Indeed, as odd as it may seem, a lie is created when what a person knows or believes is incommensurate with what he wrote or said, not because he claimed something that turned out to be wrong. It is certainly possible that quite a few “gurus,” “mediums,” “spiritual guides,” or mere “people with supernatural forces” do not lie to their followers when they “read their future,” “connect to higher entities,” or “discover the great truth.” This is so because they truly believe their own foolishness with all their hearts.
The degree to which Goel Ratzon believes that he possesses divine traits, safeguards the gates to Heaven, and is the savior of the universe (as many of his women believe), or whether he is a crook who managed to fool more than 30 women is not so clear or significant. His harem in south Tel Aviv and his widely reported arrest served as yet another testament to the difficulty of many people in Israel, as is the case throughout the West, to deal with a “freak show” that is not part of a reality TV series.
His arrest stirred a major shock that prompted confusion about the proper questions and comparisons to follow. And so, Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen characterized the affair as “unprecedentedly grave,” while radio host Esty Peretz failed to understand welfare officials’ inability to terminate the affair sooner. Meanwhile, the global media compared Goel Ratzon to the Austrian Josef Fritzl.
The first distinction that to a large extent was lacking within our public discourse was between the legal (even if disgusting) and illegal. The supreme test or tolerance for democratic pluralism is its ability to digest the anomalous, bizarre, and freakish as long as it does not cause intolerable damage, and certainly if it’s not illegal.
Israeli laws pertaining to all cults, including Goel Ratzon’s cult, are lacking. In fact, to this day there is no legislation that explicitly addresses the definition of cults, and to a large extent authorities deal with them only if they are suspected of a specific violation of criminal law, rather than because of their very existence as cults. In order to improve and boost the legal ability to thwart the dangers inherent in some cults it would have been better to draft new legislation. However, a committee that looked into the issue for almost five years during the 1980s merely recommended that existing laws be adapted to address the cult phenomenon.
Tolerating the bizarre
The Goel Ratzon affair has two aspects, which have been somewhat blurred. The first aspect is a series of criminal suspicions, including the rape of some of his daughters, as well as the maintenance of a horrific regime of subjugation, coercion, humiliation, and abuse of minors. These issues must of course be looked into by the courts and he should be punished by the full force of the law should he be found guilty.
The second aspect is the public outcry that mostly stemmed from the great reservations over the unusual lifestyle exposed in Ratzon’s harem. This may anger some people, yet the law in Israel does not forbid a man from living with more than one woman, as long as he is not married to more than one. The law also does not ban women from tattooing the figure of this man on their bodies or of viewing any delusional guru as their savior and righteous messiah. Had it not been for the plethora of criminal suspicions he faces, the phenomenon of Goel and his many women and children would have to be tolerated, even if it is confined to society’s most bizarre margins and provokes significant revulsion.
Yet the interesting aspect of this affair is not Goel himself, but rather, the way a stuttering and ignorant libertine who is not particularly good looking was able to captivate quite a few women, some of them educated, willing to sacrifice what’s dearest to them for his sake, even if they share his bed with no fewer than 30 other women.
However, the local Goel affair is no more than an insignificant symptom of a much wider phenomenon of uncritical devotion to the mirages of “gurus,” “mediums,” “energy experts” and “alien lovers.” As such, even though the predications or content of various elements classified as “extrasensory perception,” ranging from scientology to numerology,” have never been proven to be worth anything, many people nonetheless follow them.
Indeed, when the mystical and supernatural can read the future for us, engage us in deep talks with the dead, and create a wonderful connection with heavenly entities, what’s the point of the boring and dry alternative of rationality and science?
Dr. Shaul Rosenfeld is a philosophy lecturer