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PIDYON SHVUYIM?! Is There a Mitzvah To Assist The Imprisoned Lev Tahor Cult Leaders? – Halachic Analysis

(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the

This past Motzei Shabbos, yet another Lev Tahor leader was arrested for kidnapping. The FBI made the arrest in Brooklyn, NY. The accused individual, Aron Yeshaya Rosner, was living in Williamsburg.  Reports are surfacing that there is now an active behind-the-scenes campaign underway for Pidyon Shvuyim. There is also a similar campaign underway for the other five leaders of the cult – Nachman Helbrans, Meyer Rosner, Chaim Yankel Rosner, Uriel Goldman, and (First name unknown) Malka – that were arrested in Mexico last week. What follows is a halachic analysis of this topic. This article will attempt to present an unbiased view of the underlying issues.

[Full Disclosure: This author has written several articles concluding that the Lev Tahor organization is a true cult in every sense of the word.]


There is a fundamental halachic disagreement between the Poskim that cuts to the heart of the underlying issues. It is between the Radbaz (in his commentary on the Rambam Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 4:13) and the Yam Shel Shlomo (in his commentary on Gittin 4:72) whether the laws of Pidyon Shvuyim apply to someone who actually stole money under circumstances where there exists extraordinary punishment.

The Yam Shel Shlomo writes clearly that the halachos of Pidyon Shvuyim do not apply to someone guilty of actually stealing money – even if the person’s life is at stake. The Radbaz disagrees completely and writes that it certainly does apply. It is clear, however, that even the Yam Shel Shlomo would agree that, while it may not be considered Pidyon Shvuyim, there is still an Inyan to save him if possible.


Let us apply this debate to our case. Lev Tahor has been accused of very serious issues, both by former members of Lev Tahor as well as actual family members of the sect’s founder.  Among some of the accusations are kidnapping, serious beatings, and much more. If the Yam Shel Shlomo ruled that Pidyon Shvuyim does not apply to someone guilty of actually stealing money – then most certainly it would not apply to someone accused of kidnapping. The Radbaz would disagree. However, an argument could be made that the Radbaz only advanced his position because theft does not constitute a clear and present danger to others. Here, it may be strongly argued that someone who would stoop to kidnapping a child from his mother would be a clear and present danger to others and should not be freed.


Which position has become normative Psak halacha – that of the Yam Shel Shlomo or that of the Radbaz? This too is unclear as the Poskim in the past have not issued a definitive ruling. The Jewish people, however, are rachmanim bnei rachmanim and have always responded generously to appeals – even if the person may be guilty.  Once again, however, the issue of these people being dangerous to others is not insignificant. Indeed, this author posed the question to two major Poskim from the New York area. Both of them ruled unequivocally that there is no Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim here. It seems to this author that their concern was the danger they pose to others.

There are a number of former Lev Tahor children who have been taken in by wonderful baalei chessed in our community. [Having been in touch with two such families, this author is genuinely proud to be a member of the same people as these remarkable individuals. They truly give b’lev v’nefesh to these young neshamos in an attempt to provide them with a normal life.]


There is also a fascinating Aruch HaShulchan which deals with the contemporary application of this Mitzvah. Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1908) zt”l in Yore Deah (252:1), [in the laws of Tzedaka qualifies the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim:]

“And all this was in earlier times, and even nowadays in far flung wildernesses such as Asia and Africa, where bandits fall upon travelers and take them into captivity to the point where it is necessary to redeem them with large sums of money, as is known from the caravans that travel in the western wilderness.”

It seems that the Aruch haShulchan is suggesting that the full blown Pidyon Shvuyim and all of its associated Halachos are essentially a thing of the past and no longer applicable in the Aruch HaShulchan’s time.


There are three possible reactions and or understandings of this Aruch HaShulchan

Possibility One – One can argue and disagree with his position by saying,  “the Aruch haShulchan writes that nowadays,  Jews in prison do not constitute Pidyon Shvuyim – but we disagree.  There is certain Pidyon Shvuyim here.”  But again, would they disagree when there is a clear and present danger to others?

Possibility Two – One can understand this Aruch HaShulchan as ruling that there is certainly a form of Pidyon Shvuyim here – it is just that he is positing a lower level Pidyon Shvuyim.  Granted it does not have all the Halachos of the full Pidyon Shvuyim in the Rambam and in the Gemorah, but there is certainly a Pidyon Shvuyim here.”

Possibility C – One can say, “The Aruch haShulchan is certainly ruling that there is no Pidyon Shvuyim here – even a low level form of it.  However, there is certainly an Inyan to help out.”  In this case, however, the helping out might cause others to be endangered.


Whenever one deals with pidyon shvuyim, there are actually four issues that need to be examined.  The first one is the issue of the person’s guilt or alleged guilt.  The second issue is that of the person’s own physical and mental safety and well-being.  The third issue is whether the person presents a danger to others.  And the fourth issue is whether jail would be good for the person.  All of these issues are certainly factors in the decision as to whether we should designate funds to assist in getting the person’s freedom.


Let us start with the issue of guilt.  Rav Aharon Felder zt”l spent 14 years with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l.  In his Rishumei Aharon, he cites the following vignette of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l:

One time, a religious Jew entered the Beis Midrash to speak with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l.  He began to relate how his son is sitting in jail on account of dealing drugs.  He requested that Rav Moshe write a letter to the judge on behalf of his son to have mercy upon him.  Rav Moshe turned to him and said, “Your son makes people ill and damages them; Let him sit in jail.”  Even though the father pleaded and persisted, he refused to budge.  He added that his actions were against the laws of the state and he cannot do whatever he wants (Rishumei Aharon Vol. I p.22).

It may well be that Rav Moshe held l’halacha like the Yam Shel Shlomo – when there is no significant danger.  In light of this debate, when there is established guilt then we may talk about Safek Pidyon Shuyim which, unless there are other important factors or issues, we should treat no differently than unequivocal Pidyon Shvuyim.


Let us now move on to the issue of safety.  If the person is innocent, and does not present a danger to others, but issues of his or her own personal well-being and safety come into play – even if one is a proponent of Possibility two or three in the Aruch HaShulchan – then real Pidyon Shvuyim may come back into play.

To examine the issues of safety, however, we need to look at the particular health and age of the person in question as well as the type of people in the particular prison under discussion.  For example, a few years ago, an elderly man with health issues was sentenced to prison.  There is no question that even though he was in Otisville – prison for him was a certain death sentence.  The medical care in the U.S. Federal Prison System is abysmal and he died shortly after he began to serve time.  It is clear that there was no lower level Pidyon Shvuyim Type B for this person.  Rather, that case fell into the Yam Shel Shlomo/Radbaz debate.

In most of our state prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 1 in 400 prisoners die each year while in custody.  These numbers seem pretty bizarre because the crude death rate in the United States seems to be higher than that, hovering at about 1 in 250.  According to these figures, one can certainly understand the Aruch haShulchan’s differentiation between the past and present.

But here, Lev Tahor may be different.  Members of this group of people may find prison life quite mentally unnerving.  Although they are clearly off-base, it seems to this author that their mental health would be much more fragile in prison than that of a regular frum person.  Yet, still we must consider the damage that they have done to so many others in this cult.  Why is his blood any redder than that of innocent children?

What would the halachic differences be whether we categorize it as Possibility A – Pidyon Shuyim – or Possibility B or C?  The Rambam in the Laws of Tzedaka (8:10) writes that Pidyon Shvuyim beats supporting the poor and clothing the poor because a real case of Pidyon Shvuyim includes the hungry, the thirsty, and the unclothed.  Their lives are also in danger.


The leadership of this group has caused a churban to hundreds of family members of those who have been attracted to Lev Tahor.  The long-term damage to hundreds of kids and now adults have untold repercussions.  This is a factor that would affect whether or not we should be giving tzedakah toward an effort to mitigate their crime.


It is this author’s view that hardened cult members rarely break down and realize the error of their ways through the application of punishment.  Also, it is a very difficult matter to determine what would ultimately be good or bad for a person.


Although the Rambam lists no less than eight verses that one violates if one ignores rendering assistance in these cases, in our case the danger to others is a gamechanger.  The Rambam’s eight verses are: 1] Lo saametz es Levavcha – Do not tighten your heart(Dvarim 15:7) 2] veLo Sikpotz es yadcha – Nor shall you tighten your hand (Dvarim 15:7) 3] Lo saamod al dam rayacha – Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood (VaYikra 19:16) 4] Lo yirdeno beferech leainecha – Do not let him go down in excessive labor in front of your eyes (Vayikra 25:53)  5] Pasoach tiftach es yadcha lo You shall surely open your hand for him (Dvarim 15:8) 6] Vechai achicha imach – And your brother shall live with you (Vayikra 25:36) 7] Veahavta lerayacha kamocha –love your friend as yourself (Vayikra 19:18) 8] Hatzel lakuchim lemavais – Save those taken toward their death (Mishlei 24:11)


It is this author’s conclusion that there is no Mitzvah or even inyan to help the leaders of Lev Tahor evade jail charges. This is also the opinion of one of the leading Poskim in the NY area. May Hashem bring yeshuos and nechamos to Klal Yisroel.

The author may be reached at [email protected]

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)

53 Responses

  1. It is not only not a mitzvah of pidyan sheviim to assist these cult leaders, one who does so has the blood of innocent individuals on his hands. There’s a din and a Dayan and one will pay with gehenim if he causes mental, emotional, and physical pain to innocent individuals, especially children. Also these “well meaning” individuals should understand that they are giving to a cult of avodah zora because these leaders are in positions of being semi-worshiped and this will no doubt in the next generation or two become total worship of the leaders- in short it’s a cult of ovodah Zora. This is how these avodah Zora religions ALWAYS evolve.

  2. there is no comparison between stealing, drug-dealing, cult-leading, etc. there is no comparison between a malchut shel chessed and governments centuries ago. paskening requires judgment and instinct about halakha not just quoting sources.

  3. I would say the opposite: it is a sin to help these people! Why?

    Because they are ruining other people’s lives and they have no mercy on those whom they prey upon. They are better off in jail for a long long time so that those poor people who have been brain washed can come back into the real world.

    There is little hope for the leaders, but the young children should be saved.

    To help get the leaders off the hook is to put the children deeper in danger and to me, that is a BIG SIN!

  4. Regarding issue #1- “Guilt” and Rav Moshe:

    @ Rav Yair (Thanks for another great article!):
    While we certainly all agree about the general cult etc and B”H that it is coming to an end, but as far as “guilt” goes; How and who will determine which of the so-called leaders are guilty and what exactly are they guilty of? I am speaking in terms of Halacha or even legality. This not at all like the case of Rav Moshe, where the guiltiness was certain.

    Do you even think they will receive a fair trial?

    While we are all out for blood, and someone does have to pay etc. but as far as Halacha is concerned, I am not so sure where this goes..

    The very fact that they are extremists and live like a cult will automatic condemned them by any jury. But let us assume that is the only crime of some, does that mean they should be jailed for life?

    What are the facts about the kidnapping’s – did these brainwashed children want to go back to their extremist father? Are they past Bar Mitzvah? which means they have their own say..
    Don’t forget, their mother (daughter of Helbrans) is not that much of a saint as well, they were perfectly fine despite all the horrors of senior Helbrans as well.

    So where do we draw the line?

    I am speaking in terms of Halacha. Please be more specific on what ‘Halachik’ crimes we are dealing with.

    Another point regarding Rav Moshe’s Psak and the Mahashal – Rav Moshein in general paskened like the Aruch HaShulchan, (even overriding the MB). So no doubt he might have understood it like one of the options mentioned.

  5. Throw these animals in jail and never ever let them out. They are running a straight up child pedophile ring. If anyone doubts this, they are probably guilty themselves. Forced marriages between 40 year olds and 13 year old girls. Divorced a year later…married to other people… and the horror continues.


  6. My humble opinion:

    Someone with ability to subsidize these (alleged) criminals should first fund the help for the innocent victims.

  7. Bulldozer – GRRRR. I hate when someone beats me to that line. It’s MY job to rip on AMi Magazine. (Mishpacha pays me handsomely to do it.)

  8. mayer freund
    you cant be serious
    not sure what yeshiva you went to
    look up the definition of tenok shenisba
    and then think about your absurd comment
    as far as hav don es kol hadam lekaf zechus
    does not apply to these people

  9. YWN can’t get enough of this sick topic.
    Although my humble opinion says there’s no hava amina to help these people,
    let’s always remember the mishna that even when they killed a rodef bidin the Av Beis Din cried over it.

  10. Ish:

    I daven that this flow of tears should happen soon for these murderers. I will fund the tissue expense for you if needed.

  11. Those who are familiar with the Aruch Hashulchon’s writing know that he was keenly aware that the Russians might take offense to his description of a halacha and on numerous occasions ( see e.g. beginning of hilchos nedarim) he goes out of his way to make it “apparent” that he was not referring to anything the Russian government might have done. Of course the Aruch Hshulchan does not mean that there is no more pidyon shvuyim., His reference to the Asian and African wilderness is classic and no halachic inference can be drawn from it.

  12. Extremely disappointed at Rabbi Hoffman to discuss halacha which has nothing to do with this situation at this time. Many law enforcement agencies internationally and tremendous private resources were involved to catch these people for the sole purpose of finding and saving the children. These people are Rodfim in every sense of the word right now and many askanim are working around the clock to locate the children. by discussing halachos of a normative situation, this article makes a joke out of all these efforts. please post a correction immediately that they are Rodfim and anyone who assists them before the children are returned will be responsible. IF IT WAS YOUR CHILD YOU WOULD HAVE MADE THAT VERY CLEAR

  13. Rarely do we see such consensus but how could anyone think otherwise given the combination of the destruction of lives they have caused and the likelihood of more of the same if they are allowed to continue to put the lives of others at risk

  14. bulldozer shut up and get a hobby i heard there is free needlepoint classes in your area. here we go making fun of frum magazines again with absolutely zero toeles
    ya im makin fun too of someone which is wrong

  15. LAmother errrr Ruchy Frankfurter is back!

    LAmom, I’ll stop making fun of the AMI the instant they run an apology. Defending child abusers in pulbic AFTER they have been called out on it kind of gives you a license to say whatever you want about them.

    Don’t worry: It’s far more likely that vaccines cause autism than Frankfurter will apologize.

  16. I lost complete respect for this letter writer for even putting doubt in peoples minds.
    No wonder mashiach is not here.
    Willing to bet he would have a similiar article if this was a jewish cult caught up in legal issues looking to christanize yidden

  17. The author of the above article has thrown Halacha to the wind by….guessing!
    From “accusations” which are flying in the air, he derives “should not be freed” !
    Are you Jewish?

  18. Rabbi Hoffman,the very question if these murderous animals should be helped,is a mockery of our TORAH and a gigantic
    CHILLUL HASHEM,how dare you even contemplate for one second to help these bloody murderous animals who have literally destroyed hundreds of innocent Jewish lives,it would be incumbent on each one of us and a MITZVAH for each one of us if we had the chance to eliminate these vermin,they have a DIN of RODFIM and must be eliminated by life long prison sentences without parole

  19. Takes2-2tango December 26, 2018 7:53 pm at 7:53 pm
    I lost complete respect for this letter writer for even putting doubt in peoples minds.
    I for one never had respect for this letter writer,because he himself had quite a run in with the law of the land,
    no wonder he sticks up for a fellow law breaker


  21. Daf,

    Great point reagarding the Aruch HaShulchan.
    In fact, he even wrote an acknowledgment letter praising the Russian tsar in the preface, as all writings were censored by the gov prior to printing, so to avoid that lengthy process he had to go out of his way

  22. They deserve to be flogged in public like they did timo defenseless men, women , and children. In other words , not only is it an aveira to help them , they are not getting an adequate punishment for their heinous barbaric crimes!!!

  23. Anyone who attempts to help these criminals is guilty himself of funnelling the yiddish trait of rachmonim for the WRONG purpose! These criminals do not deserve any aid or compassion of any kind!

  24. I don’t get it at all. The question does not seem to even fit the situation. This case is in the FBI , in court and the defendants are being held without bail. They most certainly have enough money for a lawyer, who anyway has a beyond abysmal chance of doing much.So pidyon shvuyim doesn’t come into play at all.
    What does come into play is getting them all their needs in prison. Being on top of their health situation and problems from other prisoners. Trying to get them to otisville or mental health Institute, as long as it doesn’t endanger others. That’s all simply veahavta lireacha kamocha as they still remain Jews

  25. Whether Rabbi Hoffman made a good argument for some, for me and for others who have pointed out as well, I see no relation between these individuals to theives. As any person who has suffered abuse, physical, emotional or mental, at the hands of others they can tell you that evil people can turn life into a living hell. Kol shekein these evil individuals who have completely and totally abused children from when they were born- this is shedding of blood- these people are rodfim, not ganuvim. I blame the leaders and those parents who joined the cults as adults. Yes of course they must all be a bit off, but just as we can’t say murderers are not evil because they are not well mentally, so too can we not excuse anyone who hurts others. Everyone has a shtickel that is slightly off, we are human with base intincts, only Hashem is perfect in every way, but that is no excuse to hurt others or place them in situations that will rob them of their inviduality and menuchas hanefesh. Those abusers who do so are rodfim and so is anyone in this cult who caused others, even their own children, pain or to become unstable to the point that they become void of their feelings, thoughts and their behavior as individuals. These evil people are not genuvim who stole money from victims, they are rodfim who stole lives.

  26. This Article must have been written by some litvish guy.

    Let me explain myself,
    Knowing what’s going on these days in the federal prisons between our Jewish fellow Brothers, and the cases built against our communities in the last couple of years, I could say clearly, that we should not even believe a single word the papers the government gives out at a case, more is hidden then given.
    The Fed’s are now days like a real mafia against our community, and the saddest is that we all believe them.

    And why I say the writer of the article is a litvak, is that I am too.
    And b”h I have the chance to visit and help some yiden in prison and follow their case, and could say that it’s a shame that the only one’s doing anything for these people are the chasidem.

    Sadly there are some real good yiden doing a lot of time in prison just because they couldn’t afford proper lawyers, and mostly these people are innocent 100%, and fell for the prey of the government which tries with all it’s efforts to damage our community’s image in the face of the nation, and we fall for it.

    There are sadly too much people in prison, including a sum of litvishe yiden, which get no recognition from their communities, all for falling in to the hands of the mafia with a certificate, and they don’t wanna maser on other yiden which is the real way all other people get “helped” out faster, and the chasidem are the only ones helping them.

    We must be shamed of ourselves, and instead, take part of a pidyen shviyem campaign to help “ALL” yiden in prison, no matter what they did, as that is the real mitzva, without asking questions.

    These people probably won’t be out too fast, and have already by now learnt enough of a lesson not to do wrongful things, (“enough”- to who is familiar in the way people in prison, especially yiden are treated, vastly worse then we are told in public). And we shall not listen to an editor which has decided to carve the mitzva of pidyen shviyem to his taste.

    Just take a moment to think, the laws nowadays are so complicated, that in belief there is no man in this country which obeys each and every law, so if you were the one chosen by the government mafia, what would you like the outside people to say??

  27. @@RealJew247 – What a LIAR. You are far from being a litvak. You are an uneducated chsid, who has no idea how to disguise your drivel to make it appear you are a litvak.

    “There are sadly too much people in prison”
    “pidyen shviyem”


    If I had the time, I would dissect your pathetic comment, written by yourself, a roaring chsid with an agenda. Pretty disgusting.

    Why the need to be dishonest?

  28. Sorry @Exposer,

    But I have had close friends there, and this is the fact, our litvishe crowd does not care about our own people, there’s no un-education here in the picture.

    I hate to need to say this, but if you shall taste this on your own you will completely agree with me, and I think you don’t want to.

    In the olden days dina d’malchusa dina was the answer for this, but now it has nothing to do with that, more to do with sinas yisroel.

  29. @RealJew247, you are confused and lumping all frum Jews sitting in jail into one big lump. Every case is different and just because the people you are talking about are frum, that doesn’t make their crimes, or non-crimes, on the same level.

    The US government is made up of different individuals, many of them, but not all, driven by huge egos with no human feelings and anti-Semitic agendas as well. I’m not denying that and the fact that many of our brothers (and sisters) do not deserve the sentences handed to them. This does not make all frum individuals innocent.

    In this case we are talking about a dangerous cult who ruined the lives of innocent children ( and given the opportunity would continue to do so) by twisting their minds and and wiping out their personalities. They are operating under the guise of frum Jews when they are far from that, they are practicing their own made up religion.

    I want to understand why you care about these reshuim when they are ruining the lives of innocent children?! Where is your rechmunis for the innocent when you care so much about these wackos who, unlike your wishful thinking that they’ll change in prison, will very likely not change their thought patterns only feel that they are victims and suffering “l’shem shomayim”…and if they come out most of them, if not all, would start with their shtick again. You don’t understand the behavior sickos. Indeed, they may notd need to sit in prison, they may just need to be locked up mental institutions where they can daven 24-7 and give each other malkus.

  30. Exposer: You are making a very serious allegation…aka that RealJew 247 is a closet Chassid posing as a Litvashe yid. There is a special place in olam habah for such Litvishe waanaees who live out their lives whispering to themselves several times a day, va’yatmach purkanei va’korev Moishiechi in kaddish.
    On a more serious note, I cannot imagine any issue uniting ALL segments of the tzibur than the absolute need to remove these cult fanatics from being able to move freely within our communities anywhere on earth. I doubt whether there is any disagreement with Rav Hoffman’s shita irrespective of whether you are chassideish, litvish or whatever.

  31. @philosopher
    I get your point and you said well.
    But just one point I didn’t point out well, which clears it out a little.

    I didn’t mean to say that they are innocent, and so I didn’t mean to say that all yiden are innocent,
    But what I did say was, that after the experience sum in our communities have had, I do not trust them that these actual people must have been part of this conspiracy etc. and that this was the exact story.

    As well, our community does not understand that some people are a little sick and might need to be locked up in some facility, but not in prison.

    Nice try with your allegations, almost as good as the government. 🙂
    No need to answer!

  32. Kol hmiracheim al achzari, sof yehiya achzar al rachmani….lets thank hashem that they were finally caught, why would anyone want to allow such terrible abuse to continue?!?! Freeing the people who are evil is suicide. Maybe we should focus on freeing the victims of the effects of the abuse(if we can even imagine the effects), and if freeing them (and the next generations from this abuse) is even possible. Let’s stop evil together…..honestly, those evil cult leaders can sit and rot!!!

  33. There is absolutely no mitzvah whatsoever, to assist these dirtbags, they are a danger to society, and have no place in the world at all, they deserve life imprisonment!

  34. Now hold on just one minute.
    Wasn’t there a huge campaign a few years ago to help 3 Satmar bochurim caught in Japan smuggling drugs.

    Many Rabbonim supported the campaign and millions of Dollars were raised.
    Surely drug smuggling is worse than Lev Tahor. Lev Tahor are not pushing drugs or paying mules to import them to various countries.

    I am not justifying what they are doing but as a matter of judging pidyon shivuim on the basis of their conduct they should be considered no worse than others who Klal Yisroel has helped in the past.

    Well said!

    @Truthseeker1 @tgsm
    You are right that there might be things done by them wrongly and that they need to be topped, but we are not the guards of hashem to punish them, and especially not to believe the government blindly with all there stories, which were proven biased on numerous times, when it comes to cases of Frum Jewish People.

  36. ” 3 Satmar bochurim caught in Japan smuggling drugs.”

    They were innocent, they were stooges.

    Unlike Lev Tahor, who are evil murderer.

    GRATEFULBLAC/RealJew247, to not get the difference, you either have to be brain dead or Yitzchok Frankfurter.

  37. BTW. The whole problem klal Yisroel had with this cult, is due to people thinking that it is a Mitzvah to get every So called Frum Jew out of jail. if your remember he was in jail for kidnapping charges and we got him out, and thanks to this we lost hundred of yidishe neshomes.

  38. Does your article include Jacob Rosner? Jacob is a 20 year old bocher who grew up under the influence of lev tahor his hole entire life, helped the transportation of the kids with some technicalities, following orders from his rebbe and father, and now faces life in prison

  39. To those who are attacking the author for explaining the tzdadim, they should know that there is a prominent Rabbi in the Five Towns who actually gave a shiur attempting to explain why this article is wrong.

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