United States Federal authorities filed charges of child exploitation and abduction against an extremist Jewish sect known as the “Lev Tahor” group. This same group has faced several such accusations over the years.
The charges leveled against five leaders within the Lev Tahor group are in addition to several other allegations against them that relate to the forced marriage of the same child bride in 2017 and her 2018 kidnapping along with her younger brother. These charges were announced by the FBI and an attorney for the Southern District of New York City.
The allegations consist of conspiring to transport a minor for intended criminal sexual activity and conspiring for the victim to travel with intentions to illicit sexual conduct. The first charge imposes a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence with a maximum of life in prison. The second one imposes a 30-year maximum prison term.
The abducted children’s mother managed to break free from the group after her brother forced her 12-year-old daughter (at the time) to marry an 18-year-old man of the community for procreation.
The mother arrived in Woodridge, New York, with her children in November 2018. Lev Tahor leaders allegedly kidnapped the girl, then 14 years old, and her 12-year-old brother during the night and transported them to Scranton, Pennsylvania. From there, they were flown to Mexico City, forcing the girl back to her 20-year-old husband there.
Police said the kidnappers led the children through several states with disguises until they ended up in Mexico. That is where the children were recovered and returned to New York within three weeks. Then Lev Tahor tried to kidnap them again, twice.
A Justice Department press release explains that child brides in the Lev Tahor community are forced“to have sex with their husbands, to tell people outside Lev Tahor that they were not married, to pretend to be older, and to deliver babies inside their homes instead of at a hospital, partially to conceal from the public the mothers’ young ages.”
The group Lev Tahor can be described as a cult. They are also known as the “Jewish Taliban,’ because women and girls older than three must cover their entire body by dressing in long black robes with only their faces exposed. The majority of their time, men are praying and studying specific portions of the Torah.
The Justice Department’s announcement of the charges also noted that Nachman Helbrans and the other leaders of the group “embraced several extreme practices, including strict, invasive monitoring of members, frequent beatings, and forced marriages of minors to adult members. Children in Lev Tahor are often subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.”
The Lev Tahor group was founded in Jerusalem. Soon they sought autonomy in Western countries. The group came under extreme scrutiny from Canadian officials for alleged child abuse and facilitating child brides. They fled to Guatemala in 2014. As of 2017, members of the Lev Tahor group were living in Chiapas, Mexico.