces a steady stream of Kabbalists imbued with magical powers and rabbis venerated as saints.

    Second, there’s the intense spiritual activity in the Holy Land: Christian pilgrims, Christian missionaries, Christian Arabs, Muslim calls to prayer five times a day, American Jews “rediscovering” themselves. There’s even a documented pathology called “Jerusalem Syndrome,” in which visitors to the city believe themselves to be the messiah, and wander about muttering prophecies.

    But it’s not just the number of cults that’s inspiring the new bill—it’s what they represent.

    First, many cults are, indeed, extreme. In 2010, for example, Israeli authorities arrested Goel Ratzon, a sect leader with 21 wives and 49 children, on charges of rape, sodomy, and incest. His wives were kept in a closed compound, tattooed his name and image on their bodies, and surrendered total financial and material control to the leader, whose name means, roughly, “Messiah of Sex.” (Ratzon, which means “will,” is a euphemism for the sex drive. Goel means “redeemer.”) In 2014, Ratzon was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

    And just last month, the Times of Israel published an account of a devotee of a Hare Krishna community near Haifa. She described the typical blend of paranoia, isolation, and shady conduct on the part of sect leaders.

    Jewish groups are not immune. In 2006, for example, the New Age group Bayit Chadash(“New Home”) folded when it was revealed that its leader, a rabbi who goes by the names Marc Winiarz, Mordechai Winiarz, Mordechai Gafni, and Marc Gafni, was sleeping with multiple community members. (Gafni has since resurfaced and is now the guru of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.)

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  48. Other Jewish offenders include the Kabbalah Centre (busted for defrauding a woman dying of cancer into giving them all her money) and Rabbi Aharon Ramati, whose ultra-orthodox girls’ seminary has been busted by religious and state authorities for cult-like activities including isolating girls from their families and treating the rabbi’s every command as holy—but which has resurfaced yet again, and is one of the direct inspirations for the current bill.

    But there is a second reason why this bill is coming forward at this time: Jewish identity politics.
    One of the leading anti-cult groups in Israel, for example, is called Yad L’Achim (“A Hand to Brothers”) and is run by Orthodox rabbis. (Tagline: “We don’t give up on a single Jew!”) Yad L’Achim’s mission includes fighting not only “cults” but also Christian missionaries, intermarriage, and “assimilation.”

    In America, anti-cult activity is about preserving individual autonomy against predators like the “Church” of Scientology. But in Israel, it’s about preventing Jews from leaving the fold.

    Notice that the anti-cult law, as currently proposed, actually decreases rather than increases personal autonomy. If someone is involved in a “harmful cult,” the state, not the individual, makes the judgment as to whether one’s personal and spiritual choices are good and bad. Persico, from the Hartman Institute, said that the law “will have fully functioning and happy adults considered ‘controlled’ by their spiritual teachers simply because their parents or neighbors think they are doing something too weird for comfort, and then sent under legal guardianship by the state.”

    That makes no sense if the problem of cults is taking away personal autonomy. But it makes plenty of sense if the problem is that they entice Jews away from Judaism.

    And remember, that state has an official religion and an official, strictly Orthodox hierarchy in charge of administering it. It’s easy to foresee the law being used against benign meditation groups, hippie festivals, and other non-Jewish spiritual groups of which the rabbis and the state may not approve. (And, to be fair, fringe Jewish organizations like Ramati’s). The anti-cult law is not neutral; it’s about Jewish identity.

    And that, finally, is how the Israel/Palestine conflict is related to the anti-cult law. Israel’s right-wing government has proposed a rash of anti-democratic, identity-oriented laws in the past few years: loyalty oaths to the Jewish state, penalties for speaking in favor of boycotting Israel (i.e. exercising free speech), observing Israeli independence day by mourning (i.e. exercising free assembly), and now this. It has also proposed laws limiting the activities of NGOs, making the Supreme Court accountable to the legislature, and a host of other anti-democratic acts. The government includes parties that believe the West Bank is divinely promised to Jews, and that only strong Jewish nationalism can prevail against intractable Arab enemies.

    This is the most Jewishly nationalistic government in Israel’s history, and both its policies toward the Palestinians and its embrace of the anti-cult law are part of that overall ideology. The anti-cult law may seem like some random, weird throwback, but in fact it is one more way in which the avowed “Jewish and democratic state” is becoming more Jewish, and less democratic.


  49. Israel’s Battle to Dismantle Cults: An Inspiration for the Rest of the World?

    By Jillian Sequeira | Law Street Media March 28, 2016

    In the United States last month, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints made headlines for committing food stamp fraud. The infamous cult, which the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to as “white supremacist, homophobic, antigovernment, [and] totalitarian,” has practiced polygamy and sexual abuse for years but the evidence of the food stamp case may be the key to shutting the organization down for good. Without lucky breaks like this food stamp case, law enforcement often has difficulty effectively disbanding cults.

    Identifying a cult in the first place is often a difficult task, as the line between freedom to practice religion and illegal activity shifts depending on different cultural traditions. Members of cults rarely want to share information with the authorities which makes building a criminal case incredibly difficult.

    However, eliminating cults should not be considered an impossible task. Consider the case of Israel. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has recently introduced an anti-cult law designed to dismantle New Age sects of Judaism that are considered explosive forces within the country by the lawmakers trying to regulate them. Take a look at that situation in Israel and how other countries have handled cults in the past in comparison with the proposed Israeli law.


    Israel’s proposed bill was put forward by Orly Levy-Abecassis, a Member of the Knesset from the Yisrael Beytenu party. Levy-Abecassis has been committed to dismantling cults for some time now, as evidenced by her 2014 protest of homeschooling. She argued that homeschooling could shelter cults, allowing them to corrupt younger generations and evade the gaze of Social Services ministries that monitor children’s health.
    The proposed law defines a cult as any group that:

    Rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of mind control or controlling patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.

    The bill also labels the act of leading a cult as an offense punishable by up to ten years in prison. The Ministry of Welfare would be tasked with compiling a database of information about members, leaders, and practices of cults. The final segment of the bill asks for the establishment of a department dedicated to helping victims of cult abuse. If this bill is passed into law, it will be the first Israeli statute to distinguish cults from other religious groups that enjoy protection under freedom of religion clauses.

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  50. There have been a series of high profile court cases involving cults in Israel over the past several years. In 2014, accused cult leader Goel Ratzon was sentenced to 30 years in prison in October 2014 for a slew of sex crimes but escaped persecution for a count of slavery. One of his former “wives” was interviewed immediately after the court’s decision and said:

    It seems that in the State of Israel, pimps, people who pimp other peoples’ body and soul, can continue to do so…they have the right – because there is no law and there is no justice.

    There have also been allegations against a man named Rabbi Aharon Ramati for cult behavior. Ramati was arrested and then moved to house arrest but his sentence was relatively short. Parents of the young women who have joined Ramati’s cult argue that the girls are being brainwashed and kept against their will in squalid living conditions but because the cult members are all adults, the Israeli state has virtually no power to intervene. Unless they can compile sufficient proof of crimes on Ramati’s part, joining the cult is legally considered to be a choice that anyone is entitled to make.

    International Impact

    While the bill is designed to target groups within the borders of Israel, it could potentially be used to condemn Jewish cults throughout the world. One such alleged cult would be the Lev Tahor sect, an anti-Zionist cult that opposes homosexuality, birth control and evolution, and has expanded from Canada into Guatemala. Canadian officials have connected Lev Tahor to dozens of cases of child abuse, human trafficking and forgery and there are no signs that the cult has planned to shut down those practices within their new operation in Guatemala. There are fears that Lev Tahor may become increasingly violent in future years, becoming a threat to both the Israeli community and the greater population. Lev Tahor does not currently exist within Israel and Israel’s bill only applies within national borders, but the rise of the cult has concerned Jewish leaders, no doubt contributing to the impetus to pass a formal anti-cult law.


    Israel is not the only country that is host to a variety of cults. Different legal systems and law enforcement agencies deal with cults in a variety of ways across the globe.

    The United States

    U.S. law enforcement has historically struggled with regulating cults because of a hesitancy to violate First Amendment rights. Authorities have to wait until they have sufficient evidence to file criminal charges, which sometimes results in cults being designated criminal organizations. During the latter half of the twentieth century, a host of cults dominated American headlines–the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple–but just because many of these high profile cults were destroyed does not mean that cult worship is not alive and well in America. The Children of God (now known as Family International) is an active cult that continues to operate in the United States today. Individual leaders and members have been charged with criminal offenses, but never enough to permanently shut down the organizations.

    continued below

  51. France

    In contrast, the French government has actively sought to disband cults and has even created a “cult-fighting” unit within its law enforcement branch of government. While France runs across the same difficulty defining cults that the U.S. has, the French government did take the time to create a list of ten cult characteristics in 1995 which has proved important for legal cases against cults. The same commission that published that list also put together a set of 173 organizations that it considers to be cults–including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology.


    In Indonesia, new religious groups are emerging that Indonesian authorities are tentatively labeling cults or “deviant sects.” Movements such as Gafatar isolate their members from mainstream society, asking them to follow a charismatic leader and subject themselves a religious hierarchy that controls their lives. Indonesian law allows the government to control religion in the public sphere but does not extend into the private lives of Indonesian citizens. Sects such as Gafatar have come under attack from religious majorities, inspiring outcry from the international human rights community. At this point, it is difficult to identify whether Gafatar is a cult with the same violent potential as those that existed in America several decades ago or if it is simply an emergent religion. Gafatar subscribes to some of the characteristics included on the French commission’s 1995 list but is not as clearly cult-like as an organization like the Branch Davidians. The Indonesian government should be able to monitor the group but cannot take direct action to disband it unless there is evidence of criminal activity.


    In the twenty-first century, cults are an uncomfortable reminder of the most archaic and brutal aspects of major religions. As mainstream religious institutions adapt with time and become more open to equality and change, these organizations remain in the past, controlling their members through mental and physical abuse. Bringing the leadership of cults to justice is a priority for law enforcement but it is difficult to disband cults without causing an uproar over the violation of the right to freedom of religion. Israel’s proposed legislation could have lasting effects not only within Israeli borders but beyond, setting a standard for condemning hate speech and brainwashing around the world. However, persecuting cults is a difficult task as the very act of defining them is controversial. Organizations such as the Church of Scientology and the Hare Krishna movement have been labeled cults in some countries and acceptable religions in others. Bills like the one the Knesset is considering take on the blurred lines between religious freedom and criminal activity in a public forum that world governments have historically skirted around.


  52. Sexual relations between cult leaders and followers to be considered assault

    By LAHAV HARKOV Jerusalem Post Israel News March 30, 2016

    The Knesset passed a law Wednesday that would have sexual relations between a religious leader and a follower be considered assault, even if they were consensual.

    "In recent years," the law's explanatory portion states, "there have been men and women who suffered from violence in cults let by people who present themselves as religious leaders of people with special spiritual powers. Sometimes these people take advantage of their authority to sexually harm women and men who become part of these cults.

    The law, proposed by MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), would consider the relationship between a guru or cult leader and a follower, during or soon after the leader provided guidance, to be one of authority over the follower.

    Rosin said she was glad to change the law and raise awareness about the issue.

    "We will continue fighting against sexual violence," she vowed. "We believe in the justice of our way and are acting to stop this plague."

    The law passed in a third (final) reading with 28 in favor and none opposed.