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Leader of polygamous Jerusalem cult found dead in prison cell

Prisons service to examine death of Daniel Ambash, who was serving 26 years for what has been described as one of the most shocking abuse cases in Israel’s history

Daniel Ambash, a cult leader who in 2013 was convicted of raping and abusing his wives and children. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Daniel Ambash, a cult leader who in 2013 was convicted of raping and abusing his wives and children. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A polygamous cult leader was found dead in his cell at the Ayalon Prison in Ramle on Friday morning, the Israel Prisons Service said.

Paramedics that were rushed to the scene declared Daniel Ambash dead after resuscitation efforts had failed.

The prisons service says Ambash’s family was informed of his death and that the circumstances would be examined.

In 2013, Ambash was sentenced to 26 years in prison on 18 charges ranging from sexual offenses, abuse of minors, incarceration and sadistic violence in what has been described as one of the most shocking abuse cases in the country’s history.

He was slated to be freed in 2037. According to Channel 12 news, the parole board had been due to convene next week to deliberate Ambash’s request for an early release.

A Bratslav ultra-Orthodox Jew, Ambash headed what came to be known as the “Jerusalem cult.” He was married to six wives and had 14 children, who were all kept by Ambash and his assistants in slavery conditions, forcibly confined and routinely punished with rape, electric shocks and beatings.

According to the court ruling, on one occasion, Ambash took one of his wives outside the house, naked, in the middle of the night, and splashed water on her and dragged her by the hair. In another incident, he shoved the head of one of his wives into the toilet and flushed it as she suffocated.

He also raped his daughter on another occasion in front of his whole family, including several children, claiming it was “part of her duty in family life.”

The case was exposed in 2011 after one of Ambash’s wives spoke out about what was happening in the cult.

But most of his wives have never renounced Ambash. They still live together, view themselves as his wives and revere him, claiming the entire case against him was fabricated.

In 2018, four of them demanded that Israel grant them conjugal visits, claiming it was their “basic right” to meet Ambash and have more kids with him.

The request was largely denied, with the prisons service noting that the women are considered victims of an offense by the law and that their request was therefore invalid, according to the Walla news site. Ambash had appealed the decision.

The Israel Prisons Service also charged that Ambash was “taking advantage of his rights as a prisoner and maintaining control of his cult via phone calls.”

Women from the Ambash cult speak with reporters at the Knesset as they arrive to present their electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In 2019, the four wives officially registered as a political party to run in that year’s September elections, running on a political platform that advocated for individual freedom.

“We believe that if the Torah gives people the ability to choose their own life, the state has no place to intervene and prevent that. And we will fight for that right,” Ayelet Ambash, one of the four wives, said at the time, in an apparent reference to polygamous marriage.

Their party, Kama, which aimed to prevent government intervention in Israelis’ private lives, fell well short of the minimum vote total required to enter the Knesset.

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