Rabbi Aharon Ramati was named on Tuesday as the man in his 60s arrested on Monday after a police raid found about 50 women and children kept in near slavery-conditions in a residential facility in Jerusalem, Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, reported on Tuesday.
Ramati will be kept under arrest for an additional week, the court ruled, as he is suspected of leading a cult.
Police are investigating the possible abuse of children ranging from five to 11 years old in the alleged sect.
Nine women, including Ramati’s wife, were arrested under suspicion of aiding and abetting the alleged abuse. Reported sexual abuse is also under investigation.
According to Channel 12, Ramati was arrested after six of the women allegedly who had been held by him escaped and filed a report with the Israeli Center for Cult Survivors.
The girls who were recruited by the sect “were taught to disassociate themselves from their parents, their families and their friends,” the police said.
There were “multiple lessons of modesty,” during which the girls were shown “hell, bravery and fire, threats and scares about the afterlife. They would put the girls’ fingers into the fire to make them understand what hell is.”
Police said further arrests would take place.
Ramati said that “nobody believes this is true.”
He denied holding children in the facility, saying: “The minors in the house? Maybe they are my grandchildren who came over.”
When asked whether they were held as slaves, he said: “Besides it being absurd, it is stupid.” His lawyer said, “The rabbi claims that there had been a dispute between the women in the ‘seminar’ [the alleged sect] and their family members,” according to Ynet.
Ramati has been arrested in the past following complaints issued by the Israeli Center for Cult Survivors.
Upon his release in 2015, he spoke to Channel 12’s (then Channel 2) Oded Ben-Ami, saying that “the vast majority of the girls go to work in the morning, and in the afternoon they take part in lessons for maybe three hours... when there were girls who did not like it in the house, I was cruel to them and forced them to try again and again and again.”
When asked on Monday how he expected the case to proceed, Ramati answered, “Just like last time, when the police decide this thing is over.”
Witnesses who study near the facility said they “would see girls sleeping on mattresses on the roof in the cold, sometimes in the rain. We tried to call them, but they didn't answer.” They said a cover was later placed over the roof “so we would not see what was happening.”
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.
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