‘Cult women’ running for Knesset
‘We wanted to run for the Knesset in the previous election, but we couldn’t, due to procedural obstacles,” say A., one of the wives of Daniel Ambash, the leader of a cult who was convicted of sadistic abuse of his family members in 2013 and sentenced to 26 years in prison for holding them in slavery conditions. “When we heard that another round of national elections would take place, we decided that we just had to run. We owe it to our fellow citizens. Because of what we’ve gone through, we want to help all the women and men who’ve ever been wronged or had their rights trampled upon.”
Despite the fact that Ambash has been convicted, and is currently in prison serving time, four out of his six wives still support him. At the beginning of the summer, these women officially registered their new political party known as Kama (Advancing Individual Rights). “We don’t care what people think about us,” claims A. “We have an obligation to our thousands of supporters to fix our crippled society. We’ve been greatly mistreated by the Israel police, by the prosecutor’s office and by the courts. We’ve seen firsthand the corruption in these organizations, how they mistreat simple citizens who have no power when they come up against these powerful institutions. They have no chance of winning. We are religious women, true believers who are asking that God helps us to bring about a change and help the Israeli people achieve the civil liberties they deserve.”
A., 37, met Ambash when she was only 19 and became his third wife, living side-by-side with the other wives. “Since I was a very young girl, I’d been looking for an alternative family lifestyle,” says A., who realized after their appeal to the Israel Supreme Court was denied that the only solution was to change the law.
“Our goal is to protect Israeli citizens’ most basic human rights and the right of individuals to live in any family structure that they choose,” says B., 46, another one of Ambash’s wives, who grew up in the national-religious community. “I identify with the Breslov community now, I’m a follower of Rabbi Nachman,” says B. “I used to be a teacher. Since our lives were ruined, I’ve been engaging in social activity in an effort to restore justice and my right to live however I want, without having to worry that the state will intervene and invade my privacy. We created the Kama political party so that we could help other women and prevent them from suffering as we have. We are channeling our distress and energy in an effort to counteract the
distortion of law, to prevent the government and Israel’s legal system from interfering in our lives. We must be allowed to live however we choose.”
One of the wives, G., 35, who grew up in a secular home, studied education and became religious 10 years ago. She joined the Ambash family as the sixth wife. “We began writing and performing skits, kind of like a traveling theater, and slowly over time I realized that this had become my family. Up until that point, I’d never wanted to get married. That type of life had never attracted me. But then I found a family that suited me. The other women became my best friends and Daniel became my lover. It didn’t bother me that he had other wives. In fact, the opposite was true – I felt we all complemented each other really well.”
Currently, four of the wives still live together in Jerusalem. “Daniel was married to I., his first wife, and we all joined later as common-law wives, as friends for life,” explains B. “Each one of us joined at our own will, at different times. We are not a polygamous family – we all love each other very much.”
Don’t the wives get jealous of each other?
“Of course there’s jealousy, I mean we are human,” B. says. “But it’s kind of like jealousy between siblings, and we’ve found ways to deal with it by talking about the issues and solving problems as adults. We all have a great sense of humor and we don’t let arguments get out of proportion.”
Doesn’t it bother you that the man that you love sleeps with other women, too?
“The opposite is true,” explains B. “This competition adds spice to our sex life. And we’re not going against any halachic ruling – we’ve checked everything. We are all God-fearing individuals who believe that the Torah offers freedom of choice to people. The State of Israel has no right to take away this right of people to choose how they want to live.”
The man you and your sister-wives love was convicted of very serious offenses.
“Not one ounce of the claims brought against Daniel are true,” continues B. “He’s never ever abused any of us. It was all a big setup. The judges acted in a paternalistic fashion and decided that we women have no will of our own. In their eyes, women are inferior. And that’s why we are fighting for women’s rights, and the rights of every individual to live the way they choose, without the state being able to come in and ruin their lives. We’ve met with religious freedom scholars from many countries around the world, and each one came to the conclusion that our Daniel was used as a scapegoat by Israeli society.”
“The court decided that we were abused women, when that is so far from the truth,” claims G. “We chose a certain lifestyle, and because the state doesn’t agree with our choice, they created a false storyline that allowed them to arrest Daniel, and then prevented our voices from being heard. So now, we are fighting for our right to be heard and to live the way we choose.”
So you do not accept the court’s ruling?
“There’s no better way to fight against this phenomenon than to push for legislative change,” says G. “We are working for the greater good, so that other women won’t have to suffer as we have.”
“Their claims that we were abused are absurd,” claims M. “Why would we lie about this? Our lives have been ruined. We were happy people, living in a happy family before Daniel was arrested. We feel like we live in North Korea.”
Have you seen Daniel since he was convicted?
“They won’t let us,” says B. “They haven’t allowed any conjugal visits either. We used to live in separate houses in the same compound, but they’ve sealed off our homes. We worked so hard to build harmony between all of us and we love each other so much. The state tried to make us appear as a group of women who worship Daniel, but that’s never how it was. We never believed he had any special powers, we just all love each other. And no government has the right to intervene in a loving relationship between adults.”
The four remaining wives are currently making a living by telling their story. “We’ve taken lots of loans, and have been living extremely frugally,” says G.
“We are also trying to sell our book, which is a recounting of our struggle. Our goal is to achieve justice, and to let people know the truth,” explains B. “Daniel is only in his 60s, and he has so many years left to serve. They wanted to set an example with his conviction, and claim that we are a cult. But we believe in our way of life, and I believe that if we win seats in the Knesset, we’ll have a chance to change the law and thereby give people the freedom to choose how they want to live.”
“We have many supporters, and many concerned citizens have approached us and agree with us that change must come,” says G.
“There’s a good chance we will succeed,” adds M. “I love a good challenge, and I will spend the rest of my life fighting for our rights.”
‘WE ARE religious women, true believers who are asking that God helps us to bring about a change and help the Israeli people achieve the civil liberties they deserve.’