The leader of a Jerusalem cult facing charges of child abuse, Elior Chen, told a rabbinical court yesterday that he is refusing to grant a get, or Jewish divorce, to the mother of his alleged victims. The woman claims that the marriage was illegitimate.
Chen and the woman, M., were taken out of their jail cells and brought before a rabbinical court in Jerusalem for a hearing on the woman’s divorce request.
M., 40, initiated divorce proceedings in the rabbinical court. She is a key figure in the investigation, as she has agreed to testify as a state’s witness against Chen.
Chen and several of his followers allegedly used knives, hammers and other instruments to abuse children as young as 3 and 4 years old in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit in February and March 2008.
Chen allegedly hit the children in the head and face and burned their hands as part of a purification ritual. One child sustained permanent brain damage and is in a vegetative state, according to Israeli officials.
Chen fled to Brazil, but was extradited back to Israel last year.
M. and D., her legal ex-husband and the father of their children, were members of the cult led by Chen.
The ultra-Orthodox community has been abuzz recently over a letter of support for Chen signed by a number of leading rabbis.
Sources close to the rabbis claim that they were unaware of the content of the letter, which praises Chen as a “fair, decent man” with a “pure heart.” An aide to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the 100-year-old leader of the Lithuanian stream of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, said the letter was a “forgery.”