Elior Chen being led into Jerusalem District Court - Tomer Appelbaum
Elior Chen being led into Jerusalem District Court February 28, 2011 for his sentencing hearing. His lawyers plan to appeal. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Text size

The self-styled rabbi Elior Chen was sentenced yesterday to 24 years in prison for the severe abuse of eight children, as the ringleader of a cult. The Jerusalem District Court, where Chen was tried, described the case "unprecedented," in terms of the egregiousness nature of the offenses.

Chen was also ordered to pay NIS 200,000 in compensation to each of the two most severely abused children, and NIS 50,000 to each of the six other children. He also received an 18-month suspended sentence. Seven of the eight children were siblings.

Judge Noam Yaron called Chen's actions "unprecedented, horrific and outrageous. The children remain wounded both physically and emotionally, with critical brain damage."

Chen was convicted in December for abusing the children of one of his disciples, which included beatings with clubs and hammers, kicks to the head, severe shaking, burning, being handcuffed and stuffed in a suitcase, food and sleep deprivation, being forced to eat feces and being forced to stand outside in the cold, naked.

The children were left with severe emotional and physical scars. One remains in a persistent vegetative state as a result of the abuse.

Chen, who called himself a rabbi, told his disciples the abuse was necessary to "purify" the children.

The verdict stated that Chen's followers obeyed him unquestioningly.

In addition to ordering the abuse and witnessing most of it, Chen was also an active participant in it.

"These were violent, cruel and horrifying acts of abuse that were executed systematically and continuously, while raining terror over the children and dictating fear and terrorism; while oppressing, humiliating and debasing the minors," Yaron wrote.

During the trial, defense Chen and his lawyer, Ariel Atari, refused to conduct a defense. They called no witnesses and did not cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

The abuse was uncovered about two years ago, when one of the children was hospitalized in a coma. Chen fled to Brazil but was extradited back to Israel.

Four of Chen's disciples, who carried out most of the abuse at his behest, were convicted early and sentenced to prison terms of 17 and 20 years. The mother of the seven children who were abused, who lived with Chen in his home, was sentenced to five years in prison in a plea bargain, after pleading guilty to shaking, burning and tying up her children.

Among those attending yesterday's sentencing was Rabbi Avraham Freilich, who said he was there at the behest of the head of the Eda Haredit, Rabbi Ya'akov Tuvia Weiss. "We have nothing against the judge, but unfortunately the accused's lawyer did not allow us to say one good word about him," Freilich said.

Atari said Chen had agreed with his strategy, which had derived from his desire to make sure his client had a fair trial.

After the verdict was issued yesterday, Atari told reporters that his client's rights were violated during the trial and said they would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Chen's father, Ya'akov Chen, protested his son's innocence.