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Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Group Tries to Leave Quebec for Iran

Lev Tahor (Pure Heart), led by convicted child abuser Shlomo Helbrans, tried to flee Quebec for Iran, but were intercepted by police in the process

By: Graham Sigurdson
Published: November 22nd, 2013 in News » World
Shlomo Helbrans

On Thursday, Yeshiva World News reported that, while trying to flee Quebec for Iran, the extreme ultra-Orthodox group Lev Tahor, led by Shlomo Helbrans, a suspected child abuser, had been intercepted en route. The group, according to anonymous Canadian sources, lived in Ste. Agathe-du-Mont in the Laurentians, and consists of around 40 families.

The group had been fearing that social services would take their children following reports of violence in the community. Lev Tahor is classified by the Canadian government as an ‘ascetic cult.’ Many of the families are believed to be in Canada illegally, and it was only after pressure from Israeli relatives that an investigation began.

With officials beginning to probe the legal status of some of the families, the group abandoned their homes on Tuesday and headed to Ontario where they had rented rooms, placing 200 community members on three buses.

According to statements from detained community members, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the group’s leader, is known to punish feeling members with ‘violent abuse.’ Helbrans, unlike many of the other members - only five are actually legal in Canada - was granted refugee status in 2003 upon claiming that his life had been threatened in Israel, and for persecution of his anti-Zionist opinions.

In 1994 Helbrans was imprisoned for kidnapping Shai Fhima, whose secular parents had sent him to study for Helbrans for his bar mitzvah. The case drew attention when Helbrans successfully petitioned to have his mug-shot taken with his beard.

Reports of abuse and neglect in Lev Tahor have circulated for a number of years, with The Israeli Center for Victims of Cults regularly sending testimonies to the Canadian authorities. Those who left the group spoke of a described diet of dough, goose eggs, and goats milk, with no fruits or vegetables. Members were regularly beaten, subjected to long prayers, and saw girls made to wear dark clothing that covered all but the face, and commit to household servitude. Children are often repeatedly moved to live with other families, with girls routinely being married at 14, occasionally to men twice that age.

Helbrans written rules describe women as “disgusting and deserving of isolation and a subsistence diet. A husband may hit his wife for disobeying the rebbe’s (Helbran) teachings. According to Orit Cohen, “Women who have grown up in Lev Tahor believe that constant humiliation and punishment is necessary for their own education. Even those who have left see themselves, their thoughts, and opinions as worthless.” The girls also receive the bare minimum of education.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, Oded Twik, whose sister and eight children lived with Lev Tahor, said he, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and police spent much of Tuesday night trying to get information regarding the safety of the children.

Michael Kropveld, Executive Director of Info-Secte, a Canadian organization that helps victims of fringe groups, addressed the issue of a potential removal of the children, saying that “Ideally, the authorities will work with the parents to improve the conditions so that the children can stay in the home.” He added that the worst-case scenario would be a poorly planned removal of the children, which he believes would not only see people get hurt, but ultimately strengthen Helbran’s position.

“People who have doubts will see a failed attempt as further’s proof of the leader’s power,” he added.

Related articles: Lev Tahor, Shlomo Helbrans, Orthodox, Jewish News, anti-Zionist, anti-Semitism, Quebec, Iran
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