Recently released police documents the ongoing investigation into the Haredi group Lev Tahor include allegations of sexual abuse, detention, and beatings with crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger, according to the Toronto Star.
None of the material evidence reported in this report has been reviewed in court, as part of an indictment. So far, the discussion over the fate of the group has been conducted largely between the courts and child welfare agencies.
The redacted police documents outline information used to obtain search warrants executed in January on properties belonging to Lev Tahor families in both Ontario and Quebec. They chronicle allegations describing a community whose women and children live in a tightly controlled environment with strictly enforced rules and punishment.
The documents include interviews with members of the community, social workers and unnamed witnesses dating back to 2012. The names of any children mentioned are protected by a publication ban.
Nachman Helbrans, the son of sect leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, told the Star in a phone interview the allegations are untrue and the result of a campaign being waged against them by former members.
“Nothing is done by force in our community. Nothing, nothing,” Helbrans insisted. “If this is serious allegations, how come in April 2012 they didn’t come one time to my house?”
“It’s against all the way of life in Lev Tahor to use force for any small or big issue. No one dreams about using force,” he said.
According to Digital Journal, a man named Adam Brudzewsky who spent two years living among the Lev Tahor group in Quebec, is the source of testimony linking them to the alleged crimes.
Brudzewsky, in his late 20s, Danish-born, has been described as someone trying to expose the Lev Tahor for their abuse of children who may also be a liar and mentally unstable.
Back in November, Brudzewsky told a Quebec court a disturbing tale of the two years he spent living with Lev Tahor, including his arranged marriage to a 15-year-old girl, the forced removals of children from their parents and a cult of personality surrounding the group’s spiritual leader.
The testimony added weight to the findings of child-protection workers who had been conducting a three-month probe of Lev Tahor.
That probe was cut short after some 200 Members of Lev Tahor fled Quebec to Toronto in November, reports indicate, where the Chatham-Kent child protective services have been keeping watch on the group. A judge had ordered 14 of the children to be placed in foster care in Quebec for at least a month.
Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who was convicted of kidnapping a young boy in 1994 in a U.S. court and served a two-year prison term before being deported to Israel, expressed rage at the authorities in Quebec, according to the Toronto Sun. Helbrans accused judges, political leaders, police and child protective services in Quebec of being bigots and antisemites, comparing them to Nazi war criminals. Here’s a video published last Friday, February 14, showing Helbrans before his own final departure From Quebec. Warning – the video and sound qualities are inconsistent.
In this video, shot in November 2013, Yoel Weingarten, a member of Lev Tahor, defended his community, accusing Israeli non-religious family members of being behind the persecution of his community. Weingarten also responds to allegation of neglect, and poor hygiene.
According to JTA, police search warrants paint an alarming picture of life in the close-knit, reclusive community. One man was quoted as saying he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and forced to take medications. Another member told police about beatings with sticks, crowbars, whips and belts. “He was forced to take pills during meal times three times a day,” the warrants state.
A witness (most likely Brudzewsky) said he saw a woman struck in the face because she refused to wear the burqa-like outfit for women that has led some media to deride the group as the Jewish Taliban.
Girls who were 13 or 14 were disciplined by being held in house basements while girls who were 14 and 15 were married to adult men, the police documents said. Children were also taken from their biological parents if the sect’s leader deemed they were not taught properly, the document added.
“There are about 20-30 children who have changed families. [A person who spoke to authorities] said that some children adapt well and return to their families but that others are upset, cry a lot,” the warrants state.