The arrest of the male members of the cult, whose members – suspected of severely abusing the women and children – dedicated their lives to spreading their take on Breslov Hassidut, came as a surprise to at least one acquaintance of the prime suspect.
A strict court-imposed gag order on the identity of the suspects left little room for expounding on the group and its actions.
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But a neighbor of the prime suspect, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed his shock at the news of the arrest and alleged crimes. While the suspect seemed extreme in his beliefs, he didn’t seem to be the abnormal person who would be capable of the deeds he is being charged with, the neighbor said.
“The man came from a very cultured place,” he said of the suspect, who made aliyah from the West. “He came from a place with a firm tradition of democracy, and was going to continue his parents’ business.
Then suddenly he decided to go back to Judaism, but not standard religion, rather to a very extreme place.”
The neighbor didn’t even realize that the suspect had more than one wife.
“I asked him how many children he had, and when he told me the high number I was very surprised, especially since his wife – the only one I thought he had – was also from the West,” he said. “He never mentioned more than one. But in the haredi world such a number of children is not unheard of.
“Their living conditions were very difficult, because of the ideal of spreading the Breslov principles. I couldn’t understand how his wife would take it, he told me it was her dedication to the cause,” said the neighbor.
The cult leader claimed to be a disciple of Rav Yisrael Oddesser, a controversial Breslov figure who claimed he was the embodiment of the spirit of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, and that Jerusalem was the new Uman. The cult leader, known as the Saba (grandfather), claimed that a large family working in outreach, especially with dancing in the streets and concerts, was the best tool to further his message and bring redemption.
“He didn’t seem insane, but you did feel a strong extremism, a powerful idea, in the faith in the rabbi, to dance, be happy, a sort of new vision. But I never got the feeling he was insane.
He told me about his past, his parents, and the financial burden his activities resulted in,” said the neighbor.
Upon hearing that the suspect was married to six women, “I fainted,” said the neighbor.
“What, such things even existed? Not even with two wives? “These people want to increase joy,” the neighbor said of the men who dance in public places, in the name of the Breslov doctrine. “On the other hand, it reached torture – something is incomprehensible here.
This is at the fringe of society, and reflects in no way on the haredi and religious lifestyle as a whole,” he said.