Lev Tahor and The Quebec Homeschooling Case

Nachman Helbrans (front), son of group founder Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said, "We were speaking with lawyers and organizations — especially the Home School Legal Defense Association and many associations associated with them — and all of them tell us that we must leave Quebec."
Nachman Helbrans (front), son of group founder Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said, “We were speaking with lawyers and organizations — especially the Home School Legal Defense Association and many associations associated with them — and all of them tell us that we must leave Quebec.”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on December 1, 2013.

Lev Tahor  or Lev Tohor [Website] is a fringe movement from within ultra-orthodox Judaism and is headed by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans (also known as Rabbi Erez Shlomo Elbarnes, Erez Albaranes, Shlomo Helbran, and Rabbi Shlomo Halbernetz) and his son Nachman. The Rabbi is now estranged from his wife and one of his sons, who are now in Israel.

Information below in the various news articles and blogs will detail information linking Rabbi Helbrans to the group “Hisachdus Hayereim” (Union of the God-Fearing) and others.

Brief History of Lev Tahor

Previously, Lev Tahor has been called a “Haredi burqa sect” or part of the “Jewish Taliban”.

Lev Tahor are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children; their women and girls holding to very strict (even to Orthodox Jewish ideals) modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab, and a few run-ins with the law between the 1980s and 1990s. Lev Tahor is again in the news due to some child welfare and homeschooling concerns that the state of Quebec has with the group.

The name “Lev Tahor” could be translated clean or pure heart, which references a passage from Psalm 51:10, and began in Jerusalem in the 1980s. Shlomo and Malka Helbrans lived in Safed, Israel,  for six years as Baalei Teshuva. In the mid-1980s, though he had not been given Smicha, he opened a yeshiva (Braslav Yeshivat Hametivta) in Jerusalem after relocating his family there.

About a third of the sect members are baalei teshuva (Individuals raised as non-religious who later became religious.), another third come from other Hasidic groups, and the final third are people who have been raised in the movement. In the last thirty years, members have followed the Helbrans family from Israel to the United States and Canada.

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans Convicted of Kidnapping

Lev Tahor members are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children and for modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab.
Lev Tahor members are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children and for modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab.

The movement relocated to Williamsburg and later to Monsey [in New York] in the 1990s.  Sometime between 1991 and 1993, a student was put under Rabbi Helbrans’ wing to study for his Bar Mitzvah. The child went missing and his mother involved the police in the search for him. The child’s mother was not religious and was separated from her abusive husband who is now in Israel. He returned to the United States to search for his son and the rabbi attempted to extort large sums of money from the family to return the child to their care.

Once the son was returned, he appeared in court and  later ran away again, News reports had been made of his random appearances in various places around the world. Some reports say that he is no longer religious.

  • After a 10-month investigation by state and federal authorities, Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans, whose yeshiva Shai had attended, was indicted recently on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy, along with his wife, Malka, and one of his followers, Mordechai Weisz. The case is expected to go to trial sometime this fall or winter.. [Source]
  • Hearing that Shai refused to attend school, Weisz proposed that the boy spend Sabbaths with him, promising Hana that he wouldn’t let Helbrans get near the boy. Hana consented, and for a few weeks that arrangement seemed to work. Shai went back to public school and seemed to be returning to normal. [Source]
  • Tobias Freund, 36, the man convicted Wednesday, had told the grand jury that he was not involved in the boy’s disappearance, but prosecutors said he drove the boy out of the city. The boy has not been found. A jury convicted Mr. Freund of three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, for altering his phone records.[Source]
  • Rabbi Helbrans offered the plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to kidnap in the fourth degree in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The plea was part of an intricate arrangement with the Brooklyn District Attorney that will give the rabbi a sentence of five years’ probation and 250 hours of community service… Charges were dropped for… Malka..  [Source]
  • A Jewish teen-ager reunited with his parents after he disappeared for two years in a struggle over his religious training will be separated from them again, a judge ruled here today. [Source]
  • … Justice Thaddeus E. Owens rejected a plea deal granting probation to the accused rabbi — a deal the judge had already accepted last month — after hearing yesterday from the boy, his divorced parents, the rabbi and some of the lawyers in the case in an hourlong session in a packed courtroom.[Source]
  • The youth has said he willingly chose to live a secret life from early 1992 until late this February with various Orthodox families in Rockland County. His parents and lawyers contend now that he has been brainwashed and needs psychiatric care.[Source]
  • A Hasidic rabbi yesterday withdrew his guilty plea to a lesser charge and will stand trial on charges of kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager from his parents. [Source]
  • Shai Fhima, who has been at the center of a long custody battle after he disappeared with a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn, has disappeared again, his mother says. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans, responded that Shai had voluntarily run away from a home in which he had been physically abused, and Shai made the same contention after he reappeared. The teen-ager also vowed that if forced to return to his parents, he would flee — a promise on which he has since made good. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans, said ” ‘If you don’t want your son to be religious I have the right to take him away from you’ ” and after one of the rabbi’s followers “held my arm and twisted my arm.”She acknowledged that her son, who is now 15, wanted to stay at the Borough Park yeshiva rather than go home with her to Ramsey, N.J., but she suggested that he had been brainwashed.[Source]
  • The defense lawyers told the jury that Shai had voluntarily run away from a dysfunctional family in which his stepfather beat his mother and him, sending them to a shelter for battered women. They held that the rabbi and his wife had given the boy sanctuary and had not criminally abetted his disappearance.[Source]
  • Mr. Reuven, a 35-year-old Israeli citizen… learned from an Israeli newspaper article in late April 1992 that his son had allegedly been kidnapped on April 5, 1992. He said he then had a series of conversations with Rabbi Helbrans by telephone from Israel, while preparing to travel to New York to find his son. [Source]
  • With Mr. Reuven on the witness stand, a prosecutor, Michael Vecchione, read an excerpt from the transcript in which Rabbi Helbrans is quoted as having said to Mr. Reuven, “The amount that I committing (sic) myself to is in the neighborhood of $10,000. More than that I would not be able to.” [Source]
  • The leader of a small ultra-Orthodox Hasidic group, 32-year-old Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven, who was 13 when he disappeared in 1992. Helbrans’ wife, Malka, 33, was found guilty of conspiracy. [Source]
  • In suburban Rockland County, Shai’s mother is fighting for custody of him with Rabbi Aryeh Zaks. Pending a decision, Zaks has custody and Shai’s mother can see him once a week. [Source]
  • In a courtroom rife with rancorous passion, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was sentenced yesterday to 4 to 12 years in prison for kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager who disappeared from his family for two years. [Source]
  • “This kidnap is not over for me,” the mother, Hana Fhima, said in a packed Brooklyn courtroom, referring to a battle she has been waging with another rabbi for custody of her son, Shai Fhima Reuven, since he resurfaced last February in Rockland County. The youth, now 15, was 13 when he vanished in 1992 after Mrs. Fhima sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a yeshiva Rabbi Helbrans then ran in Brooklyn. [Source]
  • Tai Ellin-Byrd, one of the dozen jurors who convicted Helbrans of kidnapping … said that “this sentence is morally appropriate.” The jury, which deliberated for just five hours following the five-week trial in New York State Supreme Court, was “pretty much unanimous” about Helbrans’ [guilt] as soon as they walked into the deliberation room. [Source]
  • Mr. Weisz was originally charged with kidnapping, but the case was severed from the charges against Rabbi Helbrans. Malka Helbrans, 33, who was tried along with her husband, was acquitted of the kidnapping charge but convicted of criminal conspiracy. [Source]
  • “I feel the evidence was legally insufficient,” Justice Thaddeus E. Owens of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said in dismissing the wife’s conviction. On Nov. 9, a jury had convicted the woman, Malka Helbrans, of conspiring to kidnap the teen-ager, Shai Fhima Reuven. [Source]
  • For the first time, New York State accepted a computer-generated image of what an inmate, in this case, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, would look like without a beard instead of making him shave for a conventional photograph.  [Source]

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans Deported

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven.
Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven.

During the court case, it was uncovered that the Rabbi moved to the United States illegally. By 1994, Rabbi Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping a minor child.  His wife and a member of the sect were given lighter sentences.  A book was written about the case and entitled “The Zaddik: The Battle for a Boy’s Soul”, which was published in 2001.

There are some allegations that Rabbi Helbrans was given preferential treatment during court proceedings and his later incarceration. He did not complete his lengthy jail sentence.

  • PEOPLE v. HELBRANS, June 17, 1996
  • The federal probe also focuses on whether the Pataki administration gave preferential treatment to Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who in a notorious case in 1994, was convicted of kidnapping teenager Shai Fhima Reuven from his mother. Wiesenfeld, a former aide to Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and a former FBI agent, declined to comment about the grand jury. [Source]
  • The federal government is also focusing on a similar but separate case involving possible lenient treatment given by parole officials to Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in a widely publicized kidnapping case. Rabbi Helbrans was deported to Israel in May, his lawyer has said, but federal officials say their investigation is continuing. [Source]
  • An influential Pataki fund-raiser also intervened in the case of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, seeking an early release hearing, according to the papers and sources.[Source]
  • State records show that prison officials moved the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, from prison into a work-release program even though he was ineligible for the transfer because Federal immigration officials wanted to deport him. The transfer in June 1996 was rescinded after a Federal prosecutor who had brought charges against Rabbi Helbrans protested to state prison officials.[Source]

After being awarded parole, Rabbi Helbrans was investigated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and deported to Israel in 1996.

  • Rabbi Helbrans, 38, an Israeli citizen, was arrested Wednesday night by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the police station in Spring Valley, N.Y. …was put on a plane for Israel at 5:25 p.m., his lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, said.  [Source]
  • Immigration officials on May 11 deported Helbrans, 38, on two grounds: that he entered the United States illegally and that convicted felons can be deported.[Source]
  • The rabbi was found guilty of kidnapping, jailed for two years and deported to Israel — despite testimony from Shai, who had resurfaced after two years in places like a yeshiva in France, that he had voluntarily run away after the Helbrans family showed him ”what a normal family was.” [Source]
  • In 1997, a book about the trial (With Liberty and Justice for all?) was written by Jacob Y. Zick. It is now available on the Lev Tahor website in PDF format.

Lev Tahor Moves to Canada

Sometime after this, Rabbi Helbrans was linked to the Marii Zambron murder case in New York in 2000. [Source] The Lev Tahor movement then relocated to Canada [in 2000] while the rabbi was on a on a temporary visa. Families of the sect began joining him soon after. While this is not unusual for most of Orthodox Judaism, it is what was uncovered after this in Canada and Israel that is pertinent to the current case in Canada.

  • Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Elbarnes, 2005 FC 70 (CanLII)
  • Vaad Hoaskonim, a New York-based rabbinical council with members in Williamsburg, Boro Park, Monsey and Queens, ruled that Elbarnes’s movement is “a great threat, spiritual and physical, to the Torah-observant community.” The council forbade members of their communities to associate with Elbarnes and urged his followers to leave him. [Source]
  • Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent tribunal, accepted Elbarnes’s claim that he would be in danger if deported to Israel, and so it granted him refugee status. This month, however, the Federal Court of Canada granted leave to the federal government to appeal the tribunal’s ruling. The appeal is to be heard October 5, probably in Montreal. [Source]
  • Those speaking up for him included well-known Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey and anti-Zionist history professor Yakov Rabkin. [Source]
  • Elbarnes advocates the end of Israel as an independent country and turning the land over to the Arabs, he would likely not enjoy protection by the Israeli government because his ideas could be viewed as dangerous.  [Source]
  • Elbarnes, 42, was granted refugee status by IRB judge Gilles Ethier, who based his decision on documents, written testimony and the oral testimony of eight witnesses, including Elbarnes’ mother, described as secular, and the abducted boy, now an adult. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans-Satmar style Rebbe and head of polygamist cult (Lev Tahor) based in Quebec. He is accused of marrying off his underage daughter to a man in his 30’s and arranging similar such marriages among members of his cult. He was also involved in the notorious Shai Fhima abduction case, it is also interesting to note Fhima’s own allegations that he was sexually molested while living among the cult. [Source]
  • Rabbi Shlomo Helbran and his wife Malka and Mordechai Weisz,were originally accused of physical abuse and kidnapping of a 13-year-old boy.  The rabbi was also accused of having cult like practices.  Rabbi Helbran was convicted in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in 1994 of kidnapping a young boy.  At the time Helbran headed a small group described as an offshoot of the Satmar movement of the Hasidic Jews. [Source]

In 2004, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada linked Neturei Karta and Lev Tahor together and sought to better understand these communities.

In 2006, The Awareness Center, Inc.  put together research on Lev Tahor and Rabbi Helbrans.

In 2007, there was a hearing convened by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, concerning Lev Tahor and Rabbi Helbrans

In 2008, Lev Tahor were among the protesters during the  Israel Day celebrations in Montreal.

  • The major addition to this year’s Jewish protest at the Israel Day commemoration was the 35 Lev Tahor Chasidic community members from Ste-Agathe, north of Montréal with Rabbi Elbrans.  [source]

Beit Shemesh Family Causes Concerns about Child Marriages

One incident about Lev Tahor that came to limelight in 2011, concerned underage girls being sent from Israel to marry within the community in Canada.

  • The girls, aged 15 and 13, were forcibly detained by Canadian immigration officials in Montreal and returned to Israel apparently under order of an Israeli court. The girls’ great-uncle had petitioned for the writ out of concern that the girls would be harmed by the group in Canada, that their property would be taken, and that they could be forced to wed male members of the Lev Tahor sect.  [Source]
  • The parents of the girls decided the community in Canada would be suitable and sent them from Beit Shemesh to N. America, hoping to have them there in the Lev Tahor village in time for Rosh Hashanah. The family members who petitioned the court feared that in the cult’s community, the Lev Tahor village, they would be compelled to get married in line with the groups hashkofa towards keeping them pure. [Source]
  • The episode has raised questions about the legitimacy of Lev Tahor, and an Israeli court will rule next week on whether membership of the sect should be made illegal for all Israelis. If this happens, one implication is that social welfare agencies will be empowered to take away member parents’ children. [Source]
  • The girls in the midst of the firestorm, ages 13 and 15, are the daughters of two secular Israelis who became ultra-Orthodox and joined the sect. Their grandmother and great-uncle, concerned for the girls’ well-being, petitioned the court after the girls’ parents put them on a plane headed to Canada, to an isolated village outside Montreal that comprises 45 families from Lev Tahor. [Source]
  • The spiritual leader of Lev Tahor in Canada, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, denied using coercion. “Use force? We want everybody who is not 100 percent happy … to leave us,” Elbarnes told the Globe and Mail. [Source]
  • Bringing the Beit Shemesh sisters back to Israel was an international operation, involving the foreign ministry and Interpol. The goal of the operation was to stop the pair from entering the ultra-Orthodox community in Canada. [Source]

Israel Investigates Lev Tahor

It was after this incident that the Israeli government began renewed investigations into the sect over alleged kidnappings and other child welfare issues. Some of the parents in the sect were given injunctions to prohibit them leaving the country or sending their children to Canada as investigations were underway

  • …an Israeli court is expected to decide next week whether it is legal to belong to the extreme ultra-Orthodox group Lev Tahor, known as “the Taliban sect.” A decision reached this week by a family court in Rishon Letzion indicates that a ruling on Lev Tahor’s legality is imminent. [Source]

In 2012, Rabbi Helbrans was again in the news in New York, discussing his 1990s kidnapping case.

Also in 2012, Israeli newspapers, Haaretz Daily and Israel HaYom, began investigating the sect and published exposés on Lev Tahor, its leaders, practice, strict kosher rules and the welfare of its members. Israel HaYom discussed the origins of the sect, various run-ins with the law and other accusations and concerns, whereas Haaretz Daily embedded a reporte in the culture and report on what he saw and heard. The blog, “Shearim”, discusses the exposés from an Orthodox perspective. Israeli Channel 10 also investigated Lev Tahor after several allegations about the sect had been made and much concern was expressed by individuals who have family members in the sect.

  • Haaretz spent five days with the controversial ‘Lev Tahor’ Haredi community in Canada to uncover the truth about the sect and its charismatic head, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Part one of a two-part series. [Source]
  • In the second part of Haaretz’s investigation into the Lev Tahor Hasidic cult in Canada, Shay Fogelman speaks to the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, about his prison time in America and the community’s attitude to underage marriage, to a young man who managed to leave the religious extremists and to a mother who defend their hard-line way of life. [Source]
  • The very existence of the radical community, aloof and controversial is not new: since the early 90s been linked to various cases, including those who came to the Israeli police, the FBI and courts in Israel and the United States [Source]
  • “In general, there were a lot of threats and penalties. There was an atmosphere of abstract fear. When my sister talked to a step-brother, a son of our mother’s new husband, my Rebbe punished her with the prohibition to leave the house for several days. . .” [Source]
  • Helbrans who is, according to Israel Hayom without any SMICHA from the Israeli Rabbanut (Chief Rabbinate) wrote his own books and this is what he is teaching his followers. Still in Jerusalem, he studied with the Toldot Aharon for a while and afterwards in Satmar but insisted on founding his own group.[Source]
  • ‘Lev Tahor’ congregation, a radical sect located in Canada, was reviewed last night (Wednesday) extensively in ‘True side’ a broadcast program by Amnon Levi on Channel 10 [Source]
  • Channel 10 accompanied Aryeh Leber, a cult refugee, who is operating a search campaign for his mother [Source] – Videos in Hebrew
  • Shay Fogelman put up an exposé on Rabbi Helbrans in two parts at T.O.T. Private Consulting Services blog. Part one and part two are quite lengthy on the history and practices of the sect.

Shortly after, Jewish paper Vos iz Neias, The Jewish Voice and Behadrey Haredim also carried stories on the sect in the fall of 2012.The articles discuss the Channel 10 exposé, among other information. Due to the time limits of the show, not everything was able to be covered, so Behadrey Haredim did their best to share everything else that they felt was pertinent to the case by interviewing a current member about the accusations made about Lev Tahor.

Beit Shemesh Family in the News a Second Time

Some of the members of Lev Tahor were involved in trying to illegally leave Israel with their children to join the sect in Canada in the summer of 2013 after court injunctions that halted their movement out of the country. They were caught in Jordan by Jordanian police and later returned to Israel for trial. This was the same family implicated in the 2011 incidence involving Canadian immigration returning two underage girls to Israel after the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

  • The ultra-Orthodox Jewish family, consisting of parents and six children, crossed the border with Jordan, on Wednesday night and was arrested by the Jordanian authorities. [Source]
  • Parents of six children trapped in Jordan when they tried to join the Lev Tahor cult were brought before a judge, and refused to be represented by attorney [Source]
  • This family, along with many of the members of Lev Tahor are balei teshuva, which is to say newly orthodox.  They previously hit the headlines in 2011 in Israel when they attempted to send two of their daughters, then aged 13 and 15, to Canada, only to have them forcefully returned to Israel by the Canadian authorities. [Source]
  • According to Channel 10, initial questioning revealed that — contrary to early speculation that they had accidentally wandered into the neighboring country while hiking — the family had intentionally entered Jordan in an attempt to circumvent a court order, sought by the father’s family, forbidding them to leave Israel. [Source]
  • Orit Cohen, sister of the father who was arrested in Jordan in an exclusive interview to B’Chadrei Charedim • “My brother was caught into the cult “Lev Tahor” • “the haredi public must condemn the cult and leader Shlomo Halbernetz [Source]
  • The Beit Shemesh family that tried to join him is led by parents who were not raised in the religious Jewish community, but became religious in adulthood. They joined the hareidi-religious community in Beit Shemesh and began raising six children there. [Source]

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans’ Wife Ejected from the Community

In Spring of 2013, The Rabbi’s wife, Malka Helbranz was apparently ejected from the community. She has since returned to Israel. There isn’t much news coverage on this issue in English at this time.

  • Malka Halbernetz is not the only one who abandoned the sect. So far there were several cases of families or family members, after receiving assistance from external sources left the cult. The Center for Victims of Cults was established seven years ago and so far has handled over 10 center cases of families and individuals who abandoned Lev Tahor. [Source]
  • “She is staying at the home of one of the women in her family in the north of the country,” says a source involved in the details of her escape. The source added that the community in Canada are pleased and happy that she left, “They never liked the fact that the leader’s wife denies any of their methods.” [Source]
  • The trouble for the rabbi’s wife began after she voiced opposition to the rampant child abuse going on in the community. “The main reason for my sufferings is the fact that I dared to voice opposition to the punishments that are being used in the village,” Malka said. [Source]

I also found that one of the Rabbi’s sons has also since returned to Israel, and has been ostracised from the group. He is, however, still active in the religious community.

  • A son of the group’s leader fled the group and moved back to Israel. According to Nachman Helbrans, this brother was in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, left for Israel, and then claimed his children were being neglected. Several children from that family were removed and sent to live in Israel with the father. [Source]
  • On Shabbos afternoon, about 50 protesters came to the corner of Devora Haneviah Street in the capital, where – as every week – they protested against the desecration of Shabbos in the city. At about 16:30 a garbage truck passed by that came to clear the garbage can which is situated nearby. The wrath of the protesters skyrocketed. Halbernetz’s son, who was among the group of protesters, lay on the road behind the truck to block it and stop the continued activity on Shabbos. [Source]

2013 Homeschooling Case in Quebec

Sometime in 2013, investigations began in Quebec on the Rebbe’s son Nachman and the Lev Tahor community. There were concerns about the children’s education and welfare, match-making efforts and young ages of girls given in marriage; as well as allegations of abuse and mind control.

Later on, investigations into the conditions in the Lev Tahor community had been found that the children were not being instructed in English and French, but rather in Hebrew and Yiddish and would be unable to call for assistance should anything happen to their parents or another member of the sect in an emergency. It was also found that the girls were not getting the same standard of education as the boys, and that the children were unable to do basic mathematics.

Due to the investigation in Quebec, after discussing the issue with a few homeschool advocacy groups (including the HSLDA), the Rebbe and his son moved the community to a town in Ontario, which then involved both Quebec and Ontario’s Child Welfare Services and court systems. From what I understand, Canada is also trying to get information on the group from the United States and Israel.

  • About 40 ultra-Orthodox Jewish families living in the Laurentians, in the closed community of Lev Tahor, disappeared this week without warning — leaving youth protection officials in Quebec worried about the safety of 120 children.[Source]
  • About 40 families belonging to the cult, tried yesterday (Tuesday) to flee the country, having realized that the welfare authorities intend to intervene in raising their children. [Source]
  • Under the Monday morning moonlight, at about 1 a.m., 40 families numbering nearly 200 people boarded a convoy of buses to flee their homes and what they considered the imminent threat of Quebec’s child protection authorities.[Source]
  • “Youth protection services reiterates its will to collaborate, in any way, to assure the safety and well-being of the children in the community,” said a written statement issued by Quebec’s youth protection department Monday evening.[Source]
  • A hearing has been scheduled at the St. Jérôme courthouse Wednesday. [Source]
  • “The reason for departure of the community,” explains its people in the notice, “decrees on education in Quebec. Other communities in Quebec and abroad (eg Antwerp) are struggling against the decrees in court, but the situation with Lev Tahor, because it is a small community is much more serious.” [Source]
  • Israeli media have previously reported that the ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor group engages in forced marriages. Child protection services north of Montreal had issued a summons for Lev Tahor members to appear before youth court on Thursday on allegations of child abuse. [Source]
  • Chatham-Kent Children’s Services says the group will not get any special treatment. “If there are issues to be followed up on we would conduct our business the same way we would with any other situation that presented itself to a child protection agency,” says Interim Executive Director Stephen Doig. [Source]
  • “The nature of this community is to go back to the old traditions,” he said. “Freedom of religion is important to us. This is something that in Ontario that is much more respected.” Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada expressed its concern for the children living in the Lev Tahor community. [Source]
  • Authorities in Ontario say they are aware of the group’s presence in the region. The local police force in the Chatham-Kent area has given a similar statement [Source]
  • Nachman Helbrans, a member of the Jewish fundamentalist group, Lev Tahor, talks about the groups move from Quebec to Ontario amid a child neglect investigation, while at a motel in Windsor Ont., where they are temporarily staying. Nachman is heard saying that the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and other homeschooling associations suggested they leave Quebec. [Video Source]
  • CTV News Video, 28.11.2013
  • “They force us to learn things that are against our religion, such as evolution,” Goldman said, adding that he believes the authorities planned to take the children and place them in a foster home. [Source]
  • “The education system in Quebec does not comply with our views because in Quebec it says each child should receive equivalent education, otherwise, they will call youth protection services,” said Helbrans. “We cannot just accept the curriculum, including evolution and many other issues we cannot teach our children.” [Source]
  • Uriel Goldman, spokesperson for the fundamentalist Jewish group Lev Tahor speaks in in Chatham, Ontario on November 28, 2013. [Video Source]
  • Despite being a convicted felon, he was granted refugee status in 2004, after he claimed to be in danger if he was sent back to Israel because of his extreme anti-Zionist views. [Source]
  • Ontario reportedly has liberal requirements for faith-based home schooling. [Source]
  • Nachman Helbrans, a spokesman for the sect, has said they want to educate their children according to their own religious beliefs and fled to Ontario to avoid Quebec’s education system, which “doesn’t give freedom of religion as most people understand it.”[Source]
  • “We’ve received complaints from former members of the sect, about abuse allegations, which we referred to (Youth Protection Services) in the Laurentians,” Ouellette said. [Source]
  • “For sure we are worried by the fact that they fled Quebec to go to Ontario,” Denis Baraby, director of youth protection for the Laurentians region, said Friday. His workers have been actively involved in the community since August, trying to help children suffering from poor hygiene, inadequate housing and unsatisfactory schooling. [Source]
  • “There were health issues, hygiene issues, the houses were dirty with garbage everywhere,” Baraby said in an interview. Education was another issue, Baraby said. The children were home schooled and “not even capable of doing basic math.”[Source]
  • In a radio interview with Radio-Canada on Tuesday, Quebec Education Minister Marie Malavoy called the situation “sensitive” and one that must be taken seriously. The Education Department had negotiated with the community over the children’s schooling, which is largely religious teaching in an environment without proper permits.[Source]
  • According to Canadian media, one of the charges against the families was that their children – who are homeschooled – did not know basic math, and in several cases, could not speak either English or French. [Source]
  • He said boys learn the basic Quebec curriculum, including history and math, but most of it is in Yiddish. He said the group has even taken the necessary steps to translate textbooks into Yiddish. Girls are taught basic home economic skills, like sewing and cooking. [Source]
  • “The schooling matter is one issue but not the only. There were important shortcomings, serious negligence,” said Denis Baraby, director of Centre jeunesse des Laurentides. “Their children, even at age 10 or 12, wouldn’t be even be able in an emergency to ask for help.” [Source]
  • He said his group recently spent thousands of dollars on textbooks for such things as math and history. He said most adults in his group speak English or French, though he acknowledges that the children speak only Yiddish or Hebrew. He said the Quebec government demanded that Lev Tahor teach things members disagree with, such as evolution and homosexuality. [Source]
  • Quebec youth protection services told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that there are concerns that the children were neglected. The children reportedly were forced to live in the homes of families other than their own for punishments. [Source]
  • A youth court judge in Quebec has ordered that 14 children from the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical exams and receive psychological support.The order also compels the children’s parents to turn over their passports. [Source]
  • Quebec Judge Pierre Hamel said in his ruling that he believed the children were at “serious risk of harm” after hearing testimony from three child-protection workers as well as a former member of the sect, who related what he endured while living in the community and how he ultimately fled the group.[Source]
  • A number of the children are at or near the age of 13, which Shlomo Helbrans has said is the ideal age for marriage under his interpretation of Jewish law. The eldest of the children targeted by the court order—a married 16-year-old — is the mother of the infant child that has been ordered into foster care.[Source]
  • Two families from an extremist haredi Orthodox sect will comply with a court’s order to return to Quebec for a hearing on allegations of child neglect, a sect leader said. Nachman Helbrans, son of the community’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said the families will meet with child protection officials on Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported Monday. [Source]
  • Judge Pierre Hamel issued the ruling Wednesday night, ordering the children be removed from the community and placed in foster homes immediately, for at least 30 days. [Source]
  • The emergency order Wednesday from Quebec Youth Court Judge Pierre Hamel said the children should be placed in foster care for 30 days and receive medical and psychological evaluations. They are to have no contact with Shlomo Helbrans, or other Lev Tahor members, and contact with the families is to be tightly controlled by child protection investigators in Quebec. [Source]
  • Yoil Weingarten, a member of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, defends his community and accuses Israel of being behind the persecution of his community. [Video included at Source]
  • Oded Twik has urged the Canadian authorities to remove all 137 children from the community. Dozens of family members and supporters attended a demonstration outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv on October 14. Many family members have not communicated with their relatives for eight years. [Source]

Due to the investigations in Canada, Israel has ramped up their efforts in hearing more information about the sect and deciding what to do, in a spirit of cooperation with American and Canadian authorities. Special hearings are now underway in the Knesset. [Israeli Parliament]

  • Hitting children with iron bars, denial of food, taking psychiatric pills by coercion and total disconnection from the family in Israel. These are some of the testimonies heard today (Tuesday) by the Committee in the Knesset, about the Israeli families at the ‘Lev Tahor’ community in Canada. [Source]
  • On Tuesday the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child held a hearing on Lev Tahor, and families of the cult members as well as MKs slammed the State Prosecutor’s Office for dragging its feet on the case. [Source]
  • In the meeting representatives of the Ministry of Internal Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Justice Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, the ”Lev Ahim” Organization, INTERPOL, the National Council for the Child and the victims of the cult will be present. [Source]
  • Hitting children with iron bars, denial of food, taking psychiatric pills by coercion and total disconnection from the family in Israel. These are some of the testimonies heard today (Tuesday) by the Committee in the Knesset, about the Israeli families at the ‘Lev Tahor’ community in Canada. It was also told about achieving compliance by constant pain such as wearing shoes smaller than one’s shoe size, forced divorce and marriage.. [Source]

I have put all of this information together in hopes that it will help anyone who is currently investigating this issue to find out more about Lev Tahor, the rabbi and his family, issues with the police and immigration authorities and the homeschool community.

It is, very often, difficult to wade through the sea of information and get to the heart of the issue, and it is my hope that this post will enable you to do just that. Keep in mind that any articles posted in Hebrew can be run through Google Translate. It is not the best, but you will understand the basics of what is being said.

6 thoughts on “Lev Tahor and The Quebec Homeschooling Case

  1. Moshe Moishelle MoWigder December 4, 2013 / 8:37 am

    1. Her claim that “the rabbi attempted to extort large sums of money from the family to return the child to their care” is based on a misunderstood/misrepresented quote: “The amount that I committing (sic) myself to is in the neighborhood of $10,000. More than that I would not be able to.”
    Helbrans offered to pay the father to relinquish custody. That’s bribery, not extortion.
    2. “Rabbi Helbrans was linked to the Marii Zambron murder case in New York in 2000.”
    Yes, if by ‘linked’ you mean was incidentally mentioned in an article about. He didn’t actually have anything to do with the case; he was only interviewed about the suspect.
    3. I have no idea whether or not Lev Tahor practices polygamy and if Fhima actually claimed to have been molested by Helbrans because abusiverebbes.blogspot.com is not a proper source.

    That’s three strikes, so I stopped reading.


  2. Moshe Moishelle MoWigder December 4, 2013 / 8:38 am

    I recognize that the poster may just have compiled the sources for the reader to evaluate on their own – so be sure to do that.


    • R.L. Stollar December 4, 2013 / 10:10 am

      Yes. Jennifer wrote this as a resource guide on the relevant issues and controversies. Thank you pointing out those clarifications, though.


  3. Mendel Pisher December 9, 2013 / 8:07 am

    This cult received $4.3M from an unnamed charitable organization?

    It was a real-estate deal that was masterminded as how to launder the money and use it to purches some properties, for others!!! same time by doing that (using their tax exemption) they avoided the taxes that was due to the Canadian goverment, that had Rachmonus and took in this monster Shlomo Hell-branz into Canada. The person who they did this laundering for, gave them a nice cut $$$$$$$$$$$

    This might be shocking,because after all this cult is very holy, but Nachman (the son of the gangster who led this elegal project) knows it’s true!!! this is not made up, Cult leaders when you get caught you will feel the pain that you have caused to so many inisint women and children.
    “Lev Tahor’s Rosner refused to say who provided the $4.3 million but confirmed it was for an unspecified development that “didn’t work out.” thats a lie Rosner is looking for a way out of this. why would he refuse to name the contributer? because they broke the lay by “money laundering”.


  4. Gayle Bourne December 9, 2013 / 5:40 pm

    I came upon your site after reading the alternet article. I wanted to read more because my sister converted to this sect of Christianity and began home schooling her two sons years ago. I say two, but i have never laid eyes on the younger boy. My sister has been cut off from me due to her religious beliefs for over a decade.

    But when i saw this post i wanted to give some backstory, because my husband and i had a brush with a similar group in Monsey. To make a very long tale short, i became a baal teshuvah (a secular who decides to return to Judaism). My husband went through an ultra orthodox conversion process with a group in Monsey. They convinced us to let our oldest son attend a yeshiva there. He and a friend from our old community went together for one year. A marriage was arranged for his friend at what i consider an inappropriately young age, and my oldest son only avoided the same fate because we balked at the final demands made on us by the bet din overseeing the program for my husbands conversion. They demanded we move from our community, leave jobs, cut ties, and send our two younger sons to one of their boarding schools.

    They work very hard to separate kids from BT homes and influences for the very reasons you discuss regarding the christian cults – to remove any contamination they might have from the outside world and to make sure they are completely indoctrinated into the cult. We did not like what we saw and left the group. Many others, however, allow these kinds of things to happen and effectively lose control over their childs upbringing. I would hazard a guess many christian converts or BTs find themselves in the same position. They trust the leadership of the group and the peer pressure is very great, i imagine – the same as in ultra orthodox communities, cut off from the outside world and desperately seeking a place to fit in, be accepted, and feel safe and protected ( both physically and spiritually).

    My sister and i had a traumatic childhood, but not due to religion which was not part of our childhood. We each turned to religion for solace, and each of us embraced fundamentalism. I am sure it met some psychological need we had for a predicatable and understandable environment in which acceptance and protection were offered freely. But i am now living a normal life – with religion as a big part of it, in a conservative Jewish community where my family is active and just as accepted and secure. My sister is still in her christian homeschooling cult, and I wonder if i will ever see her again.


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