A 60-year old rabbi named Aharon Ramati was arrested in Jerusalem due to allegedly being the head of a cult involved in exploiting women and young children, The Times of Israel reports.
According to the media outlet, the arrest took place as cops raided a residential complex in the city, which operated "under the guise of a women’s seminar" and where the authorities found some 50 women living "in a state of overcrowding, deprivation and poor sanitation", along with about ten children aged one to five "who were held in seclusion within the compound on a regular basis".
Ramati, who has been ordered to remain in prison for a week, is believed to have “controlled the women’s lives with absolute authority”, with women being kept isolated from their families and working jobs approved by the rabbi, with a portion of their wages going directly to him.
"What happened at the seminar was not Torah-learning. The girls learned to obey the cult leader. They invited women to Shabbat meals", a police representative said during a court hearing. "The rabbi knows how to talk to women. Slowly they scared them and separated them from their families. Part of the money that came from the girls was used to buy a car for the cult leader."
Some girls even had their fingers thrust into fire "to make them understand what hell is", The Jerusalem Post notes, adding that "sexual abuse is also under investigation".
The authorities also arrested eight women who allegedly helped Ramati run his operation and took active part in the aforementioned abuse.
Ramati himself denied all allegations, arguing that the children discovered at the residential complex were "maybe my grandchildren who came for a visit."
"The previous time they also accused me of running a cult. They are just searching for headlines. This is nothing. For them, anything to do with the ultra-Orthodox world is a cult", he lamented.
In 2015, Ramati was arrested over similar allegations but was released when members of the suspected cult testified in his favor, The Times of Israel points out.