Leaders of Lev Tahor, dubbed the “Jewish Taliban,” once sought asylum in Iran.
By World Israel News Staff.
U.S. and Guatemalan police raided the compound of extremist cult Lev Tahor on Tuesday night.
According to Hebrew media reports, three of the group’s top leaders were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and child abuse.
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.
Guatemalan media reports said police were able to infiltrate the cult, whose compound is located in Oratorio, a remote town in the southern part of the Latin American country.
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.
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.