Cult leader allegedly imposed punishments on women

The Jerusalem District Court decided on Thursday to release more grisly details of the indictments issued the previous day against three members of a religious cult based in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

Nine members of the cult, a polygamous family, were arrested last week. Three men were taken into custody, including the cult’s leader.

According to the Jerusalem Post,

The charge sheet includes details of a series of offenses, including slavery, abuse of minors, false imprisonment, sex offenses and severe violence.

The following details were released by Sohlberg in the new summary of the charge sheet: The first defendant, an Israeli citizen and Jerusalem resident, set himself up as a member of a hassidic sect and the spiritual descendant of a renowned leader of that sect, who had been chosen to spread the teachings of the group’s doctrine.

To fulfill that role, the defendant lived as the “husband” of several women, with whom he had several children. The defendant treated the women as servants, living with them as a “family” in several apartments in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

Over the years, the defendant lived with six women as part of this “family.” He changed the names of some of the women, and had children with some of them, according to the charge sheet.

To make the women accept their status as members of his “family,” and to accept and participate in their lives with him and the other women, the defendant adopted the persona of someone chosen as a great spiritual and religious leader.

The defendant claimed to have supernatural and mystical healing powers.

Whenever a new woman was brought into the “family,” the defendant at first behaved very gently toward her. He spoke about his “special gifts” and demonstrated his powers and his charisma until the woman agreed to live with him and the other women, and adopt his way of life.

However, as soon as a woman agreed to move in, the defendant changed completely, and imposed a regime of violence and humiliation, according to the charge sheet. The defendant became violent and enraged, and cursed her and the other women, telling them they and their families would suffer terrible tragedies.

Systematically, the defendant caused the women to accept his tyranny and submit completely to his authority, terrifying them and the children, according to the charge sheet.

Over the years, the women found other candidates to join his “family,” according to his demands and desire to expand it, and create more “soldiers” to spread his teachings. […]

The defendant had absolute control over the women and their children. To get them to do his bidding, he used violence, humiliation, extortion and threats, again according to the charge sheet.

To instill fear into the family, the defendant allegedly imposed abusive and degrading punishments by means of a “beit din.” The women who were found to have behaved correctly got to select which of the other women and children would be subjected to harsh and humiliating punishment.

During these “court” sessions, the remaining women and sometimes even the children would assist obediently in carrying out the punishment, which included beatings.

Haaretz reports how a young woman’s testimony of physical, sexual and emotional abuse led to an investigation resulting in police raid.

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. […]

“Even a normative person can fall into the net of manipulative people who speak about truth,” Savir said. “But she was an 18-year-old girl who, after her parents’ divorce, was seeking her way in life. She was fertile ground for persuasion.” […]

It took the complainant, whom Savir described as utterly normative and quite impressive, hours to tell him about her experiences in D.’s house.

“It was shocking,” he said.

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.

What finally caused her to leave, Savir continued, is that “she started being beaten. But even before then, she had witnessed acts of abuse and sexual licentiousness. […]

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.

“The enticements were spiritual,” Lichtenstein said. “He would tell her, ‘don’t forfeit your salvation. Salvation will be here any minute.’ That’s something that happens in all cults.”

Cult FAQ — Frequently Asked Question about Cults
Cult Experts (Know how to avoid the bad ones)

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday August 5, 2011.
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