Mexican police raid ‘Jewish Taliban’ cult compound, arrest 26

Lev Tahor members have been involved in organized crime including human trafficking, rape and drug trafficking, among other serious offenses.

By Debbie Reiss, World Israel News

Mexican police have raided a compound of the extremist Lev Tahor cult along the border with Guatemala, rescuing, among others, a toddler whose father had escaped the cult years ago.

Twenty-six cult members, including its leader Menachem Endel Alter, were arrested in the raid, which took place over the weekend in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula.

The cult members have been involved in organized crime including human trafficking, rape and drug trafficking, among other serious offenses.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has tried to convince the cult members who are not in detention to return to Israel of their own accord but so far they have refused.

Only a three-year-old boy was sent to Israel, after his young father, Israel Amir, tried several times to rescue his son following his escape from the cult a number of years ago.

“Now I can start building my new life as a young father in Israel. I am so proud and excited,” Amir said in an interview with Uvda, Israel’s answer to CBS’ 60 Minutes.

“Ever since I got out I had one dream — saving my son from the nightmare of living in the cult,” he added.

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“I knew there was no chance I would leave him to live a life of cruel laws, mind control, hunger and misery. My dream came true on Rosh Hashanah,” he said.

Amir has accused the cult of “taking my childhood away from me.”

Lev Tahor, which means “pure heart,” is made up of around 40 families. The group is often described as “the Jewish Taliban,” with practices beyond the boundaries of normative Judaism. Girls from the age of three are required to wear long black robes that cover their bodies, while teenagers — some as young as 12 — are forced to marry men many years older. Accounts describe a strict regime of prayer and study for boys with infractions frequently punished with beatings.

Lev Tahor was founded by Shlomo Helbrans, an anti-Zionist, Israeli-born rabbi who lived in the U.S. and Canada and had served time in prison for kidnapping a child. His followers settled in Quebec but relocated to Ontario in 2013 when allegations of child neglect were raised. The following year, the group fled to Mexico and then Guatemala.

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In 2018, U.S. authorities charged a New York man with kidnapping two of Helbrans’ grandchildren, ages 12 and 14, after their mother fled the cult. The two were taken to Mexico by Lev Tahor members.

The federal documents charge Lev Tahor with subjecting children to beatings, abuse, starvation, isolation and other forms of severe violence.

U.S. court documents also showed that the group sought asylum in Iran and swore allegiance to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promising to “help counter Zionist dominance in order to peacefully liberate the Holy Land and the Jewish nation.”

After Helbrans drowned in 2017, the cult’s subsequent leaders, Nachman Helbrans and Yaakov Weinstein, were arrested on charges of child exploitation in 2018 and 2019 respectively.