Israeli cult head, polygamist jailed for sex crimes Daniel Ambash, dies

Cult leader Daniel Ambash was married to six women and had 18 children. The case of his cult is one of the worst abuse cases in Israel, according to police.

 Daniel Ambash, head of a "cult," arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2011.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
Daniel Ambash, head of a "cult," arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2011.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)

Convicted sexual abuser, cult leader and polygamist Daniel Ambash, who was serving a 26-year-sentence in Ayalon Prison in Ramla, died suddenly on Friday morning, the Israel Prison Service Spokesperson’s Unit announced.

The "Jerusalem cult"

Dubbed the head of the “Jerusalem cult,” Ambash was indicted on 18 out of 20 criminal charges in 2013, including enslavement, cruel treatment of minors, false imprisonment and severe sex and abuse violations that took place in Jerusalem and Tiberias. Testimonies, private journals and medical records greatly helped the police in assembling details of the case.

Ambash, who called himself a Breslov Hassid, was scheduled to be released in July 2039, in what has been characterized by police as one of the worst cases of abuse in Israel. He was married to six wives with whom he fathered 18 children.

Ambash had been hospitalized in the Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin and was released to the prison clinic, where he lost consciousness. He died shortly after.

 Women from the Ambash cult speak outside the election committee meeting where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections, arrive to present the party list for the September 2019 elections, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2019.  (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90) Women from the Ambash cult speak outside the election committee meeting where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections, arrive to present the party list for the September 2019 elections, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2019. (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

The cause of his death is still unknown and is being investigated by the Israel Police. The prison’s release committee was set to hold a hearing next week to determine if Ambash was eligible for early release for medical reasons.

The charges

Nine people were charged in the original case: Ambash, two men who helped him carry out punishments the cult leader deemed necessary for followers having “forbidden thoughts,” and the six wives who, along with others, experienced various forms of abuse.

Cult members physically assaulted dozens of children in the group, considered part of an “extended family.” Punishments included rape, indecent acts, physical restraint, getting hit with a wooden stick, electric shocks and more.

Ambash's wives

In one episode detailed during his trial, Ambash took one of his wives out to the garden in the middle of the night, sprayed her with water, dragged her by the hair and demanded to know how many men she had slept with before him. Another time he forced a different wife’s head into a toilet and flushed water over her until she choked.

A few of the wives ran for Knesset in 2019 under the party name Kama, with the stated goal of fighting for greater individual liberties. However, they fell far short of the vote threshold to gain any seats.

The wives have maintained that Ambash was innocent and insist they never experienced abuse from him. Three of them appealed to the court for a conjugal visit back in 2018. They were denied.

Ambash appealed three months ago in hopes of getting permission for the three to visit. That appeal was denied by the court, which considered the wives to be victims of Ambash’s abuse.

Maariv contributed to this report.