Leader of 'Jewish Taliban' Cult Reportedly Drowns in Mexico

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Family belonging to the Haredi 'Lev Tahor' group, October 2011.Credit: Nir Keidar

The leader of Lev Tahor, an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, reportedly drowned Saturday night in a river in Mexico.

According to media outlets in Mexico, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, had gone to the river in the state of Chiapas with his followers for a ritual immersion, and was swept away by the current. His family and rescue services removed his body from the river. The body has not yet been officially identified.

>> Who Is Lev Tahor, the 'Jewish Taliban'? >>

Lev Tahor, a sect of some 250 people also known as the "Jewish Taliban" because female members wear a black gown resembling a burqa, was declared a dangerous cult by an Israeli court a few months ago after hearing extensive testimony of child abuse and marriage of young girls to older men within the group.

“The conduct of the sect toward minors is sufficient to call this group a dangerous cult that severely damages the physical and emotional well-being of the children of this community,” Petah Tikva Family Court Judge Rivka Makayes ruled.

Helbrans is an Israeli who became religious and fled Israel for the United States with a group of followers in 1990. The group made headlines internationally in recent years as it moved with Helbrans throughout the Americas, including the United States, Canada, Guatemala and now Mexico. Some members of the group live in Jerusalem and in Beit Shemesh, on the margins of extremist ultra-Orthodox communities.

Relatives of the sect’s members have testified in recent years as to extreme and violent means of control employed by Helbrans and his followers, including abuse and corporal punishment of minors, use of psychiatric drugs, the abduction of children from their families and forced marriage of under-age girls to older men.

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