After having been forced to abandon Israel, the United States and Canada amid accusations of child abuse, the radical ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect is now under investigation in Guatemala, where it has been based for the past two years.
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Guatemalan media reported that police had conducted a raid lasting several hours on the village where over 200 Lev Tahor members live. One unconfirmed report said children were taken away from their parents, and another said that Israeli officials were present during the raid.
The Foreign Ministry said in a press statement last night that Israel was cooperating with Guatemalan authorities.
“The Guatemalan authorities recently decided to investigate members of the community on suspicion that serious criminal offenses, including against minors, are being committed in the compound where they live,” the statement said. “The relevant Israeli authorities are in direct contact with the Guatemalan authorities and are following developments closely in order to ensure the welfare of Israeli citizens, most of them minors, who are in the Lev Tahor community’s compound in Guatemala.”
The community is headed by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, an Israeli who fled the country with a group of his disciples in 1990. For the past 15 years, most of the community has been wandering around North and South America, most recently in Guatemala. But the sect also has members in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
Relatives of Lev Tahor members have testified in recent years that Helbrans and his senior disciples use extreme, violent methods to retain control over the community, including abuse, corporal punishment of children, use of psychiatric drugs, kidnapping children from their parents and forcing young girls to marry older men. In Canada, these suspicions resulted in criminal proceedings against some community members, and several children were taken from their parents.