Cult leader Goel Ratzon was sentenced by the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday to 30 years in prison on his convictions for sex crimes and financial fraud.
He is set to serve 25 years from Tuesday’s sentencing, after already having been in prison for more than four years while his trial proceeded.
In September, Ratzon, 64, was convicted by the Tel Aviv District Court of most of the sex crimes he was accused of and of financial fraud, but acquitted of an enslaving charge regarding several of his “wives” and children, much to their distress.
Prior to his January 2010 arrest, Ratzon had 21 “wives,” who were part of his cult over a period of about 30 years, and with whom he had more than 40 children.
The Tuesday decision was handed down by a three-judge panel, consisting of Nurit Ahituv, Miriam Diskin and Raanan Ben-Yosef – though it was issued several hours late when the Prisons Service forgot to bring Ratzon to court from his Beersheba prison cell.
Ratzon was indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court in February 2010 on a litany of charges, including multiple counts of rape, sodomy, molestation of minors, fraud and the unusual charge of spiritual enslavement.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised the September conviction for sex crimes, adding, “This is an important step toward uprooting the phenomenon of exploiting women at its roots,” and that the state had sent a message that “the bodies and souls of women are not a free-for-all.”
MK Michal Roisin (Meretz) said too many cults that abuse women and children still exist in Israel, and that the Knesset must pass legislation to fully tackle the phenomenon.
The indictment included many allegations regarding Ratzon’s behavior toward his wives.
Ratzon’s 21 wives were made to feel they were “required to serve [him] and fulfill all of his demands,” including sexual acts, according to the allegation, which accused Ratzon of using his standing and the women’s adulation to demand that some of them perform sexual acts on him.
The fraud charges against Ratzon described him as defrauding his wives out of their money and manipulating them into serving as his slaves.
The indictment described a chilling account of Ratzon’s deeds, including one instance where he forcibly inserted his fingers into a 17-year-old girl and, when she protested, told her “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
It also detailed Ratzon’s abuse of a girl he molested almost daily for two years, starting when she was 15.
Soon after his arrest, Ratzon had said he did not understand why he was under arrest, since “stroking” minors does not constitute rape. He also maintained that all actions he undertook were with the consent of his wives and that they were permitted to leave his cult anytime.
The indictment repeated threats Ratzon made to his wives, in which he threatened to harm their health or that of their children if they did not obey his wishes.
“I have the power to save and the power to destroy. If you do things that I forbid, then I will make sure you and your children are stricken with serious illnesses,” the indictment quoted Ratzon as saying.
Ratzon was also accused of using different methods to strip the women of their identities, including forcing them to tattoo his name and image on their bodies and requiring them to change their given names to ones of his choosing.
The women were then reportedly required to break off all ties with their families and friends and were not allowed to have any social life or connections whatsoever outside of the communal house.
They were also subject to repeated verbal abuse and humiliation by Ratzon, in order to strip them of their self-respect and independence.
Ratzon also wielded absolute control over the women’s movements, allowing them to leave the house only with his approval and requiring them to report to him all excursions, except to their workplace. He also forbade them from wearing sunglasses when outside with him, so that he could follow their gaze at all times.
The women were forced to dress modestly, were not allowed to use television or Internet without his approval, and were forced to attend to Ratzon at all hours of the night whenever he desired.
Ratzon required the children to line up and kiss his feet every time he entered the house, to reaffirm his superiority.
He was accused of demanding the women hand over their money to him, which the indictment alleged brought a number of the women to bankruptcy, including one who ran up a debt of NIS 400,000, funneling money to Ratzon.
The women were required to hand over their paychecks and their National Insurance Institute child allotments into a communal account that Ratzon exercised “absolute” control over.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.