Israel is seeking the extradition of a strictly Orthodox rabbi, Elior Chen, who fled to Canada after being accused of instructing a mother of eight to brutally abuse her children as a means of “cleansing” and “educating” them.
The case, the second of its kind in recent weeks involving Charedi families, has shocked Israelis.
The 38-year-old woman was charged in a Jerusalem court this week with savagely beating her two younger sons, aged four and three, forcing them to eat their own faeces and drink a concoction of salt water and turpentine until they “vomited out the devil”. Two of the rabbi’s disciples are suspected of working with her.
The three-year-old was admitted to hospital in a vegetative state from which he is not expected to emerge. The mother, an American immigrant, is separated from her husband. Her name cannot be published for legal reasons.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the JC that detectives searching the family’s Jerusalem home “found knives, hammers and heaters which we believe were used to punish the children”.
They also seized allegedly incriminating documents and instruments from Rabbi Chen’s home in the Charedi town of Betar Illit. In one of his notebooks, he is said to have told his followers to heat stones on a hotplate then put them on the children’s bodies “and they will cleansed”.
“We believe the rabbi frequently visited the family’s home and was directly involved in what happened there,” Inspector Rosenfeld said. “We know he fled to Canada and we are continuing the extradition process.” Israel has an extradition treaty with Canada.
Dr Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, said that while there was no evidence that child abuse was more prevalent in Charedi families than elsewhere — in Israel as a whole, 38,000 cases were reported last year — such groups tended to harbour conspiracies of silence. Like other “closed and conservative communities”, such as Israeli Arabs and kibbutzim, they didn’t want outsiders to know about them.
“Based on our experience and knowledge,” he told the JC, “child abuse exists in the Charedi community. We find all sorts of abuse, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, even sexual abuse.
“But they keep the problem inside. They say they can cope with it without any outside assistance. They’ll deal with it their way, even in a better way.”
Dr Kadman reported, however, that over the past two years there had been a slight but sure change in attitude among Charedi rabbis and families. “In more and more cases we find a willingness not to hide the problem any longer, to complain to the social services or the police. They are even turning to us to escort the complainants through the legal and bureaucratic processes. We have a Charedi rabbi on our board.”