As reported on YWN earlier this week, federal authorities arrested a 5th member of the Lev Tahor Cult, in connection to a plot to once again abduct two children who had escaped from the cult in Guatemala.
[Yechezkel] Matityau Moshe Malka appeared in federal court in White Plains, New York, on Tuesday on kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges.
The FBI said Malka and other members of Lev Tahor planned to kidnap 14-year-old Yante Teller and her 12-year old brother Chaim Teller, three months after they were taken from their mother in upstate New York – on a Shabbos morning – and later recovered by law enforcement in Mexico.
Authorities said Malka gave several cellphones to the girl in Brooklyn, so that cult leaders — including Sara’s brother, Nachman, who is incarcerated in Westchester County Jail — could talk secretly to her about her recapture.
The indictment states that, speaking by phone in Yiddish, an unnamed member of the cult in Guatemala — likely one of two brothers named Weingarten — “used violent language” toward the children’s mother, “including that he will fight the mother until the last drop of blood and that they will fight her to the death.”
“I will take them out from under your hands,” the “boss” warned the mom of her children – during a call she secretly recorded for the feds, the indictment said.
“And will take them back to their [cult member] father, with God’s help,” the unnamed leader allegedly threatened in the phone call. He “indicated that there are people in New York prepared to execute” another kidnapping.
Authorities charged four other members of Lev Tahor in December with abducting the same boy and girl and taking them out of the country. The children eventually were found in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire and reunited with their mother in New York.
The criminal complaint says Lev Tahor considers the 14-year-old girl to be the wife of Jacob Rosner, one of the men charged in the December kidnapping.
The indictment states the Cult was especially hell-bent on re-capturing the girl, so that she couldn’t testify against them.
A message seeking comment was sent to Malka’s defense attorney.
The mother had been a member of Lev Tahor — her father, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, founded the sect in 1994 — but fled the group last year after its leadership, which include her brother Mayer Rosner, became increasingly extreme, according to the FBI.
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.
Reports indicate cult leaders have suggested death as better alternative than life outside the cult.
YWN has been at the forefront for more than 10 years fighting the Lev Tahor cult – with dozens of articles over the years.
Lev Tahor was founded and led by Shlomo Helbrans, from the 1980s until his drowning death in Mexico in 2017. Since then, the leadership has moved into the hands of his son Nachman Helbrans, along with Mayer Rosner, Yankel and Yoel Weingarten, who are even more radical and aggressive than the late founder.
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)