Residents of Tel Aviv’s quiet Hatikva neighborhood were shocked yesterday to discover a self-styled Jewish sage living in their midst with a harem of 30 women kept as "slaves" in squalid apartments.

Goel Ratzon, 60, is accused of fathering 37 children since 1993 with his "wives" and daughters. Ratzon, who was dubbed by the local media as "Israel’s Josef Fritzl," is under arrest on suspicion of incest and sexual abuse.

"The evidence shows the suspect controlled his women with a firm hand, including their possessions and their money," police said. Ratzon even wrote a list of commandments to ensure that the women were kept in "conditions similar to slavery," police said.

In addition to turning over all their wages, the women were forbidden from making telephone calls or talking to men other than Ratzon. If they broke the rules they would pay a fine or receive physical punishment.

Mickey Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesman, said that Ratzon convinced his victims that he had godlike status. "The women didn’t really understand what their situation was, they didn’t understand what freedom was," Rosenfeld said.

In one case, police raided a three-bedroom apartment where 10 women and 17 children were found living in "horrible conditions."

The women wore conservative orthodox dresses covering their entire bodies and bore tattoos of their captor’s face — and name. He was married to 17 women but it was unclear how many others he had relations with, police said. All his offspring had names with a variation on his — Goel, which means redeemer in Hebrew.

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