A religious court in Tel Aviv uncovered a secret cult practicing polygamy recently, when a young bride taken in by the cult reached out to the court for help.
The stranger-than-fiction story began when a young woman, now 20-years old, raised in a non-observant home, began to move towards traditional Jewish observance.
The young woman studied in a seminary and like many of her newly religious peers, was given an “adoptive” family to help her through the transition into religious life and to have a “home base” for regular Shabbat visits. She was warmly received by the couple and their 10 children in what was initially a very constructive arrangement for the young woman.
After roughly six months, however, the husband began making subtle romantic advances towards the girl. As time passed, his appeals became more direct and increasingly assertive.
To the young woman’s surprise, the wife was not only aware of her husband’s attempts to court the girl, she fully supported his efforts.
The couple eventually revealed to the young woman that they are members of a clandestine religious group calling itself the “Complete Jewish Home”.
At the heart of the group’s beliefs is the idea that polygamy, banned halakhically for Ashkenazi Jews a millennium ago and ended among Sephardic Jews (where it bore no resemblance to a cult) after the foundation of the State of Israel, is an essential part in the road to “the Redemption of Israel”.
A self-styled “Kabbalist” serving as a spiritual leader within the cult urged the young woman to become the husband’s second wife, telling her that “the root of her soul” is connected “with the root of his soul” and that for her own benefit she must marry him.
Eventually the girl relented to the pressure and in September was wed in a secret ceremony.
Shortly thereafter, however, the bride regretted her decision and shared her story with relatives, who urged her to secure a formal divorce from the man she had been pressured into marrying.
Last week the young woman approached a rabbinic court in Tel Aviv with her story, begging the court to grant her an annulment.
Although marriages are licensed in Israel and this was not a legal marriage, the relationship is considered a marriage halakhically and the young woman must obtain a divorce or annulment from the religious courts to be able to remarry.
The court, which included Rabbis Shlomo Stasman, Eyal Yosef, and Ido Shahar, called in the couple who had pressured the young woman into marriage and the two witnesses to the wedding. After a hearing, the judges issued a restraining order on the husband, barring him from harassing the young woman. Additional orders were placed on him and his wife, preventing them from fleeing the country until a full investigation into the matter is completed.
Among their findings in the case, the court confirmed that the couple in question are indeed affiliated with a sect advocating polygamy. The group’s website, www.Jewishhome.net, advocates in favor of the restoration of polygamy, presenting what it claims are quotes in favor of the practice by prominent rabbis, both past and present.
The judges warned both the couple and the witnesses involved in the wedding of the seriousness of their actions, both in terms of traditional Jewish law and the Israeli criminal code.
After initially attempting to justify his actions and refusing to issue a divorce to the young woman, the husband gave in to the court’s demands and agreed to immediately grant her the divorce.