(photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
In what police and social workers are calling the worst case of domestic
violence in decades, three men and six women from an alleged Breslav Hassidic
cult – well-known for dancing in Jerusalem streets – were arrested over a week
ago in the capital and in Tiberias.
Fifteen children were placed in
shelters around the country, police announced on Tuesday morning as a gag order
was partially lifted. The identities of the group members are still under a
court-ordered media ban, but it was made known that investigators have been
treating the adults – especially the women – as both abuse suspects and
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The arrest was carried out in cooperation with the Jerusalem
police, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, and the Jerusalem
The cult has been in existence for more than 10 years, but
it was only over the past two that the violence increased in frequency and
“This is a disgusting case that crosses all red lines, but
unfortunately it is not the first time that the Israeli public has encountered
abuse of this kind,” said Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon on
Tuesday. He was referring to the case of Goel Ratzon, a Tel Aviv cult leader who was arrested in January 2010 for abusing his 17 wives and 39
Police and social workers familiar with the case in Jerusalem
described severe physical, emotional and sexual violence that landed several of
the children in emergency rooms, some of them numerous times.
moved often and the children were taken to different hospitals to prevent
questions about possible abuse, with claims that broken bones were from falls or
The leader of the cult was not legally married to the
six women but maintained sexual relations with all of them.
the men arrested was described as the leader’s assistant, while the third had
ostensibly been chosen to continue the cult.
“It’s very clear that they
were in a framework that controlled every aspect of their lives, including their
thoughts,” said Menahem Vagshel, deputy director of the Ministry of Welfare and
Vagshel said that every day, each woman would hold a
“confession” or “judgment” session with the head of the cult, where she was
required to share all of her thoughts. If she had any negative thoughts, she was
forced to undergo cruel sexual or physical punishment.
When police raided
the apartment in Jerusalem, they found stun guns, electric cables and wooden
rods, in addition to the diaries of several of the women, which will be used to
help build the case. The three men are expected to be indicted on Wednesday on
multiple counts of sexual abuse, child abuse, slavery, rape and
The 15 children were not enrolled in school, instead being
“educated” at home. Many of them learned to play musical instruments, and
the “family” regularly performed together, sometimes in concerts that drew
hundreds of people, especially from the Breslav sect.
The leader of the
cult came under investigation a year and a half ago when one of the young girls
complained to social services about sexual abuse. When she refused to testify,
the state attorney was forced to close the case for lack of evidence.
breakthrough came after the cult head’s seventh “wife” broke away from the
family after a year and a half of living with the group. Six months later, she
urged social services to investigate alleged abuse. An undercover investigation
began on July 4.
The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services defended its
actions, despite having heard allegations about the group more than 18 months
“We were looking into them, but it’s legal for a man to live with
multiple women,” Vagshel said.
Though polygamy is illegal, police and the
ministry can break up a family only if there is proof of abuse.
could have entered beforehand and avoided the violence, we would have been more
successful,” Vagshel said, although he denied that authorities had “failed” the
women or the children.