US forces and local Guatemalan police raided the compound of the Lev Tahor cult on Tuesday, taking two senior cult officials into custody. Yoel and Shmuel Weingarten were apprehended by authorities after infiltrating the compound in Guatemala.
The operation began last week when an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and two from the National Civil Police (PNC) infiltrated the cult living on a farm in the village of El Amatillo, in Oratorio, Santa Rosa.
The agents posed as people carrying humanitarian aid. They arrived with toys and gifts for the children, while gaining the trust of the adults, who opened the doors of the community for them. The undercover agents reportedly lived with the residents for a week.
Warrants have been out in the U.S. for the arrest of the Weingartens for kidnapping and child abuse. Cult members are also wanted for creating forced marriages involving girls as young as 12-years-old with much older men in the cult.
Security agencies in Guatemala, as well as FBI agents, have been searching for Yoel and Shmuel for a number of years, but the pair have continued to evade capture by posing as locals, until now.
There are currently multiple Lev Tahor cult leaders in United States Federal prison awaiting trials. Among them are Nachman Helbrans, 36; Mayer Rosner, 42, and his son Jacob Rosner, 20; Aron Rosner, 45, of Brooklyn, Mayer Rosner’s brother. A fifth man, Lev Tahor member Matityau Malka, and Mordechai Yoel Malka.
YWN has been at the forefront for more than 10 years fighting the Lev Tahor cult – with dozens of articles over the years. Violent beatings, abuse, rampant pedophilia were and are still common in the cult that currently remains in Guatemala.
They were facing various charges including kidnapping, identity theft, (use of fake passports) conspiracy to defraud the United States and international parental kidnapping. Four are being held without bond (due to flight risks). Aron Rosner was released on a $10 million bond to home confinement and electronic monitoring.
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.
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.
Reports indicate cult leaders have suggested death as better alternative than life outside the cult.
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.
After a number of years of YWN labeling Lev Tahor as a cult, an author of an article that appeared in Mishpacha Magazine did the same. Others, however, claimed 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.”
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)