Forty families from ultra-Orthodox cult Lev Tahor last week relocated from Quebec province to adjacent Ontario amid reports that some of its members were due to appear in court over alleged child abuse and refusal to obey Quebec’s education guidelines.
The group, led by rabidly anti-Zionist leader Shlomo Helbrans, numbered about 200 and included more than 100 children.
They left Ste-Agathe-des-Monts near Montreal early in the week and took temporary accommodation more than 500 miles away at a motel in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, until new housing could be found.
Initial reports said that the group was heading for Iran.
After arriving in Chatham, two families were ordered back to Quebec for a court hearing on whether their chilren should be placed in foster care. Chatham-Kent children’s services were said to be investigating.
Helbrans, 51, first came under scrutiny in Quebec in 2005 for alleged child abuse that included including beatings, allowing adult men to marry minors, and not feeding children properly.
A native of Israel, Helbrans — born Erez Elbarnes — attended a Jerusalem yeshivah and, according the Times of Israel, launched Lev Tahor (Hebrew for “Pure Heart”) in 1985 with no rabbinic credentials. He left for the US with 20 Israeli followers in 1990 amid accusations that he maintained contacts with Islamic movements — Lev Tahor has been called the “Jewish Taliban” because of the niqab-like attire worn by the women. In 1994, Helbrans was imprisoned by a Brooklyn court for two years for kidnapping a barmitzvah boy that he was tutoring.
Helbrans then headed to Canada and got refugee status in 2004 on the grounds that he would be persecuted if sent back to Israel.
Those speaking up for him included well-known Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey and anti-Zionist history professor Yakov Rabkin.
Since 2001, Lev Tehor has established itself on the fringe of Ste-Agathe, living according to extremely rigid ultra-Orthodox rules.
The town accepted their presence but concerns circulated over their wretched living conditions. Leaders occasionally burned Israeli flags there and, in 2011, two girls trying to get to Ste-Agathe from Israel were turned back at the border after their parents contacted Canadian authorities.
In a November 22 entry on its Canadian website, Lev Tahor refers to the charges against the group as lies and a “blood libel”.