The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court has partially lifted a media gag order on a nearly two-year investigation into a suspected baby trafficking ring in the ultra-Orthodox community.
The police opened their investigation into the suspected adoption scheme in mid-2017 after an undercover investigation by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily detailed claims by an ultra-Orthodox woman who said her infant son was taken from her and given up for adoption against her will.
On Wednesday, the court revealed that police were probing the wife of a rabbi from northern Israel for her suspected role in kidnapping the newborn baby of the mother, who is identified in court documents as “Yael.”
Yael, who was placed under the legal guardianship of the rabbi’s wife due to an unspecified mental illness, told police that in 2016 when she was eight months pregnant, the rabbi’s wife persuaded her to travel to New York for a medical procedure.
After arriving at an unnamed local hospital linked to the ultra-Orthodox community, Yael said her baby boy was delivered via cesarean section, and immediately afterwards, she was pressured into signing documents she did not understand.
Yael said her son was taken away from her at the hospital and given to a childless ultra-Orthodox couple, who then returned to Israel. She says she has not seen her son since.
Yedioth reported in 2017 that Yael’s traffickers charged a $100,000-$150,000 “handling fee” for each adoption they facilitated.
In addition to investigating the adoption, the court documents showed that authorities are reviewing if the adoption was legal and if the boy, now 3, should be returned to his biological mother.
Police recently detained the rabbi’s wife along with two other suspects, but all three have since been released to house arrest.
The rabbi’s wife denied arranging Yael’s trip to New York, as well as any involvement in the child’s adoption.
However, police believe Yael’s case is not an isolated one, and is part of a human trafficking network that has been operating in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community for some time.
Several other possible suspects have been identified, and the court said investigators were looking to identify additional victims.