Sainte Agathe Des Monts, Quebec - Report: Glimpse Inside Lev Tahor Sect Alarming
Sainte Agathe Des Monts, Quebec - A controversial figure for many years, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, leader of the extremist Lev Tahor sect, a group of forty five families living in Quebec’s Sainte Agathe des Monts located sixty miles north of Quebec, continues to be the subject of media scrutiny, as alleged extreme practices that take place within the group have some referring to Lev Tahor as the “Jewish Taliban.”
A recent article in Israeli news source Israel Hayom delved deeply into Lev Tahor and its leader, casting the spotlight on what appear to be very disturbing practices practiced by the group in Canada, Israel, Europe and the United States.
Approximately 250 people are part of the Lev Tahor community in Sainte Agathe, with includes an estimated one hundred children. The community itself is contained within a four block radius of a mostly Catholic city in the Laurentian mountains and members are completely isolated from the outside world. Helbrans himself is a fifty year old baal teshuva who does not have any proof of his rabbinical ordination. Helbrans made news when he was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping thirteen year old Shai Fhima, a New Jersey boy who came to study with him before his Bar Mitzvah, two years earlier. After serving his prison sentence, Helbrans was deported to Israel in 2000 but relocated to Canada three years later, claiming his life was being threatened in Israel.
Lev Tahor has been described by some as an onion, with the outward layers appearing benign, while the inner layers conceal something much more sinister. Helbrans and his aides control when community members eat, sleep and encourage community members to betray each other.
Speaking with people who successfully managed to extricate themselves from Lev Tahor and others who visited family members with the community, Israel Hayom heard disconcerting reports of Helbrans and his assistants using violence, physical and mental manipulation to control his followers, which included forced marriages and divorces between community members, arranged marriages between minors as young as fourteen and children being subjected to ruthless beatings. Other harsh punishments used to enforce compliance were also described: forcing people to wear shoes that were too small, separating parents from their children at the age of just six months and forced use of psychiatric drugs.
Many community members are baaley teshuva, looking for acceptance within a religious environment. Others come from difficult situations and the charismatic Helbrans showers them with warmth and attention until they sever all ties with their families and only then does Helbrans warns them that they will lose their share in the next world and suffer all the curses described in the Torah should they choose to leave the fold.
All females are clad from head to toe in black, with only their faces visible from the age of three, while boys have their heads, except for their payos, shaved weekly once they turn three. Women are only permitted to leave the complex to give birth and even then they are accompanied by a female community member who ensures that no extraneous conversation takes place with medical personnel. Helbrans names every baby in the community and has been known to change the names of adult members as well. According to reports, both parents and teachers are known to routinely punish children by striking them with their hands, belts and even wire hangers.
Shidduchim are arranged by Helbrans at age twelve or thirteen and because of the young age at which marriages are performed they are not legally registered with the Canadian government until the age of eighteen. Refusing a shidduch ordained by Helbrans is a serious offense and according to one source, a fourteen year old girl who refused her “intended” was punished for an extended time with imprisonment in a basement whose temperature hovered at twenty below zero.
Nutrition is a serious issue at Lev Tahor, with Helbrans deeming both chicken and even eggs unkosher, saying that due to genetic engineering chickens have been altered to such an extent no longer considered chickens and are therefore not kosher. Only peeled vegetables may be eaten out of a fear that perhaps the peel may have touched something not kosher and only recently did Helbrans decide that both corn and soybeans were kosher.
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