Many of Lev Tahor's members were once secularists
Question: How are Lev Tahor members different from other Hasidic Jews?It's debatable whether they really embraced Judaism. What they did embrace was a distorted reflection. From the info gleaned, we can guess they turned traitor, shunned Zionism and the army, and finally, the country. But Judaic laws? I wouldn't go that far. What they do go by is something more in the Islamic direction, judging from their current MO.
Y.R.: The main difference is that they almost all grew up in an irreligious environment. It was not until adulthood that they drew closer to Judaism and began practicing religion. While most of Lev Tahor children were born in Quebec, the majority of adult members, about 50 persons, came from Israel where they had been raised with the ideology of Zionism. Some are former officers of the Israeli army who embraced Hasidic Judaism, left the army, and then the State of Israel. Lev Tahor stands out by its unusually strict practice of Judaic law regarding food, clothing, and prayer.
Question: Are the children in danger?He knew they were going to move and didn't contact the authorities? Honestly, I'm irked, because he delayed justice. But I'll give him credit for telling how the burka outfits were a more recent idea of theirs, proving how fanatics like these have sought to outdo Islam in some ways, if not all. Mileage can vary on that.
Y.R.: I don't know whether or not there has been abuse, but the times I went to visit the community, sometimes without notice, I didn't see any violence. The boys appeared similar to other Hasidic boys. However, in recent years, the girls and women started to wear veils and came to look different from women in other Hasidic communities
A few years ago in the framework of a film project, I videotaped interviews with several members of the community, both men and women –unveiled- about their background and their motivations to join Lev Tahor, but I didn’t talk with the children.
To avoid controls stipulated in the Quebec Public Education Act, they began planning a move to Ontario several months ago. They spoke to me about this when I visited them last summer with a PhD student in anthropology from Brazil.
Question: Some argue that members of Lev Tahor are backward. Are they?Lev Tahor's support for an Arabic/Islamic takeover of Israel does suggest they're as twisted as some suspect them to be. Since they bring up Yiddish, I guess this is where I should note that in the early 20th century, it wasn't a popular language here, because many people thought it an unappealing variant on the real deal. I'd surmise Lev Tahor's members thought it would be perfect to symbolize their rejection of Israel, and if they were secular before, it's quite probably they were...left-wingers.
Y.R.: Their opposition to Zionism led them to learn Yiddish, spoken by Hasidic Jews, so they would no longer use modern Hebrew, even though it is the mother tongue for most of them. They deliberately reversed the Zionist project, the efforts Zionist pioneers made more than a century ago when they abandoned Russia, their homeland, and settled in Palestine. They also rejected Yiddish, their mother tongue, and desacralized Hebrew, the language of prayer and Torah study, turning it into a vernacular.
While some consider Hasidic Jews ignorant of the modern world, members of Lev Tahor used to be immersed in secular Israeli society. This is why their rejection of Zionism is more of a provocation than that of other Hasidic Jews, who have inherited anti-Zionism, along with other values, from their ancestors.
Not surprisingly, Zionists in Israel and elsewhere are very upset with Lev Tahor. In a television report, an Israeli parliamentarian accused them of wanting to kill all nonbelievers in Israel. A reporter from Haaretz, a daily often considered to be anti-religious, spent a few days among the Lev Tahor. His informative articles are available online [click here].
Question: How do you explain the attention given to Lev Tahor?As of now, it looks like child welfare authorities in Ontario are trying to get the local courts to do something about this cult:
Y.R.: I understand the antagonism Lev Tahor generates in Israel. The relatives of those who joined Lev Tahor are almost all secular Zionists. They are horrified by the new lifestyle of their children and by the education given to their grandchildren. Based on the testimonies of those who rebelled against Lev Tahor, including a son of the group's leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, these relatives alleged child abuse. They protested outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and mobilized Israeli authorities, which put pressure on child protection agencies in Canada.
Hence the recent attention of the Quebec Directorate of Youth Protection to the Hasidim of Sainte-Agathe. For several months children were checked for signs of beatings, and homes, including refrigerators, were inspected almost daily. Last week, Lev Tahor was discussed by an Israeli parliamentary commission for the protection of children. So far the testimony before the commission came from critics of this Hasidic group. I suppose Lev Tahor members will be heard in the future even though the commission must have many other priorities: in Israel, one in four children lives below the poverty line.
Ontario Children’s Aid authorities have launched a legal battle to seize custody of 14 child members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor and send them into foster care in Quebec.Let's hope the authorities won't let them leave Ontario either without handing over custody of the children. And that's not the only felony on their record. They've even failed to pay bills for services they got:
The move comes two weeks after a Quebec judge ruled the children, ranging in age from two months to 16 years, are at “serious risk of harm” if they continue living in the community. Ahead of that hearing, about 200 members of the sect fled to Chatham-Kent, Ont., claiming Ontario provided them the liberty to educate their children according to a strict interpretation of Judaism espoused by Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.
A feeling of calm had washed over the community in recent days and senior members of the group had claimed good relations with local child-welfare authorities, saying they had made their own inquiries since Lev Tahor arrived last month and found no problems.
But at 7 p.m. Tuesday they learned that Ontario would not be the refuge it had imagined.
Along with 500 pages of court documents, two families in the group received a summons to appear in court Wednesday morning. Among the documents, was the revelation that Chatham-Kent Children’s Services had sought a warrant on Dec. 4 from a Justice of the Peace that would let them carry out a Quebec court order to place the children in foster care under the guidance of Quebec child-welfare authorities, where they would undergo psychological and physical testing.
[...] The families are now prevented by a court order from leaving the country and there is great anticipation and concern about what could happen next, particularly among those with ties or a past to Lev Tahor.
Despite receiving millions of dollars in charity over more than a decade, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group targeted by a child-welfare probe left behind a legacy of bounced cheques, abandoned bills and unpaid taxes when it fled Quebec for refuge in Ontario last month.Well now, this is telling. Where did all that money go? Did they hide it in some buried trove up in the Yukon? If they have money to pay the bills, it's surely hidden somewhere, but not in a bank per se, and probably not in a safety deposit box either. This is another reason why a confinement order must be given that'll prevent Lev Tahor from leaving Ontario so the authorities can cart them back to Quebec. What a bunch of pure swindlers. And they were once secular too! Could this suggest they found religion in the wrong place?
A Toronto Star investigation of Lev Tahor has turned up seven lawsuits filed in Saint-Jérôme, Que., in which the reclusive group is accused of leaving thousands of dollars worth of bills unpaid for such things as legal fees, work performed at its former compound in nearby Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, and school board taxes.
The group’s most frequent opponents in court have been the local school boards, which in Quebec are responsible for collecting their own taxes from property owners. In three of those cases, a judge has ordered the group to pay. A fourth is still before the courts.
Operating under the corporate and charitable guises of Congregation Riminov and the Society of Spiritual Development, Lev Tahor runs its own religious education system and has stated that its objections to the teaching of evolution and sex ed in the provincial curriculum are the main reasons for their move to Ontario.
The most recent case involving a school board, which was completed in mid-August, involved nearly $2,000 in unpaid school taxes going back to 2010. Another case, resolved in September 2012, ordered the Society of Spiritual Development, to pay more than $2,400 for two years of unpaid school taxes.
In all cases, Lev Tahor’s leaders did not present a statement of defence indicating why they refused to pay the school taxes. Neither did representatives of the group or its lawyers appear in court when the judgments were handed down.
Another lawsuit against the group originated when a senior Lev Tahor member, Mayer Rosner, contracted a company in 2009 to install an air-exchange system in a building, according to the statement of claim in that case. The final bill was $5,089.53 and Rosner provided three post-dated cheques, the court files show. Two of the cheques bounced when they were deposited at the bank, as did one of the replacement cheques. Months later, Lev Tahor handed over $4,100 toward the bill, but skipped out on the remaining $1,000, which a judge ordered Rosner to pay.
“Many times Mr. Rosner has told us that we would be able to obtain final payment in order to push back the due date again and again,” the company said in its statement of claim.
Update: the relative of a member is trying to do whatever he can to get his sister and her children removed from the cult. And a lawyer is bewildered that Ontario isn't honoring the Quebec court's decision.