5 arrested on suspicion of holding rabbi captive for 3 years
Rabbi of non-profit organization says was 'exiled' to Tiberias, held there against his will; staffers say he asked to be cured from mysterious disease through solitary prayer and mortification
Tova Dadon, Ynet
Five residents of the Tlamim community in southern Israel were arrested Monday on suspicion of kidnapping and extorting Rabbi Nir Ben-Artzi, head of the "Talmei Geula" non-profit organization.
The men are accused of holding the rabbi against his will in Tiberias for three years.
The National Fraud Unit's southern district launched a covert investigation into the matter three months ago, after Rabbi Ben-Artzi had returned to his Tlamim home; during which, according to investigators, "credible" evidence was gathered.
The rabbi told police he was "exiled" from Tlamim to Tiberias by a number of "Talmei Geula" staffers as a "personal sacrifice to Israel".
The rabbi told police that while in captivity he slept on a dirty mattress, drank only water and ate stale bread.
"I wanted to see my wife and children, but they would not release me," he said after returning home. "Initially I thought it was all being done for the good of the Israeli nation, which is in dire straits, and that I was to pray and mortify myself for the nation. But it was unbearable."
"Talmei Geula" workers said Rabbi Ben-Artzi was suffering from a mysterious disease and asked to be cured through solitary prayer and asceticism. They claimed to be in possession of a signed document in which the rabbi allegedly admitted to asking to be "purified" after committing "illicit acts" while serving as the organization's rabbi.
Ben-Artzi told police he was forced to sign incriminating documents as a condition of his release.
The rabbi was a tractor driver from Gush Katif until 13 years ago, when he began to claim to have supernatural powers. He later became rabbi of the Tlamim community.
[Hat Tip: Joel Katz.]