Court bars rabbi accused of running cult out of Jerusalem seminary from teaching women

Judge: Aaron Ramati may not instruct female students for 70 days, pending imminent indictment.

The Jerusalem Post/May 28, 2015

By Daniel K. Eisenbud

After being arrested on a litany of charges related to running a cult out of a women’s seminary in the capital, the Jerusalem District Magistrate’s Court barred Aaron Ramati from teaching women for 70 days or until an indictment is filed.

Ramati, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who heads the Be’er Miriam seminary with his wife, was arrested earlier this month for multiple alleged crimes after parents filed complaints to police over their concern that their daughters were lured into a cult run out of the seminary.

A subsequent investigation determined that Ramati committed financial fraud, gas theft, and numerous social welfare and health violations. His wife and six students have since been detained for questioning, although none were arrested, police said.

According to the judge’s ruling this week, Ramati is prohibited from “managing, directly or indirectly, Be’er Miriam seminary, or any other educational institution, including as a teacher, acting as a supervisory rabbi or spiritual counselor, for 70 days, or until an indictment is filed.”

Ramati’s attorney, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who contended that his client is innocent and did not derive any profits from the seminary, demanded that he be allowed to continue running the seminary as the investigation continues.

“Education is his guiding principle,” Ben-Gvir said in court. “He taught out of love for the Jewish people, not as a livelihood.”

The judge denied the request, but agreed to allow Ramati to instruct male students outside the seminary.

While police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Thursday he could not discuss sensitive details regarding the case, he noted that the ongoing investigation against the seminary has been intensive and far-reaching, bringing together multiple emergency agencies.

“The police were aided by representatives from all the emergency agencies, including municipal officials, the gas authority, income tax investigation representatives and the ministries of Health, Justice and Welfare and Social Services,” he said.

According to the investigation, gas authority officials determined that the seminary illegally pirated its gas line, creating a safety hazard for tenants as well neighboring residents.

Police launched the investigation last month after receiving an initial complaint that five young women were actively recruited to work for free for Ramati and his wife and told to sever ties with their families and friends.

An Army Radio report said the couple had enlisted the women to live and study in the seminary.

They were put to work at a series of menial jobs and forced to hand over their earnings to fund the seminary.

After hearing the testimonies of several of the girls’ parents, MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who in the last Knesset chaired the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, issued a statement that there were justified concerns for the young women’s safety.

Although Lavie did not state that they were being held against their will, she said the parents had informed her that the girls were living in unsanitary conditions.

Last month, the MK said imminent action would be taken in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality’s child welfare services to determine whether the girls were indeed in danger. 

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