Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lev Tahor - Silence is Not an Option

The children of Lev Tahor - The smiles are deceiving 
Ami Magazine ran a story by  its editor, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter about the Canadian Jewish cult, Lev Tahor. To say that it was upsetting is to say the least.

With all the ink being spilled on this group, Rabbi Frankfurter decided to investigate Lev Tahor on his own. He actually went into their enclave, saw court documents, interviewed their attorney, the prosecutor; cult members, former members and the ‘big man’ himself, Shlomo Helbrans. (The first part of his last name is very appropriate. Because it seems like that may be where he will end up. But I digress.)

Rabbi Frankfurter therefore concluded that this is more about religious persecution than it is about child abuse. This in contradistinction to other journalists who either do not have enough understanding about the religious practices of Charedi Jews to make fair observations - or from religious journalists who do, but have only gotten their information second hand. Normally I would say ‘good for him’. He was there.  The critics were not. Who has a better picture of the truth?

The problem is that he believed what they told him. And he believed that Lev Tahor represented a Jewish lifestyle well within the parameters of Orthodoxy. Aside from some quirky behavior (as in their women wearing Burka style clothing – which he said was wrong but does not believe to be a big deal) he saw a group of happy well adjusted people, children included.  Nothing like what has been reported in the press. His conclusion? The government of Quebec is interfering in the religious freedom of the Jewish people.  That this is simple Antisemitic persecution.  That because these Jews look different, they are not getting a fair shake.

He also noted that in a written statement a few Chasidic Rebbes have called upon the Jewish community to help there ‘poor persecuted souls’ out… screaming “Mesira” about anyone who helps the Canadian authorities out on this matter. So he called for his readership to step up and sent them money to aid in their defense. Based on a mass e-mail he sends out -he quickly succeeded, it appears.

So what’s wrong with all of this? Isn’t this religious persecution after all is said and done? Did those children he saw in the happiest of states purposely deceive him? Why not just leave them alone and let them ‘do their thing’?

That’s because their ‘thing’ is anything but Jewish. It is taking Judaism to harmful extremes. The fact is that these children and their parents have been brainwashed to think that acting like this is a higher service to God. Which is really nothing more than higher service to Hebrans’ ego.

Here are some of the things in Lev Tahor that pass for piety. I already mentioned the Burkas that women must wear. That is one of their lesser problems. What else is there that is so bad? One need only read what the mainstream media has described to find out. But they are not alone in reporting the truth.  For those who think the mainstream media is anti religious we can find not only a religious source but a Charedi one.

Mishpacha Magazine reported on Lev Tahor last month. The title of their article was “Hearts of Darkness” – a far more accurate description of this cult. There is literal child abuse there, Mostly psychological.

So bad is it, that after hearing expert testimony from professionals who investigated them, a Quebec court ordered 13 of these children removed from their parents’ jurisdiction and placed in foster care for 30 days. Suitable Chasidic homes were found for these children. Before this was implemented, these parents ran to another town believing they were out of the court’s jurisdiction in Ontario. Some of these even left the country fleeing to Mexico and elsewhere.  The family was returned and all of the children have been placed in foster care.

There is more. A lot more. Hebrans considers himself the second coming of the Satmar Rebbe. But he doesn’t stop there. He makes sure that he is in full control of everyone’s life  and has many practices to assure it. For example he instructs his followers  roll themselves in the snow for purification reasons. He is known to advocate flogging as a form of Teshuva. He personally arranges all marriages in his community. Often with underage girls as young as 14. He is known to isolate children from their families.

Punishments for infractions by children or include things like locking them in a basement (2 weeks for one teenage girl).  Or giving them drugs to keep them relaxed!

The Chasidm in Lev Tahor  are all undernourished. Most of the families subsist on government child allowances or donations from their families and the broader Montreal Jewish  community. They consider all chickens and their eggs Treif because of ‘genetic engineering’. They do not eat rice at al because of bugs.

There are no secular subjects at all.  Their curriculum deviates substantially from the even the most right wing Charedi norm. It includes a 20 minute recitation of a ‘mystical work’ written by Helbrans. And they study his larger work ‘Ohr HaShem’ instead of Gemarah or Mishnayos. Shachris for these elementary students takes about 4 hours  which includes one full hour of meditation.  

When parents are deemed to violate one of Helbrans’ Halachic rulings children are stripped from their parents for long periods of time– claiming they are bad influences on them.

Freedom of choice does not exist in this enclave. Their lives depend entirely on what the Rebbe decides for them.

Attempts by one couple to leave the cult were met with extreme psychological pressure. In one case the wife of a cult member wanted to leave. Helbrans told him that he would suffer in the afterlife if he did - and that he should instead divorce his wife. They stayed and were ordered  to take a regimen of vitamins and a strict  meditation regimen that included self nullification. They eventually escaped with the help of a Lubavitcher Chasid.

Mind control is part and parcel of this group’s existence. With it’s warm and accepting approach to new or potential members its attraction is quite understandable. Upon entry into the cult - there is a sense of spiritual euphoria.  

To set themselves apart from the rest of Jewry Helbrans has established these cult-like practices to sever people from the outside world. Along with those black Burkas women wear layers upon layers of undergarments;  covering legs with tights and socks at all times. They must wear shoes even in the house. The men spend hours of time listening to Helbrans expound on the mysteries of life. He makes fantastic claims like saying that he ‘killed’ Pope John-Paul II through his prayers. He makes claims of Divine knowledge in order to dictate to them how to conduct their lives.

All this only scratches the surface. The list goes on. In defending Lev Tahor Rabbi Frankfurter acts to perpetuate it. He apparently feels that anyone who looks like him and is persecuted - well it’s all about Antisemitism.  (Yes the male members of this cult dress the way mainstream Chasidm do. Which is similar to the way Rabbi Frankfurter dresses.)

What about all that other stuff? He either doesn’t believe it or chalks it up to extreme but legitimate Jewish behavior well within the bounds of Halacha. And considers it an outrage that anyone would tamper with Lev Tahor - a group of pious Jews - just because they are different.  

I consider it an outrage if they don’t.

Updated to remove personal attacks