D. in court
D. in courtIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced a Jerusalem man to 26 years in jail after convicting him of 18 criminal offenses including rape, holding others under conditions of slavery, abuse of minors and false imprisonment. The man is being identified only by his first initial, D, in order to protect his children.

A three-judge panel headed by Judge Yaakov Tzaban determined that the man, 55, headed a polygamous family of six women and dozens of children, some of them his biological children, in a Jerusalem home, presented himself as the heir to a well-known rabbi in a hassidic stream, and punished the women and children severely when they disobeyed him.

The court did not define the group as a family but as a sect, and also convicted a 45-year-old man who served as the cult leader's assistant in administering various kinds of punishment to the women and children. The assistant was sentenced to six years in jail.

While one of the man's wives and two of the children testified against him, most of the other women remain loyal to him and insist that he was a loving husband and father. “It's a lie, he is an amazing person and gentle, with a heart of gold,” one of the wives told reporters.

One of the women who support the man said that she and the other wives were held in jail for 11 months in order to make them testify against him.

A son, 16, who testified against the father, told reporters that the wives who still support the man are doing so because they fear him and were threatened by him during their incarceration.