Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Nissan 5761 - April 18, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Lev L'Achim Launches Campaign to Fight Scientology
by Moshe Schapiro

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 their snare."

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 busy.

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 courses.

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 victims.

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 there."

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 education system.

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 children.

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 scientology.

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 ordered.

"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 the debt."

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.


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