Jerusalem police and municipality workers raided the Be’er Miriam seminary for women in Jerusalem Sunday, following parents’ claims that the Sephardi institution, headed by Rabbi Aharon Ramati, is a cult. Ramati was not at the school when it was raided, but police located him shortly after in a nearby synagogue and he was taken in for questioning by the Jerusalem fraud squad.
Six women from the seminary were also detained on suspicion of various crimes, including fraud. Two other women were held for allegedly holding a former student against her will.
The police suspect a number of crimes were committed at the school, located in the Sanhedria neighborhood in north Jerusalem, including tax fraud and defrauding government ministries, as well as violating health and educational standards. A preliminary examination found that the gas lines were hooked up illegally, A fire and rescue service team disconnected the lines for safety reasons.
The police opened an investigation into Be’er Miriam 18 months ago after parents complained. However, the investigation was closed after no evidence of criminal action was found. In March, the police decided to open a further investigation into the seminary after the parents started an organized campaign – along with additional complaints filed against the school in recent months.
The police suspect the seminary was run as a cult and limited the freedom of movement of students. The students told the police they were studying at the seminary of their own freewill. But former students who left the school have said previously that, under Ramati’s influence, the girls have cut off contact with their families and the physical conditions at the seminary are harsh. For example, the women must give up their cell phones – as well as any other means of communications – when they start at the school.
A battle to close the seminary has been going on for years within the ultra-Orthodox community, but the police never found a reason to intervene until now. Ramati has even been accused of being the leader of “a dangerous cult” by leading Haredi rabbis. Still, the seminary continued to operate and drew dozens of young women students, most of whom were either newly religious or in the process of becoming more religious.
Ramati and his wife Malka were interviewed a few days ago on the ultra-Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat, in an attempt to defend themselves against the various accusations. When asked about the school being a cult, Ramati replied, “If Hasidism is a cult and every yeshiva head is a cult, then there is a cult here, too.”