The church of scientology, which long ago seemed to be
relegated to the dustbin of cult history, is trying to make
a strong comeback in Eretz Yisroel.
It uses a number of clever disguises to share its
"teachings" with the unsuspecting Israeli public. For
example, in recent months, in an attempt to capitalize on
the growing trend in secular schools for restoring "values"
to the curriculum, the cult has been foisting textbooks with
its "religious philosophy" on the Ministry of Education.
It is even making inroads in religious communities in Bnei
Brak and Yerushalayim thanks to deceptive advertising. It
often advertises courses that promise to significantly
enhance one's communication skills, learning skills, or
ability to deal with troubled teens. The cult's true goal
with the courses, however, is to subjugate people, either
psychologically or financially.
The cult's latest efforts have raised alarm bells among
Torah community leaders. On the advice of the gedolim,
who have branded scientology "avoda zora," Lev
L'Achim's anti-cult division is now actively working to curb
the cult's activities and to stamp it out altogether.
"They are like an octopus, whose tentacles reach in all
directions at once," says Rabbi Moshe Lachover, head of the
anti-cult division. "They try to trap unwitting people in
Rabbi Lachover adds, however, that thanks to Lev L'Achim's
efforts, the group hasn't been successful on a large scale.
But that doesn't mean the cult hasn't kept Lev L'Achim
Rabbi Lachover describes several recent incidents in which
religious Jews have come face-to-face with scientology --
often without realizing it.
In one instance, a chain of chareidi kindergartens
unwittingly uncovered a scientology workshop posing as an
organization that offered advanced teacher-training
In another, several religious Jews were lured by posters on
sidewalk bulletin boards promising "extra money in your
spare time at home." It turned out to be nothing more than
an offer to attend scientology courses disguised as
"training workshops" that would supposedly enhance a
worker's marketability. And the only "extra money" involved
was the hefty fee earned by the cult from its unwitting
Then there was the yeshiva bochur who was already
taking his second course in scientology when he called Lev
L'Achim and asked if the principles of scientology run
contrary to Jewish beliefs.
Lev L'Achim's anti-missionary director, Rabbi Zev
Shteiglitz, took the call and told the bochur, "The
fact that you're even asking this should set off a red light
in your head and make you stop and think what you're doing
One should not think that scientology is just ensnaring
young or naive people. Rabbi Shteiglitz tells the story of a
rosh yeshiva's wife who works with children who have
learning and behavioral disabilities. She recently saw what
appeared to be an innocent-looking advertisement from an
organization in Tel Aviv called "Yecholes" (Ability), which
seemed to be offering exactly the kind of help she was
seeking. Only at the last minute, when she became
suspicious, did she call Lev L'Achim, which investigated the
organization and found it was a front for scientology.
Campaign For Legitimacy
Scientology is a cult that ensnares unsuspecting people
through a kind of mind control that has been called
"psychological terrorism." Although the cult promises that
its adherents will vastly improve their ability to enjoy
life, and improve their careers and personal relationships,
the truth is that the person is brainwashed and loses the
ability to think for himself. Once members are under the
cult's control, they are persuaded to donate large sums of
money to the organization. Some of the cult's victims, who
found themselves unable to escape its greedy clutches, have
put an end to their own lives.
Scientology was founded in the United States during the
1950s and in the decades that followed it quickly spread
throughout the western world, though it has since been
discredited in most countries. It reached Eretz Yisroel in
the 1970s and uses many types of front organizations to try
and gain legitimacy.
One of the tactics scientology has used recently in Israel
to gain favor among the public is its campaign against
Ritalin, the controversial drug administered to hyperactive
children. Since the cult is trying to lure parents through
courses aimed at such children, a successful attack on the
credibility of the psychiatric profession would aid their
cause significantly. So they have labeled psychologists and
psychiatrists who prescribe the drug as "sworn enemies of
the human race," and are conducting an active public
relations campaign to hammer home their viewpoint.
In their zeal to appear as advocates for public welfare, the
scientologists have hired a Knesset lobbyist and are trying
to win friends and gain influence in the business community.
The cult, calling itself "Aviv Advisors," recently sent
invitations to businessmen offering them an "American
innovation" -- an evaluation of their "potential." The
invitations pointed out that the customary $150 fee would be
waived -- but for a limited time only. Prospects were also
told Aviv Advisors had a client list of 150 satisfied
companies, whose profits leaped an average of 500 percent
after undergoing their evaluations.
But right now, the area of greatest concern to Lev L'Achim
is how scientology is working to gain a foothold in the
Two months ago, parents of third graders at a Tel Aviv
public school contacted Lev L'Achim when they discovered
that a workbook written by the founder of scientology was
being used in an after-school enrichment program.
Parents who confronted local education officials were told
not to worry. The book may have been written by a
scientology adherent, the officials said, but the subject
matter is "unrelated." After failing to persuade the school
to drop the text, Lev L'Achim hired lawyer Tomer Moskowitz
to file suit in the Israeli Supreme Court, contending the
workbook violates Israeli laws against forced conversion of
The scientologists seem undeterred by the ongoing legal
battle and have even succeeded in listing two of their books
on the Education Ministry's bibliographical list of texts
aimed at teachers. Although this designation falls short of
formal ministry approval, this mere technicality hasn't
stopped the cult from trying to dupe bookstores and public
libraries into carrying their publications, based on false
claims of ministry approval. In response, Lev L'Achim has
sent cautionary letters to public libraries, as well as to
the Education Ministry.
A Minefield Along The Road
As part of its public awareness campaign to the dangers
posed by scientology, Lev L'Achim last month set up an
emergency hotline for people seeking information. Rabbi
Shteiglitz says the organization received upward of 500
calls in the first month, many from chareidim, checking if
certain advertisements or programs were fronts for
Rabbi Shteiglitz says one of the reasons people can be lured
so easily into courses offering alternatives and "new ideas"
is the trend in Israel toward alternative medicine. The
courses they see advertised seem to be just what the doctor
"This is a minefield," Rabbi Shteiglitz says, "because
searching for alternatives can cause people to stumble on
treif beliefs such as scientology."
Not only is the cult dangerous to the human mind, but it
also endangers one's pocketbook. In Israel, the average
scientology course costs NIS 11,000 ($2,750), which is about
a month and a half worth of pay for the average Israeli
family, and even more for many chareidi families whose
income is often much lower.
In order to help people meet these costs, the cult offers
families "free" rent in an apartment close to one of the
scientology centers. It also arranges work for the parents
at offices and factories where fellow scientologists work --
and work on them.
"At the beginning, it seems as if they are helping them from
A to Z," says Rabbi Shteiglitz. "But in the end, they are
enslaving them and their money. When they run out of money,
they make people sign a contract that they will work for
them in their `guidance' centers for five years to pay off
Lev L'Achim's goal is to close down the scientology centers
that are currently operating, under various fronts, in Tel
Aviv, Ramat Gan and Netanya. While Israel's anti-missionary
laws often don't give them the legal protection needed to
close them down, Lev L'Achim hopes its current public
awareness campaign will continue to expose their front
organizations and discredit them enough so they pack up and
leave on their own.