The Jerusalem District Court convicted the leader of a “sadistic cult” uncovered in 2011 and his accomplice Tuesday on most of the charges levied against them.
The two were convicted of various sexual offenses, holding individuals in conditions of slavery, and abusing women and dozens of children. The names of the defendants were withheld from the public out of privacy concerns.
Two of the women involved in the cult were removed from the courtroom for causing a disturbance as the verdict was being delivered.
“There was only love in the house,” one said. “It’s all a lie.”
Initially, nine members of a well-known polygamous Breslav Hasidic family were arrested, including three men and six women, but only the three men were indicted. The children were placed with foster families.
The case not only made headlines for the severity of the charges, but also for a court-mandated gag order on the case meant to shield the victims, women and young children, from being identified. Initially, only a heavily-edited version of the original indictment was released to the public. However, Judge Noam Sohlberg later ruled that parts of the indictment should be released in order to inform the public of the horrific nature of the crime and help expose similar cases.
“At least part of the horrific descriptions in the charge sheet should be brought to public notice, to parents and children, because it seems that this is not an isolated event,” Sohlberg wrote.
“There are other people whose relatives were caught in similar sects, and who had given up hope of rescuing their near ones from the sect; or who had perhaps not done everything possible in this regard because they did not know how horrific [the sects] are.”
Releasing some of the details in the case could serve as a “vital service to those families and to other people trapped in cults like this one, encouraging them not to give up, but to exhaust every possible effort to escape from the sect,” he added.
The leader of the cult was indicted on 15 counts, including slavery, physical, sexual and emotional abuse of minors — including some of his own biological children — unlawful imprisonment, indecent sexual acts, sodomy, rape, serious violent crimes and indecent assault, according to the indictment.
The accomplice, also charged with committing numerous violent sex crimes under the leader’s orders, was the one who most often committed the abuses and was known by the nicknames of “Satan” and “Evil Inclination” by the victims. The third man was only accused in one incident of physical and sexual abuse and was not convicted on Tuesday.
Police used the information in personal journals kept by the women and children to uncover details about the abuses and build their case.
The women and children were subject to daily “confessions” and “judgments” and were punished by means of imprisonment, starvation, physical and mental abuse, humiliation, sexual abuse, and severe violence, according to the indictment. Police found numerous torture devices when they searched the house.
The police uncovered the cult in August 2011 after one of the women filed a complaint. The arrest operation was carried out in a cooperative effort by Jerusalem police, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, and the Jerusalem municipality.