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Religious teacher to face trial for outrageous child abuse

A man claiming to be a rabbi is being accused of burning and cutting toddlers as part of a religious purification ritual in a West Bank settlement in 2008. He will be extradited from Brazil to face court in Israel.

Elior Noam Hen is the self-appointed rabbi of a small West Bank sect. He allegedly instructed his followers to tie up their children and force them to drink alcohol mixed with turpentine. They were made to eat feces and were kept locked in a suitcase for days at a time. In addition, they were hit by hammers and cut by knives, with one three-year-old ending up in a coma.

It took 45 days for Brazilian police to track down Hen, finally arresting him in June 2008. He lost his fight against extradition when the Brazilian Supreme Court decided there were reasons for him to stand trial. Moshe Friedman, a criminal lawyer, says:

“It is always more difficult to find someone in a religious neighbourhood, like Jerusalem, because with a beard and religious outfit, it’s easy to hide. We have a lot of cases of extradition because the fight against international crime has become a major issue.”

A mother of eight and follower of Hen is also now in custody. She received spiritual guidance from the so-called rabbi and his assistants, who have been arrested as well.

When the police searched Elior Hen's house, they found some spiritual “guidelines” that appeared more like explicit instructions on how to abuse children. One document suggested putting red-hot stones on the bodies of children in order to cleanse them.

The case of the abused children who are now in care has shocked the country which is witnessing a worrying increase in the number of domestic violence and child abuse cases.

What makes the situation even worse is that it is difficult to reveal the cases of such abuse.

“Such cases are happening both in religious and non-religious cultures. In the past it was very difficult to come nearer to the religious culture, because it was and still is a very closed society, which finds solutions and help in itself,” says Dani Malleron, a representative of the Israeli Association for Child Protection.