Israel Police busts ultra-Orthodox cult suspected of abusing women and children

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.

Haaretz reports that

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. [...]

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 Jerusalem Post says

In what police and social workers are calling the worst case of domestic violence in decades, three men and six women from a polygamous Breslov Hasidic cult, well-known for dancing in the streets behind the Rabbi Nahman van in Jerusalem, were arrested in Tiberias over a week ago. Three men were detained, and six women, along with the cult’s fifteen children, were placed in different shelters across the country, police announced on Tuesday morning.

Police would not identify the family. The arrest was carried out in cooperation with the Social Services Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. The cult had been in existence for more than ten years, though only in the past two years the attacks had increased in frequency and severity.

Police and social workers familiar with the case described severe physical, emotional, and sexual violence, that landed several of the children in the hospital, some multiple times. The family moved often and children were taken to different hospitals to prevent raising questions of abuse. [...]

The leader of the cult was under investigation a year and a half ago, when one of the daughters complained to social services about sexual abuse. When she refused to testify, the state attorney was forced to close the case for lack of evidence.

The breakthrough came after the cult head’s seventh wife broke away from the family, after a year and a half of living with them. Six months later, she urged social services to investigate abuse in the family. An undercover investigation began on July 4.

When police arrived at the apartment to arrest the leaders, they found stun guns, electric cables, and wooden rods, in addition to the personal journals of many of the women, which will be used to build a case against the leaders of the cult. The three men are expected to be indicted on Wednesday on multiple counts of sexual abuse and child abuse.

‘Leader delegated abuse duties’

Ynetnews adds that

The cult in question centers around one man who married six women. According to police sources, the suspects sexually, physically and emotionally abused the leader’s children for years, as well as all of the female members of the cult.
 
The cult leader has 15 sons and daughters, 11 of whom are his biological children. [...]

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.
 
According to Jerusalem Police Chief-Superintendent Shlomo Dai, who heads the investigation, the women and children were subjected to severe punishment, starvation, humiliation, and sexual abuse. “This is one of the gravest cases I’ve come across,” he said.
 
It is believed that the cult’s leader carried out most of the abuse personally, and that he also “delegated” the responsibility to his “deputy” and his wives, who themselves were victims of abuse.
 
The investigation further revealed that the leader’s “deputy” – described in some of the journals as the “primordial snake” and “the devil” – executed “punishments” decreed by the cult leader, when he was unable to do so himself.

In a separate article, The Jerusalem Post says

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 on 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. 

No name of the cult has yet been reported, but news outlets says the group was a cult of Breslov (aka Bratslav) — a branch of Hasidic Judaism.

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