Lev Tahor Cult Leader Rabbi Shlomo Erez Helbrans Reportedly Drowns in Mexico

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Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, leader of the ‘Jewish’ cult Lev Tahor, was found drowned in a river in the Mexican state of Chiapas on Friday. His body was pulled from the river by rescue forces on Friday afternoon after he was swept away by strong currents while toiveling before Shabbos.

He was 55 years old.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that it received reports of the drowning and added that it was investigating, but could not confirm Helbrans’ death, according to Channel 10.

A native of Yerushalayim’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, Helbrans was born in 1962 to Pinchos and Yocheved Elbarnes, secular Jews. Around his 13th birthday, he became religious and studied at a yeshiva in Yerushalayim.

In 1988, he was part of the Arachim kiruv movement and later established an independent yeshiva named Lev Tahor.

In 1990, Rabbi Helbrans moved his community to the United States and opened a small Lev Tahor yeshiva in Brooklyn.

In 1994, he was accused of assisting a 13-year-old child named Shay Fima (or Shay Reuven) to go into hiding from his mother, a secular woman, who had brought him to study at the yeshiva for his bar mitzvah; Shay later had become emotionally and religiously attached to Rabbi Helbrans. Rabbi Helbrans denied any involvement. He was arrested, but released.

Two years later, he was arrested again, after being implicated during a wired interview with the father, in cooperation with the FBI. During the trial, Shay Fima Reuven took the stand as a witness, described his running and hiding, and completely denied the involvement of Rabbi Helbrans, but rather claimed that he had run from his mother who beat him. Rabbi Helbrans was found guilty, convicted and imprisoned for two years. He was originally sentenced to four to 12 years in prison, but in June 1996 an appeals court, while not accepting his innocence, reduced the sentence to two to six years due to good faith. Three days later, he was placed in the work release program. After protests, since Rabbi Helbrans lost his permanent resident status and was not allowed to work in the US, he was moved back to prison until the end of his two years term.

Accusations of child abuse and other atrocities committed inside his community with “cult-like” features were prevalent in the media dealing with the story. The high-profile case drew much attention in Israel and in the U.S., and gained further attention when Rabbi Helbrans successfully convinced New York prison authorities to waive their requirement that all prisoners be shaved for a photograph upon entering prison, a violation of strict Jewish law in his opinion, and to accept a computer-generated image of what he would have looked like clean-shaven instead.

In November 1996, following the State Parole Board decision to release Rabbi Helbrans after two years in prison, the case rose to near scandal with suspicions that the Pataki administration was providing him special treatment

After his release from prison, Rabbi Helbrans ran a yeshiva in Monsey, New York, and following the loss of status, was deported to Israel in 2000, where he was to be sentenced for various accusations by people whose family members had joined the community Lev Tahor.

He fled to Canada, where in 2003 he was granted refugee status, claiming that he will be persecuted in Israel due to his religious political beliefs.Some members of his community fled to Guatemala.

Helbrans’ community, Lev Tahor, is considered extreme. In Israel, it is nicknamed “the Jewish Taliban” and “the Taliban sect.” Lev Tahor requires women and girls to don head-to-toe black coverings.

During November 2013, Quebec authorities summoned Lev Tehor members to court on allegations that their homeschooling was not compliant with Quebec’s education standards. The community also court case calling them to release the 14 children of one of Rabbi Helbrans’ sons from the community, after he had previously left the community. A few days later, community members fled to Ontario, settling in the municipality of Chatham-Kent. On November 27, 2013, a youth court judge in Quebec ordered that 14 children from the community be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical exams and receive psychological support. The hearing, in the St. Jérôme courthouse, took place in the absence of the Lev Tahor parents. The families sent a lawyer instead. The order was not immediately enforced because the parents, one of which was Rabbi Helbrans’ son who had previously left the community, were residents of Ontario, triggering a long legal battle. However, on February 3, 2014, an Ontario Judge decided to send back the 14 children to Quebec. While pending an appeal, the parents and children left Canada to Guatemala and other locations. Some were returned, triggering another legal battle, still pending.

{CB Frommer-Matzav.com Newscenter}

32 COMMENTS

  1. Ich mein, I poshut don’t chop how you can blatantly call it a “cult” when it was a clear machlokes a few years ago between 2 of the leading- daas am ha’aretz- jewish publications

  2. Lev Tahor wad a crime cult. The emotions to build were tears and hard mind.

    No where in Torah was Sarah covered head to toe like an arab. The arabs do so for shame. The Torah must be valued.

    This is terror.

    B’DE

  3. Fascinating video. Just watched the whole thing. Not sure what to make of the organization. Jury is still out.

  4. Hopefully all the abused, misguided families caught in this cult, especially the children, will now be saved. May Hashem have rachamim on them.

  5. almost every story mentioned here is Fake news, partially or completely lies and falsehoods !! at best inaccurate.

  6. Rosh: something tells me you dont know any of the local families in monsey that were terribly affected!!! I do! Now i am not the Ultimate judge and i do believe He doesnt need my help so i dont claim to have answers and i always try to give benefit of the doubt so i can oly say BDE… but to pretend its fake news????

  7. First of all his women followers do not cover their faces as one of the fake comments here. Look close at the pictures of his group. They do not cover their faces. The groups that do cover their faces are living in Israel and I have seen these women in the meah shearim area. They have three schools. In fact some of those shalim shawled ladies were at the kosel confronting the reform feminist in their monthly Rosh Chodesh visits. They have a right to cover their faces especially in a society that advocates toeiva parades,pork stores,tattoo shops and chillul Shabbos. Let’s not judge those women. Many of them are American baal tsuvahs. I have spoken to them and they speak a perfect English. Better then than the non tznius others.

  8. Those who grew up in Monsey, remember how creepy and scary the place was…always police being called for the strange noises and suspicious activities going on there.

  9. Rosh- which part exactly is “fake” here?
    Whilst I agree the way the documentary is portraying him might be overstated e.g. the term “convicted felon” as if he is kind of a criminal, in that case, he most likely convinced and brainwashed the kid to become religious, and felt it his duty to do so. Which is all part of his extreme outlook of Judaism.
    Remember he was a Baal Teshuva in the first place, with no mesora.
    A LOSS?
    In any case, it seems that he had some great and gifted powers, which could have been used in a very positive way, he could have created a beautiful community without having to go so insanely extreme.
    May hashem have mercy on all souls that are there. It’s scary how these innocent sheltered souls will cope with the world now.

  10. I agree with some of the above comments.
    Nebach, some of the baalie tishuvas that were taken in by this cult, only added hardship on top of their already troubled lives. Sometimes baalie tishuvas are feeling very guilty of their past activities and they want to improve. They sometimes go to the extreme opposite and act out in a (what they perceive) very frum manner. Sometimes, it’s their children that are looking to completely cut-off from their parents non-frum lifestyle. Sometimes they feel that suddenly becoming or marrying Chassidish will get them as far away from their past as possible. It can & does work, but only with the proper guidance. Any drastic action, taken alone, will ultimately end in disaster. Nebach. That’s why true Daas Torah is so important and vital, for everyone. I truly hope that these wonderful innocent children (and parents) can get their lives back and integrate back into a normal Torah living community. Hashem Yirachem!

  11. BDE

    A tragedy.

    We might not understand him. But I know people who were close to him. They have lots of good things to say about him. He was a great person despite his believes.

    I think is unapropiate to call them cult.

  12. I feel very sorry that he was niftar, but I don’t in anyway shape or form agree with this man’s crazy moronic cult that he built, u wana be extra frum & all that, great for u, but don’t push your views on others, making the ladies dress like Arabs with the burka, come on man, get real, even in Satmar both in Wb (Williamsburg) & KY (Kiryat Yoel, Monroe) no 1 & I mean No 1 does this, there were other crazy & I mean crazy Moronic things that these Moron Kooks did, it’s been all over the news, I hope BE”H the Mexican Gov breaks it up & stops them immediately, so that these children & young adults could have a normal life, hey, u wana be Super Frum, move to Wb, Bp (Boro Park) Monroe, Monsey or Skver, but this is beyond the most ultra ultra Frum !! This is Insanity, Moronicness, & great Stupidity, I feel very very bad & sorry for anyone in this “Cult” get out now & save your life !! But yes, I’m very sad to hear that this yid has passed away, please if you are gonna go to the Mikvah @ the ocean or a river, be very very careful, ty

  13. I doubt the lev tahor members have internet, so I won’t bother addressing them. But I personally know someone who was pulled into the cult as a girl and a marriage was arranged for her without her parents permission. It took a lot of work to get her out.
    That’s not Judiasm. The extra chumras they take on don’t bother me. Its the cultlike allegiance and blind faith in the leader, the meds he gave out calling them ‘vitamins’ etc. The pulling young people away from their families.

  14. I lived in Monsey very close to his place years ago. Walked in there a few times, quite an unhealthy enviroment especially for kids . The kids looked drugged up and medicated.

  15. A tragedy.

    “We might not understand him. He was a great person despite his believes.

    I think is unapropiate to call them cult” Excuse me we might not understand him ? Are you for real ? Not Understand Him ? Do u know what this man did to children ? Teenage marriages, beating children abuse, other crazy moronic garbage, are u serious, we might not understand him ? This man had Major Major Serious Serious Issues & you are saying ” oh we don’t understand him” I think you need Major Serious help, you are gona stick up for him & give him the benefit of the doubt & say “oh it’s ok what he did, & he’s Not a Cult” ? Give me a break, give me a break, & you also said “But I know people who were close to him, they have lots of good things to say about him” good things to say about him ?

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