A Tel Aviv man in his late fifties is living with 32 women with whom he has fathered 89 children, an Israeli television station revealed last week.
The women are subject to strict discipline, but say that they are all living with Goel Ratzon by their own accord.
They are not allowed to communicate with men, be in physical contact with their biological family, eat meat, smoke, drink alcohol or dress immodestly.
Ratzon is held by his companions to be the savior (Goel in Hebrew) of the universe, and is attributed godly and supernatural abilities. Many of the women have tattooed his name and portrait on their bodies.
The names of every one of Ratzon’s 89 children include his own first name. For instance, one of his sons is called Avinu Ha-Goel (our father the savior) and he has a daughter named Tehilat Ha-Goel (glory of the savior).
Ratzon told Channel 10 that there had been several attempts at collective suicide when some of the women thought he was going to leave them. Also in the film, some of the women said they would commit mass suicide if anyone tried to harm their leader.
They are all registered as single mothers, and live in separate quarters. Whenever Ratzon comes to visit, the children are required to kiss his shoes, and worship the tattoo of his portrait on their mother’s arm.
National Council for the Child Director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman said that the authorities have very little room for maneuver.
“The man is treading a fine line,” Kadman said. “As long as these children go to school regularly and are not suffering from neglect or flagrant abuse, there’s not much the authorities can do. The law does not permit to prevent people from living in a certain lifestyle just because it seems inappropriate to some.”
On Friday, one of Ratzon’s companions was hospitalized after claiming to have tried to commit suicide. She was brought to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot by Ratzon, who was accompanied by some of his other companions. The woman was released the next day.
She said that she had taken a large amount of anti-depressants and that she could not remember whether she had medical insurance or not. Ratzon, for his part, said he could not remember the woman’s name.
“As soon as they came I knew it was this guy from TV,” a hospital staff member said. “They walked in, and one of the women was supported by another. They really stood out.”
The Tel Aviv welfare services and the National Insurance Institute said they were familiar with the case. The woman’s apparent suicide attempt on Friday has been seen by authorities as a premeditated provocation to mitigate public pressure to clamp down on the cult.
An estranged friend of one of the women said that the group was very sophisticated and aware of the repercussions of being exposed to the public.
“They are not stupid, just very extreme,” he said. “Maybe they fear that the exposure might affect their way of life, and they’re acting tactically. I don’t think it was the TV report – they wouldn’t agree to do it unless they thought that it might benefit them in any way. Everything there is under control.”
According to one of the women’s friends, “they probably thought that if they make the first step, no one will harm them… That’s their way of dealing with the authorities.