David Barak-Gorodetzky, Elazar Ben-Loulou, Noga Bing-Brauer, Viviana Deitch, Shai Feraro, Tali Gur, Sima Hurvitz, Yorik Koraliov, Asaf Leibowitz, Ariel Moav, Tom Parnas, Hila Ratzon, Masua Sagiv, Yotam Yizreeli
The general public and the media consider some of the contemporary religious and spiritual groups active in Israel to be cults. For years, the activity of these groups has aroused intense discussion and debate involving the media, religious and public figures, members of new religious groups and their families, and various government authorities. The discussion is often based on partial or even incorrect information and is fed by rumors, prejudices, and pseudoscientific theories.
The importance of the phenomenon and its influence on public life in Israel and on the private lives of many individuals were the background for the establishment of the Israel Information Center on Contemporary Religions (MEIDA). The center, which has operated for the past two years at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, was founded by Israeli academics and was inspired by similar institutes abroad, such as INFORM in Britain. The center’s aim is to provide up-to-date, reliable, and objective information about contemporary religious groups in Israel. The center is run by qualified researchers in this field and maintains academic and scientific standards. The information collected will be made available to the general public and various government agencies—including those in the fields of welfare, education, and law enforcement—and will be of help to academic researchers. In this way the center will serve as a bridge between scientific and theoretical research on new religions, on the one hand, and “the field” and social life, on the other.
The Center’s Activity
The center focuses on gathering information on new religious movements in Israel and in making it accessible to the general public. This is the first comprehensive collection of information on these movements. The center recruits young researchers (candidates for master’s and doctoral degrees) who write, under the professional guidance of the center’s heads, research reports about new religious movements active in Israel and about relevant issues.
To date, reports have been written on the following topics: judicial and legislative action regarding new religious movements in Israel and abroad, the Scientology movement in Israel, neo-shamanism in Israel, neo-paganism in Israel, Shakuf [“transparent”] (or Lev Hadvarim [“heart of the matter”]) workshops of Rabbi Gidi Dabush, Messianic Jews, and the Anthroposophic movement in Israel. Research is under way on additional topics: academic research on brainwashing, government activity against cults in Israel, the Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON) in Israel, the Lev Tahor [“pure heart”] movement, the Kabbalah Centre, and the Bnei Baruch movement.
At the end of 2014, the MEIDA Center held a workshop on new religious movements in Israel. Among the participants was Prof. Eileen Barker, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, one of the world’s leading researchers in this field. The participants also included representatives of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Social Services and of the Jerusalem Municipality and it focused on the complex relations between academe, society, and religious movements in Israel and abroad.