Cult leader allegedly imposed punishments on women

Jerusalem, Israel - The Jerusalem District Court decided on Thursday to release more grisly details of the indictments issued the previous day against three members of a religious cult based in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

Nine members of the cult, a polygamous family, were arrested last week. Three men were taken into custody, including the cult’s leader.

Six women, along with 15 children, were placed in shelters across the country.

Due to a gag order preventing publication of any details of the case, journalists were not given access to the complete charge sheets against the three men. Instead, the court released a heavily edited version.

Journalists criticized the decision on the grounds that the public had a right to know details of the case.

Judge Noam Sohlberg later ruled that parts of the charge sheet should be published, in part to help victims of similar cults and their families.

“State prosecutors requested that the judge give a more detailed summary of the charge sheet, which would give more details of the offenses against the victims,” Sohlberg wrote in his ruling on Thursday.

The details released do not reveal the identities of the three defendants or provide any details on the victims, the judge noted.

The full charge sheet is still under a gag order, as are details of various items of evidence.

The judge said, however, it was now possible to release details of the acts of violence, sexual offenses and acts of abuse and humiliation that the main defendant and the two other men allegedly perpetrated in the years the cult existed.

The charge sheet includes details of a series of offenses, including slavery, abuse of minors, false imprisonment, sex offenses and severe violence.

The following details were released by Sohlberg in the new summary of the charge sheet: The first defendant, an Israeli citizen and Jerusalem resident, set himself up as a member of a hassidic sect and the spiritual descendant of a renowned leader of that sect, who had been chosen to spread the teachings of the group’s doctrine.

To fulfill that role, the defendant lived as the “husband” of several women, with whom he had several children. The defendant treated the women as servants, living with them as a “family” in several apartments in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

Over the years, the defendant lived with six women as part of this “family.” He changed the names of some of the women, and had children with some of them, according to the charge sheet.

To make the women accept their status as members of his “family,” and to accept and participate in their lives with him and the other women, the defendant adopted the persona of someone chosen as a great spiritual and religious leader.

The defendant claimed to have supernatural and mystical healing powers.

Whenever a new woman was brought into the “family,” the defendant at first behaved very gently toward her. He spoke about his “special gifts” and demonstrated his powers and his charisma until the woman agreed to live with him and the other women, and adopt his way of life.

However, as soon as a woman agreed to move in, the defendant changed completely, and imposed a regime of violence and humiliation, according to the charge sheet. The defendant became violent and enraged, and cursed her and the other women, telling them they and their families would suffer terrible tragedies.

Systematically, the defendant caused the women to accept his tyranny and submit completely to his authority, terrifying them and the children, according to the charge sheet.

Over the years, the women found other candidates to join his “family,” according to his demands and desire to expand it, and create more “soldiers” to spread his teachings.

Sometimes, the defendant would order one of the women to find another woman as a way to get a “reprieve” from the punishment that had been given her.

When a woman entered the family, the defendant immediately worked to distance her from her own family.

The defendant had absolute control over the women and their children. To get them to do his bidding, he used violence, humiliation, extortion and threats, again according to the charge sheet.

To instill fear into the family, the defendant allegedly imposed abusive and degrading punishments by means of a “beit din.” The women who were found to have behaved correctly got to select which of the other women and children would be subjected to harsh and humiliating punishment.

During these “court” sessions, the remaining women and sometimes even the children would assist obediently in carrying out the punishment, which included beatings.

Often during these sessions, the defendant became enraged at one of the women, and also punished her.

The defendant also imposed on the “family” the idea that he was a symbol of “the good inclination.”

He convinced the women that one of the other two defendants, who lived in the storeroom near the “family” house, symbolized the “snake” and the “evil inclination.”

The primary defendant also established a rule whereby the women and the children were forced to confess, either orally or in writing, the “forbidden” things that they had done. Sometimes, the defendant would coerce these confessions from women and children by force or humiliation.

As part of the “sentence,” the defendant allegedly imposed cruel and unusual punishment, including starvation, imprisonment, and separating mothers from their children. In addition, severe violence and repeated extreme sexual assault, inter alia, allegedly ensured their total obedience.

In these circumstances, the women and children were dispatched to spread religious teachings, to beg for money and find other women on the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere.

The women worked from early morning until night, and would have to telephone the primary defendant to beg for a break or to be allowed to eat. They were not allowed to do anything without the defendant’s express permission.

The money that the women collected would be given directly to the defendant, after they had made a careful account of it. The women would be subjected to a “court judgment” and punished if they were suspected of using money without permission.

The women were also allegedly forced during the “judgments” to carry out sexual acts at the request of the defendant.

These punishments were also given to the children.

The defendant allegedly carried out serious sexual offenses against the children, including against his biological children.

The children were not allowed to study in schools, and the defendant forbade them to receive medical treatment, so that doctors would not discover what was happening to them.

There are two other charge sheets served against two other men involved in the “family,” connected to violence and sexual offenses.

One of the men lived in the “family” house and allegedly took an active part in the violence and sex offenses, for many years.

The third defendant took part in the violence and sex offenses on one occasion, as far as is known at this stage.

The three accused have been remanded in custody pending a hearing on August 18.