Social ministry: Cults difficult to identify and break

After nine people detained in connection with polygamy case, welfare official says “We need to be careful because not every family built like this is a cult."

Self-styled spiritual 'guru' Goel Ratzon.  (photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Self-styled spiritual 'guru' Goel Ratzon.
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Jerusalem police referred to Tuesday’s announcement of the arrest of the leader of a polygamous Breslov cult as a “Goel Ratzon number two,” in reference to the Tel Aviv cult leader who was arrested a year and a half ago similar charges, who had 17 wives and 39 children.  Following Ratzon’s arrest, the Ministry of Social Services and Welfare created a special branch of the ministry with 20 social workers to deal with cults in the country.
There are an estimated 80 to 100 cults operating in Israel. Cults are difficult to break up because authorities can only intervene if there is clear evidence of abuse. Due to the secretive nature of most cults, and the complete mental domination over members of the cult, it is difficult for social workers or police to clearly state that abuse is present.
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“We are building a process of how to deal with other families in similar situations, and are working on identifying certain signals that mean that cult could be starting before it’s completely built up,” said Yael Hermel, director of services at the new branch.
“We need to be careful because not every family built like this is a cult, we need to really understand the nuances to identify the cult,” she said. 
Following the break up of the Ratzon cult, the Ministry released a 48-page report focuses on four main areas: preventative actions, therapeutic intervention, legislation and government involvement.
In its conclusion, the report calls for the government to formulate legislation that would curtail the activities of these groups, create a clearer definition on what is a cult and provide guidelines for all relevant government ministries to pool resources and work together.
“We were at their house four times in past year, in cooperation with police, but it was very difficult to break them,” said Ruth Matot, the head of children at risk branch of the Jerusalem municipality. “When we finally started to understand what was going on, to hear their stories, it was very difficult for me to see. It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in 30 years.”
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report