Mr Ratzon declared: “I’m perfect … I have all the qualities a woman wants”
Residents of Tel Aviv’s quiet Hatikva neighbourhood were shocked yesterday to discover a self-styled Jewish sage living in their midst with a harem of 30 women kept as “slaves” in squalid apartments.
Goel Ratzon, 60, is accused of fathering 37 children since 1993 with his “wives” and daughters. Mr Ratzon, who was dubbed by the local media as “Israel’s Josef Fritzl”, is under arrest on suspicion of incest and sexual abuse.

“The evidence shows the suspect controlled his women with a firm hand, including their possessions and their money,” police said. Mr Ratzon even wrote a list of commandments to ensure that the women were kept in “conditions similar to slavery”, police said.
In addition to turning over all their wages, the women were forbidden from making telephone calls or talking to men other than Mr Ratzon. If they broke the rules they would pay a fine or receive physical punishment.

Mickey Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesman, said that Mr Ratzon convinced his victims that he had godlike status. “The women didn’t really understand what their situation was, they didn’t understand what freedom was,” Mr Rosenfeld said.
In one case, police raided a three-bedroom apartment where 10 women and 17 children were found living in “horrible conditions”.

The women wore conservative orthodox dresses covering their entire bodies and bore tattoos of their captor’s face — and name. He was married to 17 women but it was unclear how many others he had relations with, police said. All his offspring had names with a variation on his — Goel, which means redeemer in Hebrew.

Mr Ratzon’s family had been known to the Israeli public for some time. Last year he and several women appeared in a television documentary in which the women informed viewers that Mr Ratzon was the Messiah.

It showed the women brushing his hair and feeding him while they declared: “He is the Messiah everyone is talking about . . . The day he decides to reveal himself, the land will shake.”
Mr Ratzon made no claims of deity, but declared: “I’m perfect . . . I have all the qualities a woman wants.” When asked about the commandments, he said: “It’s like a state — I have to uphold my principles, order and laws.”

Neighbours gleaned some details about Mr Ratzon’s communes. One said that he had learnt hypnosis in India and used the technique to subjugate women. “We never heard them, they made no noise at all,” a neighbour told The Jerusalem Post. “The women made a living by cleaning homes, but they were not permitted to work for men.”

Another neighbour said: “Whenever I saw the kids, they were quiet. Sometimes I heard them crying.”
Police said that they delayed arresting Mr Ratzon despite evidence of abuse in the documentary, because they had reports that the women would attempt collective suicide.

Mr Ratzon made it clear in the documentary what the women should do if he was taken away. “When I die . . . you are to lead peaceful and constrained lives . . . but if the state harms me, go out and strike them as much as you can. Even at the cost of shedding your own blood,” he told one woman.
Police said that he preyed on young vulnerable women from broken families. If he was displeased they would harm themselves with razors or burn themselves.

All the women were registered as single mothers, making it impossible to prosecute them under Israeli polygamy laws, but a law passed recently against human trafficking allowed prosecutors to press enslavement charges against Mr Ratzon.
Several women had complained of mistreatment. Two of Mr Ratzon’s “wives” were being questioned on suspicion that they facilitated his crimes. The other women and children were put in the care of social services.

Mr Ratzon will be defended by a woman lawyer. “As far as he is concerned, no sexual crimes have been committed. The women consented willingly to relations,” Shlomtzion Gabai, the lawyer, said.
The Channel 10 documentary showed Mr Ratzon’s nightly ritual. “Do you want to come with me?” he asked one woman in her mid-20s. “Yes,” she said, smiling and hugging him. The other women appeared devastated.

Ratzon’s rules
1 No women shall marry nor shall any woman attack another, either verbally or physically.
Fine: 2,000 shekels (£330) into the family kitty
2 No woman shall question another about her whereabouts.
Fine: 100 shekels
3 No conversation is permitted in rooms other than the living room. It is forbidden to talk nonsense.
Fine: 200 shekels
4 No woman shall sit idle when there are dishes to be washed, cleaning to be done, children to look after etc.
Fine: 2,000 shekels
5 Any two women caught fighting will be punished equally.
Fine: 2,000 shekels
6 It is absolutely forbidden to question Ratzon on his whereabouts or intention.
Fine: 400 shekels
7 It is permissible to ask to accompany him; but refusal is to be accepted without appeal.
Fine: 300 shekels
8 No woman shall interrupt Ratzon or intervene in matters not concerning her.
Fine: 500 shekels
9 All orders are to be obeyed immediately.
Fine: 300 shekels
10 No woman shall work while a man of over 12 years of age is in the house.
Fine 3,000 shekels


* From The Times by Yossi Zeliger/EPA, January 15, 2010