As YWN has been reporting, intense efforts were underway to rescue 6 children from the Lev Tahor Cult, currently located in Guatemala. Those efforts have B”H been successful, and they have all arrived safely in the United States.
The children are the 4 daughters and 2 sons of Rebbitzen Sara Feige Teller, a sister of current Lev Tahor leader, Nachman Helbrans. (Nachman assumed leadership of the cult following the 2017 drowning death of his father, Shlomo Helbrans, the founder of Lev Tahor.) She is married to Rabbi Aron Aryeh Teller, rosh yeshivah of Lev Tahor.
Rebbitzen Teller was placed in Cherem, reportedly after she voiced opposition to several new Takkanos imposed by the cult’s leadership that she felt differed from the Mesorah of her father, Shlomo Helbrans. She also had voiced opposition to a forced marriage of her eldest daughter, 13, to a 17-year-old son of cult leader Mayer Rosner. Several of her children were taken away and placed in other homes, and she was forced to work as a cleaning lady in the home of Mayer Rosner.
Shortly after Sukkos, Rebbitzen Teller escaped the cult together with two daughters, with the help of a friend from a community of ex-cult members living in Guatemala City.
In an interview published in this week’s Mishpacha magazine, Rebbitzen Teller had warned: “my husband and children must be saved. The rebbe is sick!” she cried, referring to her brother’s newest Takkanos. “He’s talking about preparing for suicide should the Zionists come inside. The parents might kill all the children!”
On Motzei Shabbos, October 13, Rebbitzen Teller returned to the cult to try and rescue her other children. A group of 10 people from the Guatemala City community accompanied her on the 4 hour journey. They were only able to rescue one daughter, as the group was attacked by cult members armed with guns, knives and throwing rocks.
In the Mishpacha article, it is revealed that the brainwashed 10-year-old girl was shouting “Mommy is a Rasha” as her mother dragged her from the family’s hut to a waiting vehicle. It is also revealed that her 2 sons had fought to free themselves from their rescuer’s grasps, thus thwarting the mission to free themselves and another sister.
Rebbitzen Teller and her 3 daughter arrived safely in New York last week.
Last week, YWN reported on a massive raid by over 100 heavily armed Guatemalan police, in an attempt to rescue the remaining three children. The children were no where to be found, as cult leaders had likely moved them out of the compound prior to police arriving outside the compound’s barbed wire fence.
Askonim involved in the rescue efforts tell YWN that last Wednesday, Rabbi Teller and his three children attempted to obtain new passports, accompanied by a woman who posed as their mother. However, the office refused to help them as an alert regarding the children had gone out following the raid earlier in the week. Realizing something as wrong, the father fled the office.
They then attempted to cross the border into Mexico, using fake passports, again accompanied by the woman posing as the children’s mother. Bechasdei Hashem, the Mexican authorities detected the fraud, arrested the “parents” and placed the children in the custody of Mexican child welfare agencies. They also alerted the US Embassy in Mexico.
While many people connected to Lev Tahor contacted the Embassy, claiming to be family etc, they refused to divulge any information as there had been an Amber alert put out by the Guatemalan government. Authorities were attempting to return the children to Guatemala, where they would undoubtedly be captured by the Cult.
Last Friday, Askonim in the United States sent an individual down to Mexico, accompanied by an armored escort from the Embassy, who spent Shabbos together with the children. On Motzei Shabbos, Askonim arranged a conference call between US State Department officials in Mexico and Washington and Child Services in New York.
B”H they were successful in overcoming several legal obstacles, and arranged to have the children transported to the United States via private jet. They were immediately taken to a private hospital, as they were malnourished and not in a great mental state. They have remained in undisclosed secure locations all week, as Lev Tahor is still attempting to retake custody and bring them back to Guatemala.
YWN has reported extensively on the Lev Tahor cult – with dozens of articles over the years.
Lev Tahor practices include women and girls wearing black head-to-toe coverings day and night, arranged marriages between teenagers, and a violent form of Malkos. Lev Tahor only permits certain fruits and vegetables to be eaten, as well as whole wheat flour made into bread with a stone press.
Former members of Lev Tahor (who either escaped or were otherwise expelled) do not recall learning Mishnayos or Gemara, nor any Mitzvos Bein Adam LeChaveiro. They spend the majority of the day in deep prayer and are only allowed to study certain sections of the Chumash, with Lev Tahor commentary.
Internal documents of Lev Tahor show that Shlomo Helbrans made his followers swear and sign to uphold the following principles among others.
(1) Everyone must negate his or her mind and mind thoroughly and completely, to the leader of Lev Tahor.
2) They must subjugate soul, spirit, and will.
3) Each man accepts upon his descendants and descendant’s descendants until the end of all generations to be subjugated under the will of Lev Tahor’s leader.. this should be said openly to the leader himself.
4) Everyone must be ready at any time and moment of 24 hours of the day, whether on the Shabbath and Yom Tov, summer and winter, healthy or sick, to do the will of the leader.
5) Whether the person is a young man or an old man, virgins and women they must accept to do the will of the leader.
6) They must agree to throw away all his physical needs, including eating sleep and rest until he fulfills the desires the leader.
7) It is the obligation of each of them at the beginning of the morning prayers to recite and accept upon themselves all of the above with full mouth and supreme joy.
Some observers have written that these are signs of a cult. Indeed, this was the position of an author of an article that appeared in Mishpacha Magazine. Others, however, claim that there is nothing cult-like about the movement. Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter of Ami Magazine met with Helbrans and assured his readership that it was not a cult, even though a previous Ami article stated that it was.
In 2014 YWN ran an article titled “Cults and the War of the Jewish Magazines” in response to Mishpacha and Ami magazines running articles on Lev Tahor. Mishpacha Magzaine had run a fifteen page “expose” on the group, essentially describing Lev Tahor as a cult that has some serious issues involving medicating children, and behaviors that resemble child abuse. Ami Magazine claimed the exact opposite – and ran the following sentence below their headline “The unjust persecution of a group of pious Jews, and the unsettling silence of the Jewish community.”
Originally a citizen of Israel, cult leader Shlomo Helbrans went to the United States where he was convicted for kidnapping in 1994 and served a two-year prison term before being deported to Israel in 2000. He then settled in Canada.
In 1994 he was convicted in Brooklyn for the 1992 kidnapping of 13-year-old Shai Fhima Reuven, a Bar Mitzvah boy he was tutoring, and served a two-year prison term in the U.S. He was originally sentenced to four to 12 years in prison, but in June 1996 an appeals court reduced the sentence to two to six years. Three days later, he was placed in the work release program for prisoners less than two years away from the possibility of parole, where inmates are freed from prison if they have a job. After protests, he was moved back to prison.
The high-profile case drew much attention in the U.S., and gained further attention when Helbrans successfully convinced New York prison authorities to waive their requirement that all prisoners be shaved for a photograph upon entering prison, and to accept a computer-generated image of what he would have looked like clean-shaven instead. After the State Parole Board decided in November 1996 to release Helbrans after two years in prison, the case rose to near scandal with suspicions that the Pataki administration was providing him special treatment.
After his release from prison, Helbrans ran a yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y., and was deported to Israel in 2000. He then settled in Canada, where in 2003 he was granted refugee status, claiming his life was being threatened in Israel.
Helbrans and his followers had arrived in Mexico’s southern Chiapas province after spending three years in Guatemala. They had travelled to Guatemala from Canada, where child-protection authorities were moving to seize children allegedly suffering from neglect.
The group had been established on the outskirts of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, for more than a decade before Quebec authorities began paying close attention. As they prepared to move in to protect children in the sect in late 2013, community members left en masse overnight for Chatham, Ontario. Before the next summer, they had moved on to Guatemala.
Court documents used by Quebec police to obtain warrants alleged that Lev Tahor girls as young as 13 and 14 in the community were routinely married off to much older men. The allegations in the documents, which became public after the sect had fled and were never proven in court, included sexual and physical abuse of children.
(Nat Golden – YWN)