Amid all the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—most recently, this week’s horrific stabbing of 10 civilians, including one American citizen—the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has found time to introduce a strange “anti-cult law” meant to combat New Age sects in the Jewish state, but which could also impact yoga ashrams, controversial rabbis, and meditation groups.
Contrary to appearances, the conflict and the cults are closely related to one another. […]
One of the leading anti-cult groups in Israel, for example, is called Yad L’Achim (“A Hand to Brothers”) and is run by Orthodox rabbis. (Tagline: “We don’t give up on a single Jew!”) Yad L’Achim’s mission includes fighting not only “cults” but also Christian missionaries, intermarriage, and “assimilation.”
In America, anti-cult activity is about preserving individual autonomy against predators like the “Church” of Scientology. But in Israel, it’s about preventing Jews from leaving the fold. […]
It’s easy to foresee the law being used against benign meditation groups, hippie festivals, and other non-Jewish spiritual groups of which the rabbis and the state may not approve. (And, to be fair, fringe Jewish organizations like Ramati’s). The anti-cult law is not neutral; it’s about Jewish identity.