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Following multiple complaints filed to police last month from concerned parents over their daughters’ participation in an alleged cult doubling as a seminary, the head of the Jerusalem school was arrested on Sunday, while six members, including his wife, are being questioned.
According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, Aaron Ramati, who runs the Be’er Miriam seminary, was arrested for multiple alleged crimes – ranging from financial fraud, gas theft, and social welfare and health violations.
His wife, who co-administers the seminary, was also detained for questioning on Sunday, along with six unidentified young women who attend the seminary, although none were arrested, Rosenfeld said.
While Rosenfeld said he could not discuss sensitive details regarding the case, he noted that the ongoing investigation against the seminary has been intensive and far-reaching, bringing together multiple emergency agencies.
“The police were aided by representatives from all the emergency agencies, including municipal officials, the gas authority, income tax investigation representatives and the ministries of Health, Justice and [Welfare and] Social [Services],” he said.
“An arrest warrant was issued against the seminary’s leader, and his wife and five others from the school are being questioned, but the investigation is still developing as a number of different perspectives are being looked into.”
Among the investigation’s findings include members of the gas authority determining that the school illegally pirated its gas line, creating a safety hazard for tenants of the school as well neighboring residents.
Police launched the investigation last month after receiving an initial complaint that five young women were actively recruited to work for free for Ramati and his wife and told to sever ties with their families and friends.
An Army Radio report said the couple had enlisted the women to live and study there. They were put to work at a series of menial jobs and forced to hand over their earnings to fund the seminary.
Only one of the women has since left the school, the report said.
After hearing the testimonies of several of the girls’ parents, MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who chairs the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality, issued a statement that there were justified concerns for the young women’s safety.
Although Lavie did not state that they were being held against their will, she said the parents had informed her that the girls were living in unsanitary conditions.
Last month, the MK said imminent action would be taken in coordination with the municipality’s Child Welfare Services to determine whether the girls were indeed in danger.