A fringe Haredi sect in Canada is denying or downplaying allegations that it abuses its members, many of them children.
The group, Lev Tahor, first butted heads with authorities in Québec in the fall of 2013, when the state found the sect’s homeschooling curriculum to be inadequate. About two hundred members fled, children and all, claiming religious persecution, and because they feared that some of the school-age kids would be taken away.
But their new home province, Ontario, isn’t exactly providing immunity from the warrants issued by Québec, and details of members’ experiences in Lev Tahor have begun to come out — spelling serious trouble for the cult’s future.
Newly unsealed police search warrants allege physical and psychological abuse, forced ingestion of drugs and girls coerced into marriage. … The warrants claim that a young woman in the sect said she was hit with a belt and a coat hanger; and that a pregnant 17-year-old told nurses at a hospital she was beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father and forced to marry a 30-year-old man when she was 15.
Investigators were told children were forced to drink water mixed with an unknown green powder and that “all kinds of pills” were bought from a pharmacy and given to members without explanation.
The catalog of horrors continues:
[A] member told police about beatings with sticks, crowbars, whips and belts. “He was forced to take pills during meal times three times a day,” the warrants state. A witness said he saw a woman struck in the face because she refused to wear the burqa-like outfit for women that has led some media to deride the group as the Jewish Taliban.
Girls who were 13 or 14 were disciplined by being held in house basements while girls who were 14 and 15 were married to adult men, the police documents said. Children were also taken from their biological parents [and assigned permanently to other families in the sect] if the sect’s leader deemed they were not taught properly.
Nobody could have possibly seen this coming, as the sect’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was thought to be a squeaky-clean, upstanding man of God. At least if you don’t count the fact that he
… was convicted of kidnapping a young boy and served two years in a U.S. prison before being deported to Israel in 2000. He fled to Canada the following year on a temporary visa and was later granted refugee status.
Also, the Times of Israel reports that
An Israeli parliamentary hearing on the Lev Tahor sect has documented cases of physical abuse and said the sect is a dangerous cult.
… the only ones following the true path, as the guardians of the walls, as the defenders of the last flame left in the Jewish world. They have contempt for other branches of Hasidism, which they view as overly compromising, describing them as despicable and degenerate.
The paper also quotes observers who allege
… that each week at a meeting of all the women of the community, there are reports made about people who have deviated, however slightly, from the community’s strict code of behavior. Some say it is sometimes family members who do the informing. The punishments include the silent treatment, confinement to the house or being sent to other homes in the community for “reeducation.”
Lev Tahor means “pure heart.” Evidently, purity has its price.