Raids on the 'Jewish Taliban': Why now?

Lev Tahor (no kids)

Lev Tahor (no kids)

Jane Sims, The London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:51 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- The timing is perplexing, the optics a head-shaker.

Why, just days before an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that fled Quebec two months ago finds out if 14 of its kids are to be sent back and put into temporary foster care, did Quebec police suddenly raid two of their homes near Chatham, Ont.?

What was so important that eight officers from Laval, Que., drove 800 km to act on two search warrants Wednesday night at the homes of two of Lev Tahor's leaders?

Why, when a court in Chatham is expected to rule Monday whether local child-welfare authorities can enforce a Quebec order to apprehend the kids?

No one in the justice ranks is saying why.

The Quebec police, meanwhile, say only that the raid was part of a continuing criminal investigation.

Court officials in Chatham won't even acknowledge the existence of two warrants signed by a local judge to allow the search.

One unnamed source hinted the search surrounded immigration issues involving the anti-Zionist group who follow an uber-strict religious lifestyle, oppose the state of Israel and are led by the controversial Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.

The swoop-down might also suggest the case for Quebec child protection needed some bolstering.

But the men who were the focus of the raids suspect authorities were looking for documents to prove alleged under-age marriages of girls in the sect, described by a former group member at a Quebec child-protection hearing held after the 250 members of Lev Tahor pulled up stakes and left Quebec Nov. 17 in the dead of night.

The witness, who described brutal, routine corporal punishment of children and his own arranged marriage to a woman who was 15 (16 is the legal age), was part of the case to convince a judge the children from three families are at risk.

The officers, assisted by Chatham-Kent police, arrived at Spurgeon Villa, a rural enclave of rented duplexes near Chatham just after 5 p.m.

They rifled through the home of Helbrans' oldest son, Nachman Helbrans, who is a community organizer. He said they even looked inside his bottles of coconut oil.

The other search was at the home of Mayer Rosner, Lev Tahor's director and most prominent spokesperson since the group left Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last fall.

Wednesday night, Rosner blamed a Zionist conspiracy aimed at the group's destruction and said "we are crying S.O.S."

By Thursday, the tone had mellowed somewhat.

The searches have everything to do with the ongoing child-protection issues, possibly linked to a letter the sect sent to Quebec last week to leave them alone, Nachman Helbrans said.

"They're looking for the documents," he said, specifically marriage contracts proving forced under-age unions.

"I don't think they find anything. I have nothing," Nachman Helbrans said.

Their children, both men said, were scared they'd be taken away.

Rosner said his eight-year-old son stayed in a closet when police arrived and prayed, "'I want to stay Jewish.' "

Their suspicions still don't answer why the raids were conducted less than a week before Ontario Court Justice Stephen Fuerth decides whether local child protection officials can act on the Quebec order.

But one Israeli reporter, who spent a week with the group in Quebec in 2012, didn't dismiss that there could be other issues.

Shay Fogelman, of the daily Haaretz in Tel Aviv, said one-third of the group immigrated to Canada from Israel with the controversial rabbi who was eventually given refugee status in 2003.

Another third came from Lev Tahor's community in Monsey, N.Y., and the rest came to Canada in the last 10 years from Israel.

The group is maligned in Israel and by mainstream orthodox believers because of its extremest views, whispers of alleged child abuse -- no allegations have been proven in court -- and marriages of girls as young as 14.

Fogelman said he didn't see "any miserable child," but "I heard many stories."

The unanswered question for Fogelman is how Lev Tahor supports itself financially. Very few members work outside the sect and have claimed they've raised money through the sale of the rabbi's books. Fogelman said fewer than 200 texts have been sold in Israel.

The money could be coming from other prominent anti-Zionist groups, making it important for Lev Tahor to claim Israeli persecution.

"There is no sense behind it. The Israeli government doesn't have anything to do with this group. They don't care about them," he said.

But even those donations wouldn't be enough to explain how they house, feed and clothe the entire group.

"There's not enough explanation where they get their money from," he said.

jane.sims@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/JaneatLFPress

 


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