If it's haredi, does this mean it cannot be a cult? Yad L'Achim was started by a Chabad-Lubavitch hasid, Rabbi Sholom Ber Lifshitz, who studied in non-haredi yeshivas and who was close to Chabad's rebbe and to non-haredi leaders. Now it appears that Yad L'Achim refused to help secular Israelis lured into haredi cults similar to Lev Tahor. Some of these cult leaders were subsequently exposed and arrested – without Yad L'Achim's involvement or help.
Naomi Ragen writes:
…Orthodoxy too has been used to lure victims to abusive cults. In 2011, an 18-year-old religious girl from a broken home visited Jerusalem. While standing next to the Bridge of Strings, she was approached by a woman she slightly knew, who invited her to learn about Breslov. Naïve and troubled, she found herself joining a communal household led by a gray-bearded “prophet,” who espoused what he said was Breslov hassidism, all the while trying to seduce her and make her part of his harem. Unlike the other women who succumbed to the physical and emotional abuse and sexual perversities visited upon them daily, which stunned them into terrified obedience, the youngest novitiate bravely found her way to the Israel Center for Cult Abuse, and its director Rachel Lichtenstein.
A petite young woman in a dark wig, Lichtenstein is a former Bais Yaakov girl, who became involved in the center after working against missionaries in [the haredi anti-missionary and cult organization] Yad L’Achim. Disturbed at being told not to get involved with victims of missionizing haredi cults because it was beyond their mandate, she moved over to the center, first as a volunteer, and then as full-time director.
Lichtenstein is passionate about saving those who have been taken in by charlatans in religious garb spouting mystical gobbledygook whether claiming to be quoting from the Kabbala or the Bhagavad Gita.
She described a typical case: An innocent young girl is invited to a lecture on Kabbala. The girl walks into a crowded room, where the leader and teacher sits up front in a place of honor, surrounded by devotees who hang on his every word.
After months attending lectures, she is finally introduced to him personally. She is thrilled, overwhelmed by the honor. As he shows her more and more attention, she is flattered, feeling special. After all, so many admire this man, he is so holy, so learned, and he has singled her out. More months go by. And when the leader feels she is ready, he explains to her that her special kapara (atonement) and task in life is to bring the fallen sparks of holiness back to the world by sleeping with anyone he tells her too. He roams the streets, picking up men and sending her to sleep with them while he watches, pocketing the fee. She collects money for him, cooks for him and cleans for him. One day, he tells her to pick up a friend of his who is being let out of prison. She drives down to get him. As the released convict sits next to her, he asks: ”What is a nice, pretty young girl like you doing with this man? Don’t you know that he and all his friends are criminals and he is only using you?” This, she tells Rachel, is the first time she allows doubt to enter her mind about what is really going on. Her awakening is harsh and slow, her recovery taking years of intensive psychological treatment before she can rebuild her shattered sense of self. Just weeks ago, a similar cult was unmasked in Kiryat Arba run by hassidim of a messianic cult that drugged and prostituted women for cash, convincing them to sleep with gentiles because their act “would bring about redemption for the Jewish people.”
Normal people reading this might find it hard to believe that a regular, intelligent person could be fooled in such a way. Britain’s Cult Information Center, however, states that people in cults tend to be “intelligent, idealistic, well-educated, economically advantaged, intellectually or spiritually curious, and any age.” Cult recruitment techniques work equally effectively on PhD holders or high-school drop-outs. The only common characteristic is that the cult candidates are going through a difficult time in their lives that leaves them vulnerable.
The haredi world, with its emphasis on belief in a charismatic leader, complete obedience and discipline, leaves many of those searching for a deeper religious experience particularly susceptible.
What is the difference between a valid religious experience and a cult? According to Robert J. Lifton, an expert in the field of cult studies, cults exert total environmental control, controlling all information. The cult’s truth is absolute, members even depending on the cult for definitions of reality.
People are taught the meaninglessness and futility of their former way of life, and the necessity for a rebirth. All situations are reduced to black and white, with no gray areas, and the leader is infallible, cult members dependent upon him for information before they can make the slightest decision. Even child-raising is abandoned to the leader, the parents’ allegiance often measured by their willingness to follow the leader’s directives, even if it involves abusing their own children. In some parents, this is a stress reliever, freeing them from deciding anything, even child care.…
In short, all seekers of purity, beware. If someone offers you spiritual growth, but winds up telling you what to think, and how to behave 24/7, you aren’t having a religious experience, but a criminal one. Get out and call the police.
And then we have the cases surrounding cult leader Rabbi Elior Chen, whose cult actually killed a child.