Self-styled spiritual 'guru' Goel Ratzon. .
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
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.
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
“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
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
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
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.”