Five residents of the Tlamim community in southern Israel were arrested Monday on suspicion of kidnapping and extorting Rabbi Nir Ben-Artzi, head of the "Talmei Geula" non-profit organization.
The men are accused of holding the rabbi against his will in Tiberias for three years.
The National Fraud Unit's southern district launched a covert investigation into the matter three months ago, after Rabbi Ben-Artzi had returned to his Tlamim home; during which, according to investigators, "credible" evidence was gathered.
The rabbi told police he was "exiled" from Tlamim to Tiberias by a number of "Talmei Geula" staffers as a "personal sacrifice to Israel".
The rabbi told police that while in captivity he slept on a dirty mattress, drank only water and ate stale bread.
"I wanted to see my wife and children, but they would not release me," he said after returning home. "Initially I thought it was all being done for the good of the Israeli nation, which is in dire straits, and that I was to pray and mortify myself for the nation. But it was unbearable."
"Talmei Geula" workers said Rabbi Ben-Artzi was suffering from a mysterious disease and asked to be cured through solitary prayer and asceticism. They claimed to be in possession of a signed document in which the rabbi allegedly admitted to asking to be "purified" after committing "illicit acts" while serving as the organization's rabbi.
The rabbi was a tractor driver from Gush Katif until 13 years ago, when he began to claim to have supernatural powers. He later became rabbi of the Tlamim community.