A new series of allegations concerning Lev Tahor were released last week, claiming members of the group forged passports and other legal documents, and confined and moved people without their consent.
The allegations are the latest in a long litany of accusations against the controversial ultra-Orthodox group, which include claims of child neglect, inadequate dental care, poor hygiene and drugging children to keep them quiet.
The allegations were contained in documents called an Information to Obtain and were used by the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force, as the basis of an application to a Quebec judge for a warrant to search Lev Tahor homes in Chatham, Ont. The homes were searched on Jan. 29, 2014.
According to the Sûreté’s affidavit in support of the search warrant request, the police suspected that Lev Tahor members falsified documents, including passports, birth certificates and marriage licenses.
The documents were released following a media request. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Guidy Mamann, legal counsel for Lev Tahor, rejected the allegations, saying members of Lev Tahor have been thoroughly investigated for years in both Ontario and Quebec, and no criminal charges have ever been laid.
“The allegations are crazy allegations. They’ve never been proven,” he said.
Some of the allegations originate with Nathan Helbrans, son of the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Others stem from claims made by Adam Brudzewsky, another former member of Lev Tahor who, in media reports, is said to have fled the group in 2012.
The Toronto Star reported that Brudzewsky told police he was instructed to hit children to enforce discipline and that he was forced to fabricate false documents for the Ministry of Education. He also reportedly told police that Lev Tahor members were forced to pray for six hours on Saturday morning and that people were locked in the building to ensure no one could leave.
Nathan Helbrans first came to the attention of police in 2012, after he left the group, when his lawyer sent police a list of allegations of Lev Tahor misdeeds. Among his allegations are that children are punished with physical force; teenage girls are tied up in basements for disobedience; teenage girls are forced to marry older men; children are forcibly removed from their families and placed with other families on the word of Rabbi Helbrans.
Mamann, who specializes in immigration law but co-ordinated the group’s legal defence, said in his six months on the case, he has seen no hard evidence to substantiate any of the claims.
Quebec authorities spent nearly two years investigating members of the group, including about 100 visits to their community, “and came up empty handed,” he said.
In Ontario, child welfare authorities and police visited the community dozens of times, “and authorities came up with nothing.”
In all that time, no children were taken into foster care, he said.
Referring to an Ontario court order to apprehend 14 children, Mamann said an Ontario court at first instance ruled to enforce an apprehension order from Quebec. The Quebec ruling ultimately stemmed over concerns that Lev Tahor parents were ignoring that province’s education policy, which requires parents to educate their children in approved schools and also requires teaching of the provincial curriculum. Lev Tahor parents refuse to teach their children the theory of evolution or sex education. That prompted their move to Ontario, he said.
At any rate, an Ontario court subsequently overturned the apprehension order, he added.
Turning to allegations by Brudzewsky, Mamann was angry that authorities would take his claims at face value. According to the released documents, Brudzewsky said he hit children at the instruction of others. Shouldn’t he have been the one charged? Mamann asked.
“This is the evidence you’re using that rips apart a family?”
Mamann said in all the police and child welfare investigations of Lev Tahor households, they never found any prescription drugs that were administered to the children to control them. The medications found at Lev Tahor homes were over-the-counter drugs, he said.
And he said there was no hard evidence of underage marriage. One case he cited in which the girl was investigated showed she was nearly 17 when she gave birth, old enough to have been legally married under Canadian law, he said.
Mamann was critical of the organized Jewish community, which he said did not do its own investigation into the charges against Lev Tahor before jumping on the bandwagon condemning it.
Two teenage girls still remain in foster care in Toronto, even after their parents and siblings moved to Guatemala, along with almost all the rest of the Lev Tahor community. Their father, who is American, visits regularly from New York, but authorities won’t release the girls to his custody.
Mamann called their detention a travesty of justice.