In February 2013, late in the evening hours in a secret apartment in Jerusalem, the family members of a young woman from southern Israel found out where she was, after a long period of not seeing her. Not long before, they found out that she was about to get married, so they decided to take action to free their daughter from the clutches of the cult she was sucked into.
The date was chosen carefully, a few days before the wedding. The mother arrived at the entrance of the house while an escape vehicle waited outside, in which several family members waited. The mother went to the door, knocked and heard her daughter’s voice. “Come home, please,” her mother implored in Yiddish. “We love you”. The daughter did not even hesitate. “Get out of here!” she shouted, “I don’t want to see you!”
The operation failed. After a long discussion mediated by lawyers, the family members met the intended groom directly, but did not manage to reason with him and called it quits.
This cult continued to operate until it was shut down by court order due to substandard health conditions, but in the past few weeks more testimonies have come forth that Aharon Ramati, who has in the past been arrested and suspected of heading the cult, has returned to run it from another apartment in Jerusalem.
he parents of the daughters who study at Ramati’s seminary that managed to get inside, described harsh living conditions. “The police and courts do nothing,” a mother whose daughter belongs to the cult, said. Her daughter filed a restraining order against her, after a few dozen visits the mother made to the seminary. “We have been in this struggle for several years and we are still not able to create any changes. We feel helpless.”
They did not open the door
These events are just a small part of a nearly-hopeless struggle by family members of young women who have been drawn into various religious cults. This struggle almost seems impossible when the women are over 18, since responsibility over their actions is no longer in the parents’ hands, and the parents have to prove that the cult indeed brainwashes their daughters.
In Israel, this is twice as hard since there is no law that defines a harmful cult that has to be shut down. As a result, cults can operate in Israel almost without interruption, while authorities can act against them only by catching their leaders on legal technicalities such as sanitation violations, tax evasion and other crimes and other infractions.
One person who joined the fight in helping the families in their struggle against the seminary is MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid). She met with parents and appealed to the Ministry of Health to examine the conditions in which the daughters live.
“From the moment I discovered what was going on at the Be’er Miriam (“Miriam’s Well”) seminary headed by Rabbi Aharon Ramati, who attracts many young women, I met many family members and I became aware of the size of the phenomenon,” said MK Lavie. “I joined the struggle with the families who have daughters who study there.”
“We brought about an investigation and the closure of the place, but unfortunately the activity has recently been started anew in another location. The sad thing is that years ago the senior rabbis – the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv – called it a ‘dangerous cult’ and stated that ‘the daughters of Israel must not study with him or go to his location, his branches, or any place under his instruction,’ and called for the immediate closure of the institution. ”
The Ramati affair exploded a year ago, after many parents filed complaints which suggested Ramati was running a cult. All those girls who came to his seminary came to learn with him, lost touch with families, and became more and more extreme. After examining what was going on, it was revealed that the girls live in a neglected apartment under austere and difficult conditions.
After receiving evidence of the cult, the Jerusalem Police raided Ramati’s apartment and seized computers and documents. Health Ministry officials arrived as well, confiscating edibles that were improperly stored. Ramati himself was arrested and spent several days in custody, and then released on house arrest, but not indicted.
Recently, following many reports, MK Lavie turned to the Ministry of Health to check living conditions in the apartment where the girls live, but the Ministry presented a claim highlighting the difficulty of dealing with the matter. “After receiving the request MK’s request, the county’s sanitation coordinator went to given address, where one of the women opened the and claimed that the place is not an institution or organization but merely somewhere a few girls are living together. Since we do not go into private apartments, we left,” the Ministry reported, “If there is evidence that the place is an institution, we will conduct further inspections.”
“The helplessness faced by the families is unbearable and the ongoing question of how to intervene without harming the girls remains unanswered, floating in space,” says MK Lavie, adding, “I’m working on all possible levels: Legislative, governmental, municipal and non-parliamentary, and I am currently co-authoring a bill together with Orly Levy-Abekasis, a bill that seeks to legally define an abusive cult in a way that will enable direct action against cults.”