Lev Tahor and the Limits of Lashon Hara – Halachic Analysis

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com)

Guns and knives. Forced child marriages. A thirteen-year-old girl who is eight months pregnant. Child brainwashing. A failed Guatemalan rescue effort. A successful rescue. A kidnapping in New York.

These particulars about the Lev Tahor cult have been in the news recently.

Last year, its founder and leader, Shlomo Helbrans, died in Mexico. The leadership transferred over to his brother Nachman Helbrans, along with three others: Mayer Rosner and Yankel and Yoel Weingarten.

Disturbing Reports

There was a report of a 14-year-old boy who was punished severely for giggling during a 4-hour Shacharis session led by Yoel Weingarten. After a severe beating, they threw him in an old, broken commercial freezer. The imprisonment in the confined space with no change of clothing or bathroom lasted for three months. Weingarten reportedly told some of the other young men that he was a sinner and if he dies then that’s what he deserves.

[LEV TAHOR HORROR: Tales of Beatings and Torture Emerge From Excommunicated Cult Members]

Recently, a mother, formerly an intimate member of Lev Tahor, succeeded in rescuing her children and bringing them to New York. At first this was good news. One of the children, however, was kidnapped by cult members and their supporters in the United States.

Navigating Lashon Ha’ra

These details bring up a very serious quandary of one of the most difficult areas to navigate within Judaism—the laws of lashon ha’ra.

On the one hand, lashon ha’ra can cause devastating consequences to the individual or group that it concerns. On the other hand, if one is overly cautious in lashon ha’ra, it can cause untold human tragedy.

Gedaliah ben Achikam was a navi and one of the gedolei ha’dor of his generation. Indeed, the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18b) says that Hashem Himself (Zechariah 8:19) equates the death of this great tzaddik with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash! Rarely do we find such testimony as to the stature of any individual.

Yet, notwithstanding his greatness and piety and the fact that he was a prophet of Hashem, he made a crucial error in halachah and in its application. He refused to take protective measures against Yishmael, when he was warned by Yochanan ben Korayach of Yishmael ben Nesanya’s malevolent intent (Yirmiyahu 40:16). The consequences were grave; Gedaliah and all his men were brutally murdered (Yirmiyahu 41:2).

The Gemara tells us (Niddah 61a) that Gedaliah ben Achikam misused the halachicconcept of lashon ha’ra and applied it erroneously. It was a tragic error that resulted not only in his death, but in the scattering of the nation and in the loss of Klal Yisrael’s independence as a nation. Indeed, the repercussions of his error are still felt to this day.

The same can be said about the Lev Tahor cult. Hundreds of families in Israel and elsewhere are gravely concerned about their children and grandchildren in this cult. Former members of the Lev Tahor cult are concerned as well.

This author has spoken to two former cult members and a son of Lev Tahor’s former leader to verify the accounts of the abusive behavior. They were verified to this author.

When safety of children is a concern, we cannot ignore evidence indicating dangers, even if the sources of these indications come from venues that do not necessarily fit the criteria for Torah testimony. Halachah recognizes the notion of raglayim l’davarwhenever such issues arise.

In a halachic psak printed in Yeshurun, volume 15, page 642, Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, rules that efforts should be made to take children away, based even upon raglayim l’davar. He takes into account the issue of overcautiously removing children from their home environs if it could lead to removal of children from an observant Jewish home environment.

These reports are being made by former members of the cult who have managed to escape. They are further corroborated by past members.

A Death

The young boys who had escaped from the cult within the past month reported a case of a man under 40 years old who had contracted a minor infection. The cult leaders refused to pay for treatment. He died and had to leave in a body bag. This young father left numerous children behind.

The situation is one of true pikuach nefesh.

The wife of Lev Tahor’s rosh yeshiva expressed concern that some of the philosophies are so extreme that the cult leaders may take action similar to that of Reverend Jim Jones’s cult in the People’s Temple, Rachmana litzlan.

Dangers Of Cult Denial

Unfortunately, there are people who are in a state of denial about the dire situation of those who are involved in the Lev Tahor cult. They claim that all of these reports are lashon ha’ra that denigrate a holy group of people and that the reports do not accomplish any purpose.

This is incorrect.

Firstly, those who are working to deprogram the effects of the cult on former members need our financial and emotional support. Frum families have taken in these innocent children and are struggling financially to meet their needs. In order to develop emotionally, they need privacy as well, which hampers their fundraising abilities.

Secondly, greater resources must be devoted to rescue operations. This can only be done in an environment that recognizes the need. To get the authorities in Guatemala on board to initiate a rescue operation required a demonstration of massive evidence of what was going on.

Some would argue that speaking out against the abusive behavior of the Lev Tahor is a chillul Hashem since the cult leaders look like holy Chassidic Jews. It is unfathomable that this type of thinking is even being entertained, yet unfortunately it is.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.




26 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe this is a message of the reminder from rashi in braishis when chava added chumras to not eating from aits hadas to not touching that this can cause one to end up sinning! And to be a tyra yid its not the look of being very yeedish or even strange but learning torah and halacha and being a mentsch. That those that do so are not “shygitsin”

  2. No person is perfect, no family is perfect, no community is perfect.
    Guessing and then speaking is not perfect, it is lashon hara.
    Some people need reminding that respect and civility are still valued and required midos.
    Wholesale virulent unrelenting condemnation of the L T community by Jews shows that anti-antisemitism has infiltrated the “chosen”.
    A vulnerable group of real Jews, struggling against the authorities, with former aggrieved members sprouting their personal distaste with the group is a dire situation that educated people should not take part in.
    Antisemites worldwide are ready and willing to make Jews uncomfortable or persecuted, especially with the approval of so called “jews”.
    Stop the tongues of evil, do good, don’t judge without proof.

  3. to ready now
    you may write well as helbrans spoke well

    this is a cult that needs its funding dried up

    the three averos that are yehaerg veal yavor are commited there
    far worse than loshon hora

  4. Ready now or should we call you by your real name Yitzchok Frankfurter? What type of proof will assuage your royal highness; video footage of the beatings, punishments and humiliations?
    You’re using the same logic that was used for years to disbelieve abuse victims from other communities. “Look at him, he’s a sheigitz, a drug addict etc., you believe him over this fine upstanding member of the community?” Of course the reason they came to that state is because of the abuse.
    If you help cover up Lev Tumeh’s crimes you are indirectly responsible for their future abuse!

  5. Rabbi Hoffman, thank you for your great article. Just like to point out that the current cult leader is a son of the cult founder. The other son as you inferred left the cult years ago and is leading a Torahdige life.

  6. Ready:

    You missed the point. R’ Hoffman showed you that the danger involved requires one to be hypervigilant to save lives. You are wrong, and I call you out. May we be zocheh to rescue all the victims, and may the perpetrators of this avodah zarah cult be eliminated, whether exterminated or jailed. Proof is not needed here.

  7. Ready now, it’s pathetic that you don’t cry over the abuse of innocent children, only over the supposed “Loshen Hora”. Anyone who abuses others, physically, emotionally or spitiually, is a sinner and you are allowed to talk about them to prevent others from falling into their trap and to help the victims.

    It is not Loshen Hora to talk about the monstrous cult LT, who has played with the minds and bodies of numerous victims and needs to be stopped now!

    I’ve been saying they are a cult for years already but people didn’t take it seriously. The supporters, including some Rabbonim, closed their eyes and minds, and they are the reason why many innocent children are suffering today. It is not a mitzvah to be stupid.

    When you close your heart and mind to the truth under the pretext of “Loshen Hora” you are not doing a mitzvah, you are just going cruel and uncaring to those who are suffering.

  8. anybody that supports this cult is a mesayeh ledvar aveiroh
    thay have no rav no mooreh harah and thats why they look like this
    their leader was a sicko egomaniac with a twisted mind

  9. @Readynow:
    Are you sane??
    Were you born this morning?
    Loshan hora, seriously????
    People are being abused physically and emotionally, and all you are worried about is Loshan Hora? I guess Ratzicha is OK.

    @UncleBen: 👍👍👍👍

    Rabbi Hoffman: Great article.

  10. Although it may not be lashon hara for other reasons, I’m not convinced of the s presented hereargument.

    I have trouble believing that either of the 2 goals specified in the last section of this article are fulfilled by posting and reading news articles about this. I’d reckon to say that 99.9% – 100% of people who read these articles either go on with life, or go back to yeshiva or work and ‘hock’ about it. I haven’t yet seen a campaign anywhere to support the families taking care of these kids, and I’d assume that the Guatemalan authorities raided because serious evidence was brought before them, not because people in NY or NJ were hocking about it.

    Before you attack me, I repeat: I’m not saying that it’s assur to talk about it; it may be muttar for other reasons. And I’m also not saying that I have any desire to hide what they’re doing; on the contrary, I have a tremendous teivah to tell the whole world how terrible these people are. It’s just that upon thinking about it, I’m not convinced that it’s muttar on the grounds presented here.

    P.s. before you attack me, read your comment, and read it again. See if it’s actually a reason that I;m wrong, or if it’s just a bunch of “

  11. Although it may not be lashon hara for other reasons, I’m not convinced of the argument presented here:

    I have trouble believing that either of the 2 goals specified in the last section of this article are fulfilled by posting and reading news articles about this. I’d reckon to say that 99.9% – 100% of people who read these articles either go on with life, or go back to yeshiva or work and ‘hock’ about it. I haven’t yet seen a campaign anywhere to support the families taking care of these kids, and I’d assume that the Guatemalan authorities raided because serious evidence was brought before them, not because people in NY or NJ were hocking about it.

    Before you attack me, I repeat: I’m not saying that it’s assur to talk about it; it may be muttar for other reasons. And I’m also not saying that I have any desire to hide what they’re doing; on the contrary, I have a tremendous teivah to tell the whole world how terrible these people are. It’s just that upon thinking about it, I’m not convinced that it’s muttar on the grounds presented here.

    P.S. before you attack me, read your comment, and read it again. See if it’s actually a reason that I’m wrong (I’m open to being wrong if someone explains why) or if it’s just a bunch of angry garbage like ‘THEY’RE MURDERERS!!! HOW COULD YOU TRY TO PROTECT THEM!! YOU TERRIBLE PERSON!!’ which doesn’t address my comment.

  12. loshon hora is the default cop out answer for all things that one wants to push under the rug
    when i grew up in the 70s and 80s
    no preached this loshon hara busi ness and no one made a business out of loshan hara conventions and weekends we knew you werent supposed to speak lashan hara and thats it
    it has now become the flavor of the decade
    wake up and realize that at certain times its a mitzvah to speak it

  13. Dear Rabbi Frankfurter.
    I like your magazine. In fact, I prefer it to your competitor’s product. Having said that, I believe you blew it big time on the Lev Tahor fiasco. In your now infamous mini documentary on LT, in contrast to your competition or perhaps to spite them, you took the contrarian position of not only defending them, but outright lauding them. Subsequent to that debacle, more and more information has leaked out that clearly establishes them as not only a cult, but as abnormal human beings on any denomination of religion or moral compass.
    Unfortunately, you rather be perceived as right rather than do the right thing. At this point, you defend the indefensible. The Torah is not speaking Lashon Hara when it tells us of the evils of Korach. Korach certainly was a worthy adversary to Moshe, and undoubtedly had the Frum appearance to back his position and candidacy. Nonetheless, the Torah tells us of the evils of Korach without regard to what you would declare to be Lashon Hara. In fact the Torah conveys a “Lav” to not be like Korach and his cohorts.
    If you were to come out with a new position in your magazine recognizing the truth at this juncture, I believe you would not only sell out as many copies as you can print, but would also be lauded as a champion of truth, in the vein of “Hodu, Vlo Bosish”.

  14. “Proof is not needed here” -from the very erudite member of the lashon Hara club “The little I know”, who is well named.
    “Philosopher”, you have made a lot of assumptions, we can call you presumptuous, eg “abuse of innocent children”, “monstrous”, “cult”. That is what pilosophers do after all, they presume!
    “TheVoiceOfTruth”, you too have the “assumptions” affliction, you are “assuming the Guatemalan authorities raided because serious evidence”, they did not. Otherwise you are really trying to get to the bottom of this lashon hara.
    “Go Pupa go”, you too are spending, wasting time in futile chatter, as you wrote “ Are you sane??Were you born this morning? Loshan hora, seriously????” and in making assumptions like your other misled friends above with your comment “People are being abused physically and emotionally”. The detractors say so, but there is no proof, they are subjective lashon hara accusations.
    Even if there are differences of opinion, why do you all want to presume and allow the L T to be considered as outcaste to Judaism, they are not outcasts, they are suffering tremendous evil lashon Hara from what on the surface appear to be “jews”. But only on the surface.
    “YOSSIES”, it is you “that needs its funding dried up”, is that Okay, would you like to starve?
    “Uncle Ben” – no I am not “Yitzchok Frankfurter” and I have no time now to check on his yihus or associations, so please get real. But you are right, there is no proof of any wrongdoing as you say “What type of proof will assuage your royal highness; video footage of the beatings, punishments and humiliations?”
    Also I am not a highness (sure I get the contempt with which you have addressed me).
    BUT where is you audacity to judge coming from!? All of you!

  15. I would assume someone with a posting name like “The voice of truth” would be the spokesperson for voicing the truth so that people can refrain from supporting this cult financially and that people should be aware what happens when a community breaks away and follows one individual to the point of giving up there entire selves. It’s mamesh avodeh zora.

    The entire Tanach and in teachings bought by Chazal there are numerous stories told about our ancestors, many of them not showing them in a particularly positive way because we need to learn the right way by observing others actions and the consequences.

    This is a cult for heavens sake, loshen hora does not apply. It is important to learn what is normal behavior and what is not and the consequences of irrational behavior.

    I amagine at the time of early Christianity, before Yoshke became an idol, when many Jews followed his “teachings” and his cult, there were Jews screaming that you shouldn’t talk anything negative about that cult because they are also Jews and it’s loshen hora to talk negative about them…

  16. “Philosopher” : about yoshke, people could make a choice upon hearing him that he was treif to them, and turn away.
    Here you are making false assumptions you have no idea about.
    Even in the case of Yosef and his brothers about whom he brought false reports, there was a misunderstanding about the interpretations of their actions in regard of the necessity to observe mitzvos as per Torah, which had not yet been officially given, or to observe according to the sheva mitzvos b’nei Noach, but you have no idea of what, when, how or who.
    sheket!
    When a Jew goes camping, on a trek, in the desert, there IS a leader!

  17. To anyone saying that this situation is loshon hora.
    Just know if their cult leader/ “Rabbi” convinces the whole group to do a mass suicide and they all die together, their blood will be on your hands.

    Just realize that is what the situation is.
    He could tell them to all kill themselves on the spot and they’d all listen.

  18. ready now- Do you have some evidence that the Guatemalan authorities raided because they saw a YWN article, or that a YWN article somehow contributed to the raid happening? Until you present that evidence, I’d rather stick with my assumption, which is quite a fair one in my opinion, as opposed to assuming like you that the Guatemalan authorities get their info from YWN.

    philosopher- read the last 2 paragraphs of my original comment again, and then rethink whether your response makes any sense.

  19. ready now, aha, so you are ok with 13 year olds getting pregnant, kids being sent into isolation, no learning of Gemarah, etc. No wonder this cult can exist if there are people like you who have no problem with people getting abused and Yiddishkeit being twisted.

    The Early Christians were Jews. Yushke had so many Jewish followers that there was a need to separate the Jewish Christians from those who didn’t believe him to be the “mesiah” because no one could tell the difference between a Jew with good hashkafs or l’havdil those with tzidreite haskafas. This is because there were people like you who didn’t want to listen to “loshen hora”, didn’t want to see the wrong that they were doing, after all they were Jews…just like you in this generation. You think this cult is ok, you defend them, maybe you are a follower as well, even though YOU have a choice, just as the Jews in the time of Yushke, to realize whether this cult is treif or not.

    You point to a particular case in the Torah about the 12 shevatim, but there are many instances in the Torah and Gemara where our ancestors, even great and holy people, sinned and they were punished for it. Doesn’t Hashen worry about Loshen hora? Didn’t our Rabbis worry about Loshen hora? Now my point is not to say loshen hora is ok, my point is that when there is a REASON to talk about others’ actions, if it will prevent people from being harmed, if people can be helped by it, then it MUST be spoken about. Talking about a dangerous cult is NOT loshen hora in any shape or form. This cult can grow to dangerous proportions if the issue is not taken care immediately.

    Have you grown up in a frum environment your entire life? You will realize that Yidden go and live together in communities, even when we are so dissimilar. Even those who live apart from a large community have a kesher with a frum community or Rebbe that is part of a greater community. You don’t walk by yourself in the dessert after a loner who is lost himself. You don’t go after self-serving delusional individuals because you will become delusional yourself that the next water hole is just a few steps away, but in reality it is nowhere around you.