A Jerusalem man who was arrested Monday on suspicion of running a cult in which dozens of women and young children lived in exploitative and slave-like conditions was named Tuesday as Aharon Ramati.
The 60-year-old self-described rabbi, who runs the Be’er Miryam seminary, is also suspected of sexually exploiting the women, Hebrew-language media reported.
Ramati was ordered to remain in prison Monday for seven days.
Police said the community operated for years in the Bukharim Quarter, in Jerusalem’s city center, under the guise of a women’s seminar. In it, some 50 women lived in a state of overcrowding, deprivation and poor sanitation. Many had children — a total of about ten — aged one to five, who were held in seclusion within the compound on a regular basis.
Authorities said the leader of the suspected cult controlled the women’s lives with absolute authority, isolating them from their families and society at large and punishing them for transgressions through various means. The women were employed in jobs approved by Ramati, and some of their wages were transferred directly to him.
The police official alleged that the arrested women took an active part in abusing the victims.
“They humiliated them,” he said. “One of them would regularly put their fingers in the fire to ‘simulate hell.'” In another case, he said, one of the female suspects forced a hot pepper into the mouth of one of the victims.
Ramati was arrested in 2015 over similar suspicions but was subsequently released after members of the alleged cult testified in his favor.
Monday’s arrest came after a number of women who left the community came forward to testify against the man and following months of a clandestine investigation into the community.
Ramati has rejected the accusations against him.