(PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE)
The horror stories involving the Lev Tahor cult, currently located in Guatemala, continue following the death of its leader Shlomo Helbrans 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.
The latest story involves a woman who left the cult and came back to rescue her children, but was attacked with knives, gunfire and rocks and was not successful in the rescue mission.
The story involves a woman named Rebbetzin Sara Feige Teller, a sister of current Lev Tahor leader, Nachman Helbrans. She is married to Rabbi Aron Aryeh Teller, rosh yeshivah of Lev Tahor, and has 6 children: 4 girls and 2 boys. Her oldest daughter is 13, and was forced to marry a 17-year-old boy, a son of cult leader Mayer Rosner, and was reportedly 8 months pregnant as of this writing.
Rebbetzin Teller didn’t agree with the forced marriage and was placed in Cherem for over a year. Lev Tahor Hanhalah took away some of her children and distributed them to other families, and all members of Lev Tahor were forbidden from communicating with her. She was also reportedly forced to work as a cleaning lady in Mayer Rosner’s home.
Several weeks ago, she contacted a friend in Guatemala City, where there is a small community of ex-Lev Tahor members, asking for help. The friend immediately traveled hours to see her. Rebbetzin Teller decided to travel to Guatemala City to speak with askonim over there. She took two of her children along for the journey, about a four hour drive.
Askonim urged her not to return to the cult. However, she was extremely concerned about leaving her other children behind. She decided to return and try to rescue them, accompanied by several members of the community.
Askanim Tzvi Hershkowitz and Isaac Weiss told the story to BeChadrei Chareidim:
At around 11:00 PM on Motzei Shabbos, Octomber 13, 10 people in two vehicles set out for the 4 hour trip. It was in middle of the hurricane season and the roads were murky. No police were among the group of rescuers. What transpired could be associated with a horror-action film.
Arriving in the early morning, Rebbetzin Teller immediately went to the family’s hut and took her sleeping daughter, ten-year-old Tirzaleh, and placed her in the waiting vehicle.
[UPDATE – 11/14/18: Mishpacha Magazine reports that the brainwashed girl was shouting “Mommy is a rasha” as her mother dragged her away.]
She then approached her two sons as they emerged from Shul with their father after the Rebbe’s late-night Drashah. Sadly, the boys fought to free themselves from their rescuers hands and ran away, sounding the alarm.
Lev Tahor members rushed out of their ramshackle wooden cabins and began physically assaulting the men protecting Rebbetzin Teller. Other members arrived and threw rocks, while one brandished a 12-inch knife to attack the unarmed rescuers.
Rebbetzin Teller and the men from the Guatemala City community raced to their vehicles. As they made away with the 10-year-old gilr, members of Lev Tahor threw stones at the car, smashing windows and mirrors. “Suddenly, one of the rescuers was wounded by shrapnel. They did not know what weapon was used but it appears it was a gun used by cult leaders”.
Both vehicles were badly damaged and several cell phones, which had been used to take photos and video, were lost in the operation.
Other horror stories involving the cult have emerged, from young members who were banished for one reason or another.
YWN has reported extensively on the Lev Tahor cult – with dozens of articles over the years.
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.
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.
Former members of Lev Tahor (who either escaped or were otherwise expelled) do not recall learning Mishnah 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.
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 Magazing 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.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem/Photo Credit: BeChadrei Chareidim)