Shameful behaviour of Lev Tahor in Canada

We have a system failure. Our Jewish organizations are not working. It isn’t a lack of dedication, love or concern. It is a systemic failure of organization. We must develop a system that cares for our children no matter where they live or how often they move.

In Canada we have just witnessed an inquiry into the death of Jeffrey Baldwin, a beautiful five year old boy, murdered by his grandparents while under the care of the Catholic Children’s Aid. There are lessons for us to be learned from that monumental failure.

As Canadians, as Jewish Canadians, we cannot allow any group, for any reason, to isolate itself from the greater society by establishing enclaves-especially in the name of religion. The privilege of living in Canada is breathing freely in a country that elevates personal freedom through equality.

Lev Tahor, a cult that fled Quebec during the night to live in an enclave in Chatham, Ontario is back in the news. Again.  Not too long ago they were regaled in the Toronto Star; National Post; Toronto Sun; CJN; Montreal Gazette; Chatham Daily; London Free Press; Windsor Star; CBC CTV; Sun News and outlets in Israel.

And now CBC, the bastion of left wing ideology in Canada, aired an in-depth report on this cult, February 28. The story they told was far less scathing than I had expected. But what they exposed is shameful.

If we, the Jewish community had done our job years ago it would never had reached this point. Forget the horrible documentary: that we let our children be treated this way for so many years when we knew about this group is a shunda.

It is alleged members of Lev Tahor locked girls in basements as a form of punishment, removed children from their families, controlled members of the community with psychological drugs, and forced girls aged 14 and 15 to get married, where the minimum legal age in Canada is 16. It was reported that most of the girls in the community had “fungus on their feet, ostensibly from wearing socks, stockings and shoes for most of the day, to adhere to the community’s strict modesty laws.”    

A 17 year old pregnant GIRL who had been married at 15 to a man twice her age allegedly accused her brother of physical abuse and her father of sexual abuse. Another girl reported her father had beaten her with a belt in the face and her arms over a six month period.

The children are home-schooled children. They do not learn basic math, many only speak Yiddish. And girls learn how to sew and cook. That’s considered an education.

One of the women from the group spoke about the education these children receive. “Why teach the history of Canada?” she says. “We are Jewish people. We are proud to live in Canada, but we are not proud Canadians.”

Do they like their “Canadian” health-care?

Lev Tahor continues to deny all allegations, but it gives one pause to wonder why they fled Quebec in the middle of the night to make their way to Chatham, Ontario. The bus driver told youth authorities a man in the group instructed her not to open the door for the duration of the 14-hour trip and let anyone off.  According to a social worker, the bus driver “saw the children urinating in Ziploc bags. No baby’s diapers were changed.” 

Leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans refers to Lev Tahor’s flight to Chatham as the latest in Jewish history of being driven from home and forced to move. He linked the persecution of Lev Tahor to the evils of Nazi Germany.

He says the allegations are the result of Israeli persecution because they are anti-Zionists. Yes, that’s right. The Israelis are involved with their long reach into Quebec and then Ontario.

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans entered Canada, from the United States asking for refugee status.  He manipulated the refugee board with gross lies, and then in his narcissism hoped he could manipulate public opinion by speaking to the CBC, accusing Israel of human rights abuses. He knew what he was doing. Nothing like accusing Israel of human rights abuses in Quebec.

To add insult to injury, many members fled Canada just a few days ago, to Trinidad and Guatemala, to avoid dealing with the Canadian organizations established to care for all of our children.

I believe in collective shame and guilt. We are Am Yisrael, one people. I recently reread Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik’s Kol Dodi Dofek: It is the Voice of My Beloved That Knocketh, in which he reminds us over and over that we are one. “Haverim kol Yisrael.” All Israel are knit together. We experience shared suffering and responsibility.

Lessons from the Rabbi.

Psalm 91:15: I will join him in trouble,” taught by the Rabbi as “There is unity.” We must share in the troubles of our community, a burden that we must all carry. WE. AM YISRAEL.

“If boiling water is poured upon the head of a Jew in Morocco, the fashionably attired Jew in Paris or London has to scream at the top of his voice, and through feeling the pain he will remain faithful to his people.”

“A collective ethico-halakhic responsibility devolved upon the entire Jewish people. The individuals coalesce into one ethico-halakhic unit, possessed of one conscience…all Jews are guarantors of one another.”

“A special covenant was made in order to effect the mutual arevut (suretyship) of all Jews for one another… From peoplehood, the covenant of mutual arevut directly followed… We are all mutually responsible for one another, we are all each other’s guarantors, as the verse states: ‘but the things that are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever, that we may do all the words of the Law‘ ” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

So I ask again, “Where has the Jewish community been?” That some worked hard is commendable –but it is still a failure. Jewish children have been abused “allegedly” under our noses. And Lev Tahor is tame compared to many other abuses of our children.

From the day we gathered at the foot of the mountain to receive God’s word, to the Passover recitation of our enslavement and then freedom, to our collective admissions of sins together at Yom Kippur, we are one.

We are together in all things.

We must never be so tolerant of any religious group they feel they’re separate and protected from the laws of the land.

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "