Cult leader Goal Ratzon sits in dock 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lawmakers on Wednesday called for the creation of legislation that will
criminalize cult activities and allow prosecutors to bring cult leaders to
According to information shared at a special hearing of the
Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, headed by Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely,
cults are not illegal and there are no laws allowing authorities to arrest or
prosecute cult leaders. In two recent cases, authorities managed to break up
cults and arrest their leaders only after receiving reports of sexual assault
and child abuse.
According to a special report compiled last year by the
Welfare and Social Services Ministry, there are roughly 80 groups actively
operating in Israel that could be clearly defined as a cult. In addition, the
report suggests that thousands of individuals have chosen to adopt the beliefs
of a particular group and live their lives according to principles dictated by a
single leader or guru.
The report also found that in many cases, cult
members are brainwashed into cutting off all ties with their parents, siblings
and even their children, and instead are encouraged to build up their
connections with other members in the cult.
“How can it be that there are
hundreds of women who report being victims of cults but in the government
shelters there is only one woman receiving help?” asked Hotovely during the
hearing, which included representatives from the Justice and Welfare and Social
Services ministries, as well as legal and other experts on the subject of
Hotovely said that based on the information she had received,
“there is a strong need for legislation that will stop the phenomenon and bring
cult leaders to justice.”
“Religious freedom should be protected up until
it become criminal,” said Kadima MK Shlomo Molla at the meeting. “I call
on the Justice Ministry to create an interministerial committee that will
formulate legislation to determine when cult activities become
Molla’s calls were supported by representatives of the State
Attorney’s Office, who also called for a legal solution that would allow them to
prosecute cult leaders for related criminal activities.
problem in addressing cults is identifying them because of all the secrecy in
their activities,” said the state attorney. “Any legal solution must
address how authorities identify these cults.”
Over the past two years,
two large cults have been ousted. The first was a Tel Aviv group headed by Goal
Ratzon, a guru who had some 20 wives and 40 children living according to
guidelines that he had laid out for them. The other group was based in Jerusalem
and Tiberias and included six women and multiple children that believed in the
communal living dictated by a 55-year-old man that followed the Breslav hassidic
Due to the lack of appropriate laws, however, those cult
leaders could not be indicted on charges of leading a brainwashing sect but were
eventually arrested on other charges such as child sex abuse and
The victims of these two cults did receive free legal advice from
the Justice Ministry and all the wives and children linked to Ratzon were housed
in government-run shelters for two years. They continue to receive support from
legal and welfare services.
Ever since Ratzon’s case was made public in
January 2010, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry has been calling on the
government to create legislation to outlaw all cult-like groups.