JERUSALEM — The women tattooed his name and portrait on their bodies and gave their children his name — Saviour.
They spoon-fed the bearded, one-time healer as if he were royalty, brushed his shoulder-length white locks, sent him text messages when they were ovulating and slept with him at his bidding.
They turned over wages and welfare payments to him and lived in cramped, rundown Tel Aviv apartments with the children they bore him. According to police, he fathered some of his own daughters’ children.
The man, 60-year-old Goel Ratzon — whose first name is Hebrew for “Saviour” — is now sitting in a Tel Aviv jail, suspected by police of enslaving a cult-like harem of at least 17 women and 37 children. Ratzon, who’s lived this way for two decades, denies any wrongdoing, his lawyer says.
Ratzon’s alleged crimes and unconventional lifestyle have gripped Israel and become newspaper and talk show fodder.
How he managed to lure so many young women and live this way so long in full view of authorities remains a mystery. While cult leaders like Jim Jones, who led hundreds of followers in a 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, claimed messianic status, Ratzon did not.
“I’m not their Messiah, I’m not their saviour. I’m just good to them,” he said in a rare interview to Israel television last year.
Police, however, said they swooped down on Ratzon when the children were at school because they were afraid their mothers might hurt them if they were at home at the time.
According to police, his lawyer and testimony from the women, Ratzon kept tabs on his “extended family” through closed-circuit TV, and fined them for violating rules that included modest dress and a ban on unauthorized telephone calls.
“He doesn’t live like you or me. He lives differently. And the fact that the women accepted it and were part of it gave him the legitimacy that it was OK, that it was good for them,” said his court-appointed lawyer, Shlomzion Gabai.