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A harsh exchange took place in the Jerusalem District Court yesterday between Judge Moshe Ravid and the ultra-Orthodox woman on trial for allegedly starving her child.

Ravid told the woman that in photographs, the 3-year-old boy looked as if he had just emerged from Auschwitz. "Where are your maternal feelings?" he demanded.

"I'm a mother - although a Haredi one, and therefore not known here," she shot back. "The state doesn't know Haredi mothers. The only thing that touches the heart of a Haredi mother is her children. I am such a mother, and will be until age 120. Nothing in life is important to me - not work, not money, not a big house. Just my children - their happiness and well-being."

"I'm devoted to my children, I sacrificed everything for my children," she continued. "There was not an evening on which my children didn't hear a story or get hugs and kisses from their mother, even during my son's illness. Now, the children come home from school and there is no mother. Why are they doing this to the children? They've undergone terrible traumas that children shouldn't undergo at their age. Their mother is sitting in jail."

"The doctors write that my unborn baby is in distress," she added. "Will the state take responsibility for my unborn baby?"

Ravid, however, was not persuaded. He demanded to know why she had refused to let the welfare authorities talk with her children, and whether she would do so now.

"I'm willing," she replied, "but they must write down exactly what the children say."

The judge then charged that her son had asked to meet with her, but she refused because a social worker was present.

"I wanted to see him," she replied. "But that woman who destroyed my life and the lives of my son and my [other] children was standing beside the boy, and I couldn't even hug my child." Asked why, the mother responded: "The psychologist told me to leave. I had hysterics."

Prosecutor Tal Weissman asked Ravid to place the woman under full house arrest outside Mea Shearim, the Jerusalem neighborhood where she lives, and to let her meet with her children only once a day. "This is a manipulative, dangerous and crafty woman," Weissman charged. "She ostensibly committed her deeds while under the supervision of dozens of professionals at a hospital."

Moreover, Weissman said, a psychological evaluation found that the woman was so preoccupied with her own suffering that she had trouble displaying empathy for her children.

One of the woman's attorneys, Reuben Bar-Haim, retorted that this evaluation "presented an exaggeratedly negative picture, not an objective one - a picture that highlighted risk factors and competely ignored indications of lack of risk and/or low risk."

Another attorney, David Halevi, told Haaretz afterward that he had submitted "a long list of data, evaluations and judicial opinions that all, without exception, show our client is not dangerous to her children."

Ravid ordered the state to inform him today of when the other children would be questioned, now that the woman has agreed. He will then rule on whether she is dangerous to those children.