Previously unseen Lev Tahor testimony reveals psychological and physical abuse, after the lifting of a contested media ban. A former member of the ultra-orthodox sect escaped from the isolated community and testified against Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans between 2009 and 2011. Revelations made in the testimony, including reports of a 13-year-old girl promised to marry a man over 30, resulted in social workers being sent to Lev Tahor. The children that were interviewed about their living conditions commonly displayed advanced fungal infections on their feet, and many were severely bruised. The ex-member went on to describe corporal punishment in elementary schools, false psychological diagnoses handed out by the Rabbi, and a pervasive culture of fear.
Suspicion fell upon Lev Tahor when reports that the children living there were not learning the Quebec school curriculum. Added to that issue, concerns were raised ranging from dangerously poor hygiene, to health of over half the population of the town. Hygiene was compromised by pervasive and strict rules regarding modesty that forbade women to remove their stockings or socks. School classes were devoid of information, save for basic English and math skills, with the overwhelming focus on being able to understand what the Rabbi was teaching.
Although Rabbi Shlomo denies that the members of his community are under his control, during the interviews conducted by social workers, followers were terrified to speak out of turn or be seen in the wrong place. Social workers felt this atmosphere of control through fear was valid as psychological abuse and moved to have the children taken elsewhere. Since the newest Lev Tahor testimony reveals psychological and physical abuse, the Rabbis shaky psychiatry credentials have come under close scrutiny.
Those who speak against the Rabbi were silenced with false diagnoses of psychological disorders that followers would accept on faith. He would then prescribe harmful medication to combat what the Rabbi described as the symptoms of interpreting positive things in a negative light. Those symptoms actually being the questioning of the Rabbis authority or ideas. Children were fed melatonin and vitamin capsules several times a day to keep them complacent and orderly.
The ex-member was only able to escape after months of intense planning. Secretly purchasing an internet capable computer and conversing with a Rabbi in a nearby town were his first steps. Gradually, he began stashing personal belongings at a school run by the Rabbi and, with his 16-year-old wife, planned what they would do once they had escaped. Eventually, the ex-members family sent him money, and he and his six-months pregnant wife escaped in the middle of the night out of Lev Tahor and into a waiting car. They were quickly whisked away to a local airport.
The newly available testimony comes on the heels of the entire community fleeing to Ontario just before a set court date. Children have been taken out of the community based on concerns for their health and well-being, and placed in various foster homes or with other family members. Now that Lev Tahor testimony reveals psychological and physical abuse, it is very unlikely that the charming Rabbi will be able to talk his way out of the coming barrage of legal activity against his flock.
By Daniel O’Brien