We are following with great interest the kidnapping charges brought against alleged members of Lev Tahor by federal authorities in Manhattan.
Since its founding in the 1980s, Lev Tahor has been marked by controversy. Its founder, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy so that, he said at the time, the boy would remain an observant Jew over his parents’ objections. Helbrans recently drowned while using a lake as a mikveh.
The allegations in the current kidnapping case arose out of the children’s mother’s disenchantment with the group and Lev Tahor leaders trying to keep two of her children within it where they could continue following what the leaders regard as authentic Judaism. The two children are reportedly Helbrans’ grandchildren.
Lev Tahor reportedly avoids technology and requires its female members to wear black robes from head to toe. The criminal complaint alleges that children in Lev Tahor are often subjected to “physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”
The charges are very serious. But in a time when prosecutorial overreach sometimes seems the rule, not the exception, we should pay close attention to the facts as they come out.