Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Ellul 5766 - September 6, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Jews in Cults

By D. Tzfatman

"Lest you stray and worship other gods" (Devorim 11:15).

Even after idol worship has decreased worldwide, Jews still fall into the net of strange cults, some of whose origins are in Far Eastern idol worship. In most cases these cults demand psychological and monetary worship of a guru. Lev L'Achim's cult-hunters told D. Tzfatman about idol worship in general — and about avreichim as targets.


They descend upon a forgotten, dilapidated house in the town of Charish every weekend like a swarm of bees. The leader of the Hare Krishna cult in Israel lives there. Approximately 200 members, all Jews, have become psychologically and monetarily enslaved to the cult and its leader.

They're not the only ones, unfortunately; thousands fall prey to established cults and to the new ones that continuously appear on the scene. Secular culture deprived Jewish society of its values and beliefs, which has caused people to grab on to anything that they could make a focus in their lives. More and more people are knowingly becoming slaves to cults whose leaders exploit their members' weaknesses as much as they can.

Hare Krishna is one of the oldest cults. It originates in the real idolatry of the Far East. Though we won't delve into the cult's inane principles, in order to emphasize how thorough the enslavement is, we will note that cult members must get up at 3:30 in the morning for an approximately two- hour-long ceremony during which they repeat a meaningless sentence over and over again.

And if that isn't enough, members must repeat this sentence 1,728 times a day! Each set of exercises consists of 103 repetitions. Hundreds of thousands of people do this stupidity worldwide and, as we've already said, a few hundred of them are in Israel.

The residents of the Charish settlement are helpless with regard to the phenomenon that descended on their quiet town. One of the residents complained to the papers, "Tons of people come to their celebration from around the country. You can see how they take children from bad families and pounce on them . . . I'm not a religious Jew, but when my wife lights Shabbos candles, I don't want this commotion . . . "

Speaking about the cult's missionary techniques, another resident said, "My son told me that cult members offered him food . . . We're talking about a curious boy . . . he went into the house and they started to talk to him about Buddha and idols . . . "

Family members of those who fell into the cult leader's net describe the total enslavement. "Our son moved to Charish. In the beginning, he would still come home to visit. Later he stopped coming. He worked very hard selling books for the cult and was completely dedicated to it. He would get up at 5:00 in the morning and begin mumbling the cult's standard sentences hundreds of times a day."

Another witness tells an identical story: "G.L., the cult leader, is very charismatic and he works in a very sophisticated and gentle manner. He slowly pulls the enslaved members closer to him until they are blinded. He's been holding my brother in the cult for six or seven years already and his mental health keeps deteriorating. He's brainwashed.

"The last time I saw him, he behaved like a robot, divorced from reality. He had a glassy look to his eyes. I spoke with my brother and I felt like I was talking to a machine. . . . Now it's completely impossible to communicate with him."

He's not the only one; there are many others like him. "All of a sudden we discovered that there are other families like us with a similar story about people that severed their connection with their families and stopped their lives in favor of the cult. They create anger and resentment toward the family and dedicate their lives to the cult."

The Ramban: "The Inciter Shows "Hooves" that Indicate that He Has no Evil Intent"

One of the clear characteristics of cults is that regardless of the idol worship involved, ultimately the members enslave themselves to the person of the guru himself. It seems that a person has an internal need to submit himself to authority and to base his life on a central value system (a need that originally comes from belief in G-d). Cult members have exchanged this important belief for utter nonsense. It is this need which causes a person to join a cult and to blindly follow its leader.

The leader knows his followers' psychological makeup and he takes absolute advantage of it. When a family turned to the leader of the Hare Krishna cult asking him to help bring their son home, they were met with hostility. "He started to accuse us of dreadful accusations. He said that we, the family, abused our relative at home and that he has to remain in the cult's protective control. At the same time, our brother began accusing us of terrible things that never happened. Today the family feels lost."

Mr. G., the cult's leader, tries to portray himself completely differently. "We aren't trying to present ourselves as a cult or a religion. We simply looked for and found a place to run a community with low rent, open fields and clean air in the middle of the country. . . . We just teach love and giving. That's it."

The cult leader does not explain the idols and sacrificial offerings.

It's amazing to read the Ramban's explanation from Parshos Re'ei (13:7). "The Chumash is careful to say `hidden' to show that the inciter (meisis) hides the fact that he is a missionary and speaks words of love and friendship, and pretends that he doesn't intend to do any harm . . . "

A Meeting with Cult Fighters

In order to understand how widespread the phenomenon is in Israel, we turned to Lev L'Achim's anti-cult department. After arranging an appointment, we met with the two heads of the department: Rav Zeev Shtiglitz and Rav Moshe Lachover. We were advised to meet in Lev L'Achim's Netanya branch in order to get a firsthand impression of the proportions and nature of their activities. (See box.)

We sat in a conference room that had a circular table in the middle. The two directors are pleasant and have an air of business to them.

But they are not easy people to interview; it's not their profession. They are doers, not talkers. We tried to obtain adequate information for the article in the short amount of time allotted for the interview. Rav Lachover forewarned us, however, that the topic was problematic. "Do you know what the problem is with this article? When you understand more about the problem, you'll see that you can't fathom it."

He continued frankly, "We constantly blame ourselves, because despite our around-the-clock efforts and varied techniques, we reach barely twenty percent of cult victims. We were appointed by the gedolim to limit this phenomenon as much as possible."

To make a long story short, the conversation showed the monstrous dimensions of the spreading epidemic in Israel and the uncompromising fight against spiritual pollution. It is for that reason that we didn't absolve ourselves of the need to try to touch on the topic anyway.

The men we spoke with are deeply involved in the intricacies of the phenomenon. They mention names to one another during the conversation. They are likewise known to the cults as the leaders in the war against them. We asked:

The appearance of cults is new in comparison with missionaries. Are you able to point to a time when this serious issue developed?

Rav Shtiglitz: It's important to understand how the matter works. There are four types of cults in Israel: Western, Eastern, Israeli and Jewish.

The Eastern ones originate in the Far East and they are easily discernible; they have clear signs and their influence is therefore comparatively limited. That notwithstanding, they are still dangerous and threatening.

The Western ones originate in Europe and America and they are generally more sophisticated and better camouflaged. The largest and most dangerous is Scientology, about which we shall speak later.

The Israeli cults were founded in Israel and combine Eastern idol worship with various Israeli characteristics.

The Jewish ones use Torah — especially "Kabboloh" — in order to get their followers to obey them. The most obvious and well known among them is Berg's HaMachon LeCheker Hakabboloh (Kabbalah Research Center, now known as KC).

Do all the cults have something in common?

Rav Shtiglitz: Yes, complete enslavement to the cult, disguised as a spiritual need.

Rav Lachover: The modern world systematically cast away belief and morality. This created a spiritual vacuum, which caused the masses to return to the most primitive source of spirituality, Far Eastern idol worship. Since the Jewish People has a much higher spiritual level but most Jews are unfortunately ideologically far from Judaism, Jews have become the first distributors of pseudo-spirituality. For example, Jews comprise about two percent of the American population, but they comprise roughly 40 percent of members of these and other sects. The explanation for this is clear.

It is interesting to note that Chazal inform us that the gifts that Avraham Ovinu gave the children of the concubines were sheimos hatumoh. According to the Netziv, they took these gifts to the Far East. Interestingly, one of the Far Eastern sects is called Brahmin, a name derived from Avraham, who gave them the sheimos hatumoh which are central to their beliefs. Unfortunately, some of the Jewish People have discarded the real gift in favor of the Far East's false ones.

Rav Shtiglitz: Israel is proportionately the largest greenhouse for cults and sub-cults, probably due to the aforementioned reason. Today, anyone who knows how to mumble a few words about "spirituality," "internal peace" and other well-known phrases can publicize himself, and a group of believers will immediately flock to him.

How can we combat cults? How can we make it clear to non- religious people that they are illegitimate?

Rav Lachover: Simple. Test the results. Cults are a mechanism entirely dedicated to exploiting people, mentally, physically and, of course, monetarily. Using proofs from rescued former members, we demonstrate that ultimately, all the talk about "internal purity" is a method to exploit, enslave and abuse people.

What about cults that don't have gurus?

Rav Lachover and Rav Shtiglitz (in unison): There is no such thing; such a cult won't last. It will wither. You have to understand that even if there isn't a guru behind it all in the usual sense, someone stands to benefit. The subject of cults is much broader than is understood. It includes strange and unusual marketing strategies whose ultimate goal is to make money, lots of money.

Please explain further.

Rav Lachover: In the case of "mystics," the field of exploitation includes the sale of false theories.

Rav Shtiglitz notes that this includes alternative medicine, an unregulated field partially connected to idol worship and the ritual objects used in it. People are continually trying to alter various alternative-healing techniques in order to market them to chareidim.

It sounds fascinating.

Rav Shtiglitz: For example, they tried to market the well-known treatment, Reiki, to chareidim. We researched it and found that the patient is told to imagine strange symbols of Christian and Buddhist origin. There was a question regarding substituting Jewish symbols for the non- Jewish ones.

We asked HaRav Eliashiv and he said it was forbidden. The source of the prohibition is, "Do not perform the deeds of the land of Egypt." The Ohr HaChaim explains that the posuk "leHashem Hanichbad" means that even if it is done for Hashem's sake it is prohibited to copy from non- Jews. It is important to emphasize that this doesn't apply only to Reiki, but to a large variety of things in the field of mystics and medicine.

Rav Lachover: These things especially apply to Scientology, the most dangerous cult in Israel. I'll shock you: a group of avreichim fell into the snares of this philosophy after it was "converted" for Israel to Jewish symbols.


Rav Lachover: It was a group that tried to implement a pyramid marketing scheme, a luft gesheft that can be called selling a lie. The money tempted them, everything appeared legitimate, but things unexpectedly deteriorated and the participants were asked to undergo a marathon weekend course that included staying there for a Shabbos! The seminar was in a glatt kosher hotel in Tel Aviv.

One of the participants became suspicious of the strange material presented in the course. He contacted us. After intensive investigations it became clear that the program was lead by a cult of Scientologists who are active worldwide under a well-known name. The Scientologists changed their name in Israel however, and a group of kollel wives almost fell into the cult's trap. The women only sought a way to increase their income.

We discovered the big ploy and took action. We told the avreichim the truth about the directors of the program and informed them of Rav Eliashiv's ruling that participating in the course was forbidden even if it wasn't for the purpose of idol worship. Now you have an example of avodoh zora especially targeted at religious Jews.

The cult ran a special program from a separate location, specially targeted to Orthodox participants.

Is there a real connection between Western cults and Eastern ones?

Rav Lachover: The connection is the enslavement technique, the exploitation of people's internal need to run away from the monotony of ordinary life. They play off this need in order to capture souls so that the money barons at the pyramid's summit can exploit them financially.

That's the way it is with Scientology and with Transcendental Meditation. The latter simply substituted physical concepts for polytheistic motifs. Instead of brainwashing yourself with nonsensical mythology about Buddha and other junk, they tell you to close your eyes and sit cross-legged while listening to sounds of nature.

What's so bad about it?

Rav Lachover: Everything's perfect except that it ultimately leads people to disassociate themselves from their surroundings and to subjugate themselves to the point of addiction to the guru. Let's take the most dangerous Western cult, Scientology, which is completely stripped of any sign of idolatry and whose whole purpose is "to make better people."

They have a process they call, "cleansing people of their past." How do they do it? By brainwashing a person into hating their parents and family because they teach them that all evil originates with them.

How is it possible to explain how normal people become members of this cult? I remember that one of the owners of the Zoglobek food processing company in Israel became a member.

Rav Lachover and Rav Shtiglitz give a victorious smile while remembering yet one more case that is written up in their files. "That's an incident all to itself," Rav Lachover whispers as if he's revealing a secret. It's clear that these documents are among the many files in Rav Shtiglitz's office.

Rav Lachover: We're talking about hypnotic processes of voluntary subjugation. Many people with high-pressure jobs feel the need to attach themselves to a cause or their lives become dull. These people search for purpose of life.

What is Lev L'Achim's motto in this area? Is it "Save people from avoda zora," or "Shatter the impostors' mask?"

Rav Lachover: Lev L'Achim currently stands at the interface between Judaism and our erring brothers. We're talking about a large variety of activities, but there is also a clear split: The "aseih tov" department of Lev L'Achim includes thousands of avreichim enlisting children in religious schools and teaching Torah. The "sur mei-ra" department, which includes our division, works to save the numerous Jews who are falling prey to falsehood as a result of being systematically depleted of anything Jewish. We must help them understand the tragedy of involvement in cults on the one hand and Judaism's spiritual richness on the other. A Jew who is searching for cults is searching for spirituality and it is our job to guide him in the right direction.

You had mentioned Israeli cults when you divided the cults into categories. What are they?

Rav Shtiglitz: For example, there is a settlement in the South that was founded by a local guru by the name of Safra. His technique falls into the gray area between mysticism and alternative medicine. He has followers throughout the country. Similarly, there are other groups using unusual names nationwide.

Let's move on to the topic of taking action. How can you reach people when we're talking about thousands of unidentified people? How do you deal with it?

Rav Lachover: You're right. It's virtually impossible to help everyone. I already said that we were appointed by the gedolim to limit the phenomenon as much as possible, "You are not obligated to finish the work, but you aren't free to excuse yourself from it, either."

We use an extremely varied range of techniques: the organized tracking of the various cults; the systematic disclosure of their motives through distributing fliers at their activity sites, as well as well-prepared notices in the newspapers. We have various methods to gather intelligence in order to combat cults and to disclose the swindling that occurs within them. Since Lev L'Achim is known as the cult-fighter, we receive a large number of requests for help from the families of cult members, as well as pleas for help from people who are currently entrapped. We give them spiritual, psychological and even physical support, because the cult leaders frequently exert subtle and not so subtle physical pressure.

Rav Shtiglitz: In the framework of the fight, we systematically disprove the propaganda publicized by the cults as part of their public relations' campaigns. They exploit emergencies in order to peddle their goods. For example, Berg's Kabbalah Research Center, which is a cult in every respect, recently publicized that its volunteers distributed thousands of booklets to soldiers in the North (during the recent fighting in Lebanon) as a segulah for protection. Since I am familiar with the specific booklet mentioned and with its size, I did a simple calculation and proved that all of these miniature booklets barely filled one trunk of a car. I publicized this in the media and it had a huge effect.

I would like to mention that a former cult member, a secular Jew, created a Website specifically aimed at fighting cults. We work closely with him and provide him with important information.

A large amount of our activities are in the legal arena since we try to prevent the spread of cult propaganda. For example, we requested that the Ministry of Education prevent the distribution of Scientology books to libraries. The cult fought very hard — a special delegation came to Israel from Miami in order to combat this request. It was a lethal blow for them.

What causes even the secular government to oppose them?

Rav Lachover: There are organizations of parents against cults worldwide. They are aware of the way in which cult recruits are utterly destroyed.

There was a famous committee in the Knesset known as the Ta'assa-Glazer Committee after its chairperson. The committee made operational recommendations for the war against cults but, as in many other cases, it didn't have the power to implement them. In this country you need someone especially articulate in order for the proper legislative authorities to take action. No one really cares about private people who are lost to the snares of the cults in Israel.

When we encounter a phenomenon that we are able to stop, we put in a special effort that often bears fruit. As a member of Netanya's local council, I was personally made responsible for cultural events in the city. I presented myself to the directors of Cathedra, the city's cultural center where a wide variety of academic and cultural lectures are held. I requested a list of the topics taught there.

My years of experience told me that something strange was hidden in a course by the name of "The Philosophy of Indian Culture." I requested a meeting with the instructor in order to discover what the content of the course would be.

My intuition was indeed correct: it was an idol worshiping ceremony. They passed around bowls of incense while mumbling various prayers. We stopped it, of course. They tried to create a scandal in the media, but thank G-d, we were able to weather it.

How do you explain that thousands of people worldwide still join cults?

Rav Lachover: People are searching for meaning in life above and beyond the monotony of physical indulgence. Most of them are not willing to join a clear-cut cult like Hare Krishna that obligates its members to walk around with heads completely shaven except for a braid in the middle. Not everyone will join a crazy cult like Satan's Cult whose members are on the verge of mental disorders.

But many people will choose to try out western cults like Scientology or Transcendental Meditation, which aren't perceived as threatening.

Unfortunately, these cults also have religious Jewish members who don't see a contradiction between the cults and Judaism and say this to prospective members.

There was a man who participated in Arachim seminars and was in close contact with us. He was progressing beautifully. One day we saw his name on a list of large donors to the cult Transcendental Meditation. We were shocked.

We invited him to come meet with us and he was surprised. He didn't know that the cult stands in opposition to Judaism. Thank G-d we were able to rid him of his connection to the cult, but it just proves how unaware people are of the severity of the situation.

I've noticed that you keep saying that Scientology is especially dangerous. Why is that?

Rav Lachover: This is an extremely active cult that works aggressively worldwide. They exert physical pressure on their followers and are not afraid to use any means against those who stand in their way, including physical threats.

Also against you?

Rav Lachover: Also . . . we are known in their internal terminology as "Enemies of Scientology." This is an internal code word which marks anyone they want to get rid of permanently.

You're not scared?

Rav Lachover: Thank G-d, we have more than a little internal strength.

What is their message?

Rav Lachover: They try to give themselves an almost academic air. In contrast to other cults that deal with very abstract concepts, they have practical projects such as their almost mystical war against psychiatrists. They are primarily opposed to the use of the popular medication Ritalin. It sounds very humane, even ideological.

What is their real motivation?

Rav Lachover: Tons of money and power. It's octopus- like.

Initially people start a series of practical courses of techniques for better living. They pay for one course in order to become eligible for a more expensive course and then for an even more expensive one.

The student is simultaneously, almost unconsciously, brainwashed into severing ties with his parents and family through a process known as: "Cleanse yourself from your past." The regimen includes taking pills that were discovered to contain levels of vitamins higher than the permitted dosages.

The recruit becomes controlled by the cult. He will clean houses in order to pay for the courses. People use their life's savings in order to pay the tuition.

Rav Shtiglitz: Ron Hubbard, the founder of the movement, wrote, "If you would like to become rich, found a religion." He was a science fiction writer until he applied his talents and followed his own get-rich advice. And he really did become rich! After his death, a group that calls itself The Church of Scientology took over his estate. They are the ones that operate the octopus-like network worldwide. They are even trying to gather a following in Israel. We are trying to fight them in every possible way. Every person that we save is a bonus.

Does alternative medicine have a guru?

Rav Shtiglitz: In this field, groups are led by various leaders. Even those that don't have a guru, however, have practices gleaned from avodoh zora. We already mentioned Reiki. Take, for example, the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) twelve-step program. While Rav Eliashiv ruled that it wasn't avodoh zora, he said that it was "improper" due to its evident Christian origins.

Would you mind if we change the topic to Berg from KC?

Rav Shtiglitz: He recently prided himself on his new connection with an infamous personality for the world of sleazy entertainment. The latter joined Berg's following and Berg wasn't ashamed to admit it in order to improve his popularity. It had a great effect on international publicity. We sent that personality a letter describing the way Berg spends the money that he receives. I don't know if it's connected or not, but that figure left him and that is good news for many reasons.

May we leaf through the files a little bit?

There's a long corridor with openings to well-equipped offices. People lean over their paperwork behind desks. The walls at the end of the corridor are lined with cassettes and binders. They only become more numerous as we approach Rav Shtiglitz's personal office. Rav Shtiglitz pulls out a file. Everything is documented. There are pages with names on them and comments in the margins that describe the subject and the name of the cult. The name of the person requesting the help is also listed: they are either a desperate family member or a person who is himself begging to be rescued from the psychological and physical clutches of the cult into whose net he fell.

What's in the video cassettes? Are they yours or theirs?

Rav Shtiglitz pulls out a cassette and puts it into the VCR. A guru by the outrageous name of Rama Krishingda appears on the screen. In a half-dark room filled with smoke, a group of Jewish youths sit with their legs crossed. Their eyes are closed. In the background you can hear the voice of the leader sitting facing them. He has a flowing beard like the prototypical Indian guru. Numerous portraits of the leader hang on the wall.

The seated group repeats after him like an echo. They recite verses from Buddha, Christianity and Judaism. They even sing some current Middle Eastern songs. After a drawn-out session that leaves them physically and emotionally drained, they become marionettes in the leader's hands. The leader gets up and walks around the seated group and hits them gently on the forehead. They fall like circuit breaker switches or like pieces on a checkerboard. Then they start to convulse with strange, inexplicable motions.

What is this? Sheimos tumah? Hypnosis? Or maybe just an act?

Rav Shtiglitz: You're shocked. It doesn't matter what we call it. It's not worth thinking about too much and when you'll hear the end of the story, you'll understand why.

What's the end of the story?

Rav Shtiglitz: The leader didn't stop belittling rabbis and chareidim to all who would listen. But then he got up one day and decided to become religious after he wasn't able to increase his following. He turned to us and we met with him. We told him what Judaism requires and he agreed. He also wanted us to help him make his followers more observant.

We sensed that he really wanted official recognition from our organization. We secretly followed his attempts to have the best of both worlds. We understood that he wanted to use our endorsement to increase his following. When we realized this, we severed all ties with him.

Unfortunately, he found another organization that was all too happy to help him. As a result, he got a twelve-page write-up in a famous chareidi magazine. We informed the paper that they were tricked into helping a dangerous character. A competing publication disclosed the plot and the gullible paper was ultimately forced to rectify its mistake.

The organization that helped the leader still believed in him, though. When the guru discovered that he had only made things worse for himself, he fled the country. He completely destroyed one of his admirers, a poor handicapped soldier who had trusted him completely and given him his entire Israeli army pension.

Additionally, a participant disclosed that this guru was responsible for one of the worst cases of abuse and degradation known. We passed on all of this information to the United States in order to prevent the guru from continuing his horrible acts there. This is a concrete example of the lies and swindling behind the guru image.

The charlatan continuously changes his techniques in order to cause more and more people to fall into his net. Even though the same story repeats itself over and over again, people don't pay attention. They repeatedly fall into the snares of the current-day swindler. That's precisely why we're here.

We went outside, down the stylish Lev L'Achim stairs, shocked at what we had seen and heard. Outside, on the busy Netanya street, people enter and exit the Sharon Mall. How many of them are members of a cult? Suddenly, everyone is suspect because they left Torah in order to satiate themselves with a nothingness that cannot satisfy them. Poor people.

A Visit with Lev L'Achim's General Staff

Our interview with Rav Lachover and Rav Shtiglitz took place in the Lev L'Achim offices located on Kinneret Street in Netanya. The crowded street outside hums with activity in stark contrast to the spiritual atmosphere that permeates the offices.

It's difficult to understand what makes the Lev L'Achim workers tick. They could have been success stories in the outside world, but chose instead to dedicate their lives to helping the Jewish People. The organization has become an ideological spaceship that sails in a world void of values and ideology. It reminds one of ZAI, Aguda Youth and of course Chever Hape'eilim, of which it is an ideological descendant.

Lev L'Achim is an isolated bubble that somehow managed to maintain its enthusiastic motivation to dedicating one's life to the public welfare for posterity. This isn't something that originates from those who are active in the cause. Rather it emanates from ideological energy that springs forth from the emunoh and mussar planted by the yeshivas. It is this drive that feeds the intensive activities of the anonymous soldiers and commanders in their fight to preserve the Jewish spark.

Though the offices are full of activity, they are as quiet as a laboratory. The directors of the organization have a "do a lot, say a little" personality, which is responsible for the quiet found in the offices. More action and yet more action.

The binders are labeled with the names of every mystical and crazy group in the country. One shelf looks like India's Ministry of the Interior, while the next looks like it's from the office of the regional psychiatrist. Then there are the binders tracking the organization's activities. They have lists of names of Jews who have returned to Judaism, one at a time. Rav Sorotzkin, the director, sits at the end of the hall, bent over his paperwork. This is the tireless guard who protects the Jewish People's spiritual health from its ever- changing enemies.

"Why don't you publicize your actions?" people who routinely see the scope of the organization's daily activities continually ask.

They always get the same laconic answer: "We don't have a department for that."


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