A fringe sect of Jewish women with a Taliban-like dress code will be overcome by a major spiritual crisis after the arrest of the group's leader on charges of child abuse, haredi sources in Beit Shemesh predicted Wednesday.
According to haredi media and a well-informed source in Beit Shemesh, the 54-year-old mother of 12 who is suspected of serious child abuse and failing to report multiple cases of incest among her children, is none other than the head of a sect of women who adhere to a dress code more stringent than that of the most extreme Muslim sects and a rigorous health food diet.
"We always knew those women were crazy," said Shmuel Poppenheim, a spokesman for the Eda Haredit - one of the most zealously religious groups in Israeli Orthodoxy - who lives in Beit Shemesh. "Now we have been vindicated, and those women will have to stop their insane behavior."
Another Beit Shemesh resident and haredi journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, predicted that the arrest of their leader would send the sect spiraling into a "major spiritual tailspin that would lead to its demise."
"I do not envy those women," said the source. "They are going to be facing some major soul-searching."
None of the sect's members, who reportedly number as many as 50 in Beit Shemesh and are also scattered around Safed and Jerusalem, could be reached by The Jerusalem Post for comment. They do not speak with men, even by telephone.
On Tuesday, police announced that they had arrested a woman last month whose name could not be divulged. Police suspicions were aroused after neighbors complained they had heard a child crying for help and objects being broken in the home, a police investigator told a Jerusalem court at a remand hearing on Tuesday.
The Beit Shemesh resident is also suspected of failing to report multiple cases of incest among her children. She was remanded for six days by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.
Until the arrest was publicized, the small Beit Shemesh community of women who wear burkas, multiple layers of clothing and full face coverings, was regularly ostracized by the local haredi community.
"We pulled them off buses and yelled at them, 'Desecrators of God's name!'" said a Beit Shemesh source.
Until now, these women sought comfort in one another and in their leader.
Even in Beit Shemesh, made up of some of the most religiously extreme sects in Orthodoxy, such as Satmar, Toldot Aharon and Shomrei Hachomot, this group of women was considered ridiculously - even psychotically - zealous.
The women who belong to the sect lack any recognized rabbinic backing. They rarely leave their homes. When they do, their female children, dressed in long robes, accompany them. The women's extensive face coverings make it dangerous for them to cross the street unattended.
Every week, these women met in their leader's apartment to hear her speak and receive her teachings.
A female Ma'ariv reporter who was allowed to participate in one of the lessons described the leader of the group as "a pile of clothing lumped in the middle of the small living room."
The reporter said the leader wore 10 skirts, seven long robes, five head scarves tied on the front of her head and three more tied on the back of her head.
The vast majority of the women who belong to the sect have secular backgrounds.
"As newcomers to the intricacies of Orthodoxy, they lack the kind of grounding and feeling for tradition enjoyed by most religious people who grew up in religious families," said Poppenheim. "Even the strictest rabbis who require women to wear black head coverings and black stockings understand that a woman must allow herself to be a woman."
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