Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Case of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans

Case of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans
(AKA: Erez Albaranes)

Piarco International Airport - Trinidad

Leader - Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart”) Haredi Community, Toronto, Canada
Quebec, Canada
Monsey, NY 
Brooklyn, NY 
Jewish Islamic Movement  - Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbi Shlomo Helbran and his wife Malka and Mordechai Weisz,were originally accused of physical abuse and kidnapping of a 13-year-old boy.  The rabbi was also accused of having cult like practicesRabbi Helbran was convicted in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in 1994 of kidnapping a young boy. 
At the time Helbran headed a small group called Lev Tahor is described as an offshoot of the Satmar movement of the Hasidic Jews. 

Shlomo Helbrans was born into a non-observant family and was originally named Erez Albaranes.  He now calls himself "Shlomo Helbrans, the Admor (hasidic rebbe) of Riminov."

Helbrans studied in various Jerusalem yeshivas in his youth. In the mid-1980s, despite lacking rabbinic ordination, he opened the Lev Tahor yeshiva in Jerusalem at age 23.

In 1990, after an Israeli investigation for ties with what was then the Islamic Movement in Israel, Helbrans fled to the United States with about 20 followers.

In 1994 Helbrans was convicted in the US on kidnapping charges, of a boy who was sent to him for bar mitzvah lessons.

Following his release from prison, Helbrans and his followers moved to Ste. Agathe, about 100 kilometers north of Montreal. There, Helbrans successfully petitioned the Canadian government for refugee status, claiming persecution in Israel for his anti-Zionist opinions.

Recently, the Canadian authorities have been petitioned to remove 137 children from the Lev Tahor community due to all sorts of allegations of abuses, including marrying children underaged –– as young as twelve to thirteen-years-old.

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Table of Contents:  
  1. Man Is Charged in Disappearance of Child (04/10/1992)
  2. Kidnapped or Converted?  (08/02/1992)
  3. Update; U.S. Still Searching For Missing Boy (12/12/1992)
  1. Rabbi and Wife Arrested in Disappearance of Boy  (02/13/1993)
  2. Religion and Law Clash, And a Boy Is Still Missing  (02/14/1993)
  3. Bail Posted For Rabbi In Kidnapping (02/15/1993)
  4. Rabbi Is Said to Have Offered Deal for Missing Boy  (02/16/1993)
  5. Rabbi Pleads Not Guilty in Kidnapping  (02/17/1993)
  1. Perjury Conviction In Abduction Case  (02/04/1994)
  2. Boy, 15, in Religious Tug-of-War Meets With Parents After 2 Years (03/01/1994)
  3. Father Requests Return to Israel For Boy in Religious Tug-of-War (03/04/1994)
  4. Rabbi Agrees to Guilty Plea in Boy's Kidnapping  (03/08/1994)
  5. Corrections  (03/12/1994)
  6. Custody Settled in Case of Boy Who Disappeared  (03/18/1994)
  7. Jewish Youth And Parents To Split Again  (03/25/1994)
  8. Judge Orders Abduction Trial In Dispute Over Jewish Youth  (04/14/1994)
  9. Jewish Teen-Ager Fights Return to His Parents (04/21/1994)
  10. Withdraws Plea  (07/12/1994)
  11. Custody-Rift Youth Is Reported Missing  (09/18/1994)
  12. Trial Is Set for 3 on Charges of Kidnapping Hasidic Youth (10/12/1994)
  13. Mother Tells Of Pressures On Jewish Son By a Rabbi  (10/12/1994)
  14. Tactics in the Battle Over Hasidic Boy Push the Case Toward Melodrama  (10/17/1994)
  15. Metro Digest  (10/251994)
  16. Boy's Father Testifies in Kidnap Trial of Rabbi  (10/25/1994)
  17. Transcript at Rabbi's Trial Is Interpreted in Two Ways  (10/26/1994)
  18. Orthodox Rabbi Found Guilty Of Kidnapping a Jewish Youth  (11/10/1994)
  19. Rabbi Given Prison Term In Kidnapping Of Teen-Ager (11/23/1994)
  20. Metro Digest - Gets Prison Term (11/23/1994)
  21. Man Pleads Guilty in Plot to Kidnap Jewish Youth  (12/11/1994)
  22. Judge Upsets Conviction of Rabbi's Wife  (12/16/1994)
  23. Computer Replaces Razor For Rabbi's Prison Picture (12/29/1994)
  1. U.S. Asks Whether Leniency for Rabbi Had Link to a Pataki Backer  (04/26/1998)
  1. Widening Inquiry On Pataki Donors And Parole Board  (08/19/1999)
  1. Rabbi Is Deported 5 Years After Conviction, Lawyer Says   (05/12/2000)
  2. Former Parole Official Is Indicted in Influence-Peddling Inquiry (06/13/2000)
  1. Overcoming Tug of War Of His Family and Rabbi (04/01/2001)

  1. Lev Tahor: Pure as the driven snow, or hearts of darkness? (03/09/2012)
  2. ’When you’re on the path of truth, you don’t care what others say’ (03/16/2012)
  3. The Brooklyn D.A.’s Office Is Having a Terrible Day (06/05/2012)

  1. Refugee Hearing Documents for Shlomo Helbrans (10/01/2013)
  2. Suspected Jewish child abuse cult flees Quebec homes (11/20/2013)
  3. Extremist haredi Orthodox sect staying in Canada (11/24/2013)
  4. Jewish sect Lev Tahor flees Quebec amid child neglect allegations (11/25/2013)

  1. Lev Tahor sect controlled kids with fear, youth court told (01/16/2014)
  2. Quebec police raid homes of Lev Tahor sect members in Chaham, Ont. (01/30/2014)
  3. Children to be removed from Lev Tahor community: Judge (02/03/2014)
  4. Lev Tahor sect denied appeal of child removal order (02/22/2014)
  5. Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helrans' refugee case questioned (02/27/2014)
  6. Police documents list allegations of abuse, forced marriages in Lev Tahor sect (02/27/2014)
  7. Rabbi of the Pure Hearts: Inside Lev Tahor (02/28/2014)
  8. Member of Lev Tahor sect flee Canada, intercepted in Trinidad (03/06/2014)
  9. Lev Tahor: Ontario should have seen flight risk, Quebec says (03/07/2014)

  1. Case of Rabbi Nachman Helbrans 
  2. Case of Jacob Frank and The Frankist Movement
  3. Case of Sabbatai Zevi 
  4. Cults, Mind Control, Sex Crimes and the Jewish Community

Man Is Charged in Disappearance of Child
New York Times - April 10, 1992 

The police arrested the operator of a Brooklyn yeshiva and charged him with kidnapping a 13-year-old former student whose whereabouts were still unknown as of this morning. 

Sgt. Tina S. Mohrmann, a Police Department spokeswoman, said the man, Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans, 35, of 2245 Beach 45th Street in Coney Island, took the youth away because he disapproved of the way the child's parent were raising him. 

The parents of the missing youth, identified as (Name Removed), had withdrawn their son from the yeshiva that Mr. Helbrans operates at 691 Dahill Road in Borough Park. The youth had been living in Manhattan with his father and mother before he disappeared. 

Sergeant Mohrmann said the boy's parents, who were disturbed at the rabbi's influence over their child, had enrolled him in a yeshiva in Williamsburg after removing him from the Borough Park yeshiva in March. 

The police believe that Mr. Helbrans had managed to trace the youth's whereabouts and continued to instruct him daily. Sgt. Mohrmann said that on April 5, his parents notified the police that the boy had not returned home.

Kidnapped or Converted?
New York Times -August 2, 1992 

Hiding behind Dumpsters and parked cars, Jacky (Name Removed) has spent long nights waiting outside the tan-brick yeshiva in Brooklyn, hoping to catch a glimpse of his son, (Boy's Name Removed). 

Nearly four months ago, the 13-year-old boy disappeared amid a clash of religious and secular Jewish worlds -- a bitter dispute between his mother and stepfather and the Hasidic rabbi who runs the yeshiva in Borough Park. 

The rabbi, Schlomo Helbrans, who was teaching the boy in preparation for his bar mitzvah, accused Mr. (Last Name Removed) a and his wife, (Wife Name Removed), both non-religious Jews, of abusing the boy. The (Name Removed), who have three younger children, countered that the rabbi had become obsessed with converting their son to his ultra-orthodox ways. Two Letters Since Disappearance 

Since (Boy's Name Removed) vanished on April 4, there have been two letters, apparently in his handwriting, and a host of theories, suspicions and contentions about what has happened to him.
At the Brooklyn District Attorney's office -- which brought kidnapping charges against the rabbi last spring, then dropped them, citing insufficient evidence -- officials speculate that (Boy's Name Removed) may have run away to live a more religious life than his parents would have wanted.
Federal prosecutors, though, have now taken up the case, saying they have reason to believe the boy may have been kidnapped. The (Name Removed)s believe the rabbi is responsible for taking the child, a charge that the rabbi denies. 

The police in Israel have begun investigating as well, saying the case of (Boy's Name Removed) is just one of a series of reported abductions linked to the rabbi and his yeshiva, Lev Tahor (pure heart), which the rabbi describes as loosely affiliated with the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim. Until recently, the yeshiva was based in Jerusalem. 

And as the days wend on, the rabbi and the (Name Removed)s, also recent Israeli emigres, have traded accusations not only of kidnapping, but also of bribery, extortion and attempted murder.
Both the rabbi and the (Last Name Removed) acknowledge that (Boy's Name Removed) first came to Lev Tahor to prepare for his bar mitzvah and quickly became deeply religious and wanted to stay at the yeshiva. Unwelcome Spotlight on Satmars 

But from there, they present startlingly different versions of a story that has thrown an unwelcome spotlight on the insular Satmar community, which is concentrated in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. 

"He has his own movement," Rabbi David Niederman, a Satmar spokesman, said of Rabbi Helbrans. "He has his own constituency. But we don't know too much about it." 

Rabbi Niederman and others describe Rabbi Helbrans and his yeshiva as a small, obscure group that arrived just before the Persian Gulf war, in part for fear of another Holocaust, in part because of continued pressure by the Israeli Government over its extreme anti-Zionist views. 

Rabbi Helbrans, who appeared before a Federal grand jury June 11, said in an interview last week that he knew nothing of (Boy's Name Removed)'s whereabouts and disclaimed any connection with his disappearance. Any suggestion to the contrary, he said, "is Walt Disney information, it's Mickey Mouse information." 

And he said that while helping non-religious Jews become religious was one of the most important acts for a Hasidic rabbi, he could not break civil law to do it. 

The (Name Removed)s say the rabbi took an immediate interest in (Boy's Name Removed) when they met in February at the yeshiva. 

"The rabbi said, 'I see light on your face; I want to know what big things you are going to do,' " said (Name Removed), 31. The next day she said she received the first of dozens of calls from the rabbi and his associates, who pressed her to leave (Boy's Name Removed) at the yeshiva and move to Brooklyn from New Milford, N.J. 

She says she considered the request at first, but then declined. Still, what began as a one-week stay at the yeshiva for (Boy's Name Removed) soon turned into three weeks as Rabbi Helbrans and the (Name Removed)s began arguing over whether the boy should return to his family. Police Help the Mother 

On March 1 things came to a head. Mrs. (Name Removed) arrived to pick up her son but Rabbi Helbrans and his wife Malka refused to give him up. Mrs. (Name Removed) called the police, who helped her remove the child from the yeshiva. 

In the days that followed, (Boy's Name Removed) tried to run away from New Milford, apparently to go back to the yeshiva. But the police found him in New Jersey and took him home. "I believe the rabbi brainwashed him," Mrs. (Name Removed) said. 

On April 4, she let a young Hasidic man who had befriended (Boy's Name Removed) take the boy to Brooklyn for a night, provided (Boy's Name Removed) not be taken to the yeshiva. (Boy's Name Removed) was wearing black sweat pants, a black T-shirt and a blue and red baseball hat. She has not heard from him since. 

Last week, as he sat behind a semi-sheer white curtain in his office at the yeshiva, Rabbi Helbrans said he had not seen the boy since the night the police came to his yeshiva. 

But that encounter with the police was not the last run-in (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents would have at Lev Tahor. 'Forgewt About Your Son' 

On April 5, Mr. (Name Removed) went inside to look for his son, at which time, he said, Mrs. Helbrans said that her husband had just taken the boy away and that, "you can forget about your son."
Mr. (Name Removed) left and returned later that night with the police. 

This time, the rabbi's wife and three children were gone, but "the men from the yeshiva came down with sticks in their hands," said Mrs. (Name Removed). 

In mid-May, a 22-year-old Hasidic man was charged with attacking Mr. (Name Removed) and (Father), (Boy's Name Removed) natural father, as the two men sat in a car outside the yeshiva.
The police said Joseph Cohen, one of the 20 to 30 people who live at the yeshiva, attempted to stab the men and sliced off one of Mr. (Name Removed)'s fingers, leaving two others dangling. Mr. Cohen was charged with attempted murder. Mr. (Name Removed) says the attack caused him to be laid off from his job as superintendent of an apartment building in Washington Heights where he maintained an apartment in addition to his home in New Jersey. 

The rabbi describes that encounter, like others involving the (Name Removed)s, as defensive maneuvering. Mr. (Name Removed) and Mr. (Father's Name Removed), he said, had attacked Mr. Cohen. 

Even before the assault, however, Mr. (Father's Name Removed) had tangled with the rabbi.
After reading reports of the case in the Israeli papers last spring, Mr. (Father's Name Removed)s, who lives outside Jerusalem, contacted the rabbi, who told him that he could come speak with him if he wanted to find his son -- an account confirmed by Rabbi Helbrans. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed)s later told the police that the rabbi's followers were armed. With a tape recorder supplied by law-enforcement authorities, he recorded conversations with the rabbi, who told him that his son had been the victim of beatings at home, a statement the (Name Removed)s deny. (Step-mother's Name Removed), Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s current wife, who was interviewed in Jerusalem, says the rabbi offered her husband $60,000 in return for keeping the boy at the yeshiva, and the rabbi also offered to pay for an annual visit by the father. 

Rabbi Helbrans counters that Mr. (Father's Name Removed) came looking not for the boy, but for money. He says Mr. (Father's Name Removed) tried to extort him. 

Such troubles with the outside world are not new for Rabbi Helbrans. Other Reports of Abductions

Since he set up the yeshiva in Brooklyn two years ago, there have been several reports in Israel of teen-agers either lured or abducted to the Borough Park yeshiva. Parents of these youths say that yeshiva representatives in Israel operate by sending the youths letters, following up with long heart-to-heart conversations described by the parents as "brainwashing." 

Ultimately, the teen-agers leave to join the yeshiva. Some parents say the youths were kidnapped and spirited away to the United States under false passports. One of the most recent to go was a 16-year-old from Jerusalem, Yehoshua Yehezkel, who was taken in the spring, said his father, Rabbi Eli Yehezkel. 

The Hasidic community in Brooklyn, which shuns public handling of intercommunity problems, has been reluctant to search on their own for the boy, at least in a public way. 

"We basically as a community are an insular community, not trying to reach out," said Rabbi Niederman. "If the boy were lost, that would be one thing. This is a more sophisticated incident. And generally I think this thing is the kind of thing we leave to the professional people, the police and other specialized agencies." Rabbi Arrested and Released
Four days after (Boy's Name Removed) was reported missing, Rabbi Helbrans was arrested and charged with kidnapping and endangering the welfare of a child. Hours later, however, the District Attorney, Charles J. Hynes, ordered the arrest voided for lack of evidence. 

Though the Hasidic community forms a strong voter base for Mr. Hynes, a spokesman from his office, Kathleen Healey, said there had been no political pressure to drop the charges. 

The (Name Removed)s say that they received calls from others in the Hasidic community for a while, asking them not to go to the police. "They just say to us to be quiet, that it's not good for the Jewish people," said Mrs. (Name Removed). 

In June, the United States Attorney in Brooklyn, Andrew J. Maloney, and the F.B.I. began investigating the disappearance. "There is evidence that the child has been kidnapped and that individuals associated with the rabbi may know where he is," said an official close to the inquiry.

The (Name Removed)s, meanwhile, have secured pro bono services of the divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who describes the Satmar as "zealots" and "dangerous people." Letters the Only Inkling

Their only indications that their son may be safe are the letters. One was addressed to the rabbi, the other to them, and both were delivered by Federal Express in early May. 

"The one to the rabbi said, 'I want to thank you for everything you do, ' " said Mrs. (Name Removed). "He says that he is staying with a Hasidic family in Brooklyn" and that he hoped to return to the rabbi's yeshiva. 

In the letter to her, she said: "He asked me to stop looking for him and to ask the police to stop looking. He said he felt good and didn't miss anything. He said to tell the police to stop bothering the rabbi. He wrote that if we became religious, he would come back to live with us." 

The return address was fake. But, the (Name Removed)s say, the Federal Express office reported that a male adult had sent the letters. 

Rabbi Helbrans says that he had worried only for a short time about (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance. 

"The first two weeks, I was working all the day to find him," he said. "But after he wrote the two letters, that he's happy and everything is well, then I didn't worry anymore. If he's happy and in a good place, what's the trouble?"


Update; U.S. Still Searching For Missing Boy
New York Times - December 13, 1992 

More than eight months have passed since Boy's Name Removed, a 13-year-old Jewish boy, disappeared in Brooklyn. But despite search efforts by Federal investigators, (Boy's Name Removed) is still missing. 

The boy disappeared last April after a series of combative meetings between his parents, Jacky and (Name Removed), and an ultra-orthodox rabbi who has a yeshiva in Brooklyn. 

Since then, the (Name Removed)s have insisted that their son was kidnapped by the rabbi, Schlomo Helbrans. And even with continuing investigations by the police, a Federal grand jury and the F.B.I., no one has had any luck recovering him. 

"We still don't have the child back," said Raoul Felder, the lawyer for the (Name Removed)s, who sent (Boy's Name Removed) to Rabbi Helbrans' yeshiva last spring for bar mitzvah training. "I have to say it's one of the most frustrating things I've been involved in since I've been a lawyer," he said. 
Mr. and Mrs. (Name Removed), who are non-religious Jews, contend that the Rabbi, a member of the Satmar sect, became obsessed with converting their son to his ultra-orthodox ways and masterminded his kidnapping. Mr. Helbrans counters that he does not know (Boy's Name Removed)'s whereabouts, and disclaims any connection with his disappearance. But he says the boy had wanted to escape his abusive parents. 

The police initially arrested Mr. Helbrans and charged him with kidnapping. But the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles J. Hynes, later voided the arrest, saying there was not enough information to prosecute Mr. Helbrans. 

Mr. Felder said Friday that (Boy's Name Removed) is still believed to be alive. "We just don't know where he is."

Rabbi and Wife Arrested in Disappearance of Boy
New York Times - February 13, 1993 

A Hasidic rabbi and his wife were arrested early yesterday on charges of kidnapping Boy's Name Removed, the teen-ager who disappeared last year amid a struggle for control of his care and religious training, law-enforcement officials said. 

Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans and his wife, Malka, were taken into custody at 8 A.M. at their upstate residence in Monsey, N.Y., by a task force of New York City detectives, New York State troopers and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the officials said. The couple were held in Brooklyn last night, awaiting arraignment on Tuesday. The boy's whereabouts had not been determined. 

Rabbi Helbrans was arrested in the boy's disappearance once before, shortly after (Boy's Name Removed) was reported missing last April, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Federal authorities joined the investigation two months later. 

The law-enforcement officials, who insisted on anonymity, declined to discuss what new evidence had led to the rabbi's second arrest. The indictment was sealed. The authorities did not know the teen-ager's whereabouts, one official said, but they believed that the couple did. The two were being questioned. Clash of Religious Worlds 

Boy's Name Removed (pronounced shy FEE-mah) was 13 years old when he disappeared 10 months ago amid a clash of religious and secular Jewish worlds -- a bitter dispute between his mother and stepfather and the Hasidic rabbi who runs Lev Tahor yeshiva in Borough Park. 

Rabbi Helbrans, who was teaching the boy in preparation for his bar mitzvah, accused (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents, Jacky and (Name Removed), of physically abusing the boy. The couple, who have three younger children, countered that the rabbi was trying to convert their son to the ultra-orthodox ways of the Satmar sect. After the boy's disappearance, the enmity between them escalated into several violent encounters, and Mr. (Name Removed) lost a finger in one of them. 

"Of course it makes me happy that they were arrested," said Mr. (Name Removed) late last night in the living room of his new home in Floral Park, Queens. "I'm waiting for the law to do its job, and if the law doesn't do its job, then I'm going to do my job." He declined to elaborate. 

Raoul Felder, a lawyer for the (Name Removed)s, said last night that the arrest appeared to be bringing the long, unhappy case closer to an end. 

He said the (Name Removed)s' hopes had been raised -- and then dashed -- by many reported sightings of their son that were never substantiated. Mr. Felder said that the boy's parents had not received any evidence of his whereabouts since two letters apparently signed by him arrived shortly after his disappearance. 

Law-enforcement officials have struggled with the case ever since the boy disappeared on April 4, and have had to contend with conflicting theories, suspicions and contentions. 

The rabbi and the (Name Removed)s -- all immigrants from Israel -- agree that (Boy's Name Removed) first came to the Borough Park yeshiva to prepare for his bar mitzvah, and that he had expressed a desire to stay there. 

But the (Name Removed)s said that the rabbi began to manipulate the boy to persuade him to stay. Rabbi Helbrans accused the parents of beating (Boy's Name Removed). 

Since Rabbi Helbrans set up the yeshiva in 1990, parents of several Israeli teenagers who joined him accused the rabbi of kidnapping. 

On April 4, Mrs. (Name Removed) let a young Hasidic man who had befriended (Boy's Name Removed) take the boy to Brooklyn for a night. She has not seen her son since. 

Four days after (Boy's Name Removed) was reported missing, Rabbi Helbrans was arrested and charged with kidnapping and endangering the welfare of a child. Hours later, however, the District Attorney, Charles J. Hynes, ordered the arrest voided for lack of evidence. The (Name Removed)s later accused him of succumbing to political pressure from the Satmar community, and last night Mr. (Name Removed) said he did not believe Mr. Hynes had uncovered any new evidence. 

United States Attorney Andrew J. Maloney and the F.B.I. began investigating in June. Officials said last night that a Federal grand jury had not found sufficient evidence for an indictment on Federal charges. But they said that a state grand jury had found enough evidence for an indictment on the charges of kidnapping in Kings County. 

No one answered the door at the yeshiva last night, the Jewish Sabbath. Two young children peeked from behind the white blinds of a second story window.

Religion and Law Clash, And a Boy Is Still Missing
New York Times -  February 14, 1993 

In the 10 months since her son, (Boy's Name Removed), disappeared amid a struggle over his care and religious training, (Name Removed) has lived a life of despair and suspicion. The only indication he might be safe came in May, shortly after he disappeared, in the form of two letters, apparently in his handwriting and asking that no search be made, but with a nonexist ent return address in Brooklyn. 

Now, the authorities have charged the two people Mrs. (Name Removed) has accused from the start -- a Hasidic rabbi and his wife -- with the kidnapping of her son. But the boy remains missing, and Mrs. (Name Removed)'s anguish appears no closer to an end. 

"All I can say is I want my son back," Mrs. (Name Removed), who with her husband, Jacky, and three other children, lives in Floral Park, Queens, said yesterday. "I hope these people stay in jail until they return him. I hope that my son is going to come back soon." 

A task force of detectives from the city, state and the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans and his wife, Malka, on Friday morning at their home in a Hasidic enclave in Monsey, N.Y. But yesterday, even as the couple was held awaiting a bail hearing scheduled for today, details of the kidnapping or whereabouts of Boy's Name Removed remained unclear -- a case, shrouded in mystery and suspicion, that centers on the clash of religious and secular Jewish worlds. 

Kidnapping Charge 
Patrick Clark, a spokesman for District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of Brooklyn, said yesterday that Rabbi Helbrans and his wife would be charged with kidnapping in the second degree and conspiracy to kidnap in the fourth degree. 

Rabbi Helbrans was arrested four days after the boy disappeared in April, but the District Attorney's office dropped the charges a few hours later, saying there was not enough evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation later joined the inquiry. 

Mr. Clark and other law-enforcement officials declined to comment further on the case or what evidence led to the rabbi's second arrest, saying the couple's indictment remained sealed. The search for the boy is continuing, and others familiar with the investigation say they believe the couple know where he is. 

Boy's Name Removed ) was 13 when he disappeared on April 4 during a bitter dispute between Rabbi Helbrans, who runs a Hasidic yeshiva, or school, called Lev Tahor (Pure Heart) in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, and (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother and stepfather, who describe themselves as secular Jews. 

The (Name Removed)s had sent their son to Lev Tahor to prepare him for his bar mitzvah, but he soon became deeply religious and wanted to stay at the yeshiva, his parents said. From there the (Name Removed)s and Rabbi Helbrans have told very different stories. 

Within the insular Satmar movement of Hasidic Jews, Rabbi Helbrans heads a small group, which he led to Brooklyn from Israel just before the war in the Persian Gulf. He accused the (Name Removed)s of physically abusing the boy, a charge they have denied. The (Name Removed)s countered that the rabbi was trying to convert their son against their wishes. 

Ever since, the authorities have struggled to contend with conflicting theories and contentions -- often far removed from the laws of the State of New York. "It's a clash of values," said one official familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "the old world versus the new." 

The official said that Rabbi Helbrans's religious beliefs hold that a boy, once bar mitzvahed, becomes a man capable of making his own decisions regardless of his parents' wishes. But evidence presented before a grand jury led to the indictment of the rabbi and his wife on Monday, the day (Boy's Name Removed) turned 14. 

"It's New York State law, even though in their tradition, a bar mitzvah emancipates the boy," the official said. "Under New York State law you don't get emancipated until you're 18."
For Mrs. (Name Removed), the arrest of the rabbi has brought a glimmer of hope after months with little to hold on to. She said she hoped the arrest of the Helbrans would force them to tell the authorities where her son is. She said that perhaps Mrs. Helbrans, now separated from her children, would understand what she has endured. 

"I feel bad about the rabbi's wife," Mrs. (Name Removed) said. "She's not with her kids now. I really hope she feels toward me, how I have not seen my son for 10 months. I hope that if she feels this way she will return my son."

Bail Posted For Rabbi In Kidnapping
New York Times - February 15, 1993

As a large, angry crowd of Hasidim shouted and chanted outside, a judge in Brooklyn yesterday ordered a Hasidic rabbi held on $250,000 bail on charges of kidnapping a teenager in a dispute over the boy's religious upbringing. And prosecutors for the first time said that a third person had conspired with the rabbi and his wife in the alleged abduction. 

At a bail hearing in the case, which has provoked outrage in the insulated Hasidic community in Brooklyn, the judge ordered Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans held but released his wife, Malka, because she is ill and is nursing a newborn child. 

Rabbi Helbrans was released from the Brooklyn House of Detention at 11:15 P.M. after "a group of supporters" posted bail, said Vito A. Turso, a spokesman for the Correction Department. 

With the court proceedings punctuated by emotional pleas and an outburst from the missing boy's father, prosecutors revealed that a third person, a rabbinical student named Mordechai Weisz, had also been indicted in connection with the kidnapping of the teenager, (Boy's Name Removed), who is still missing, 10 months after he disappeared. Warning From Prosecutors 

Before Rabbi Helbrans was released, Justice Alan L. Lebowitz of State Supreme Court ordered him held on bail pending arraignment on Tuesday after prosecutors argued that the couple would flee if freed, saying that the third suspect still remains at large and that the couple is in this country illegally.
"If these people are released and are gone to the wind," said Harvey Greenberg, a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office in Brooklyn, "that will be the end of what we know about the boy." 

A task force of detectives from the city, state and Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the couple on Friday morning at a home in the Hasidic enclave of Monsey, N.Y. As the head of a small group of Hasidic Jews within the Satmar movement, Rabbi Helbrans operates a small yeshiva in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, where the boy's mother and stepfather, and Jacky (Name Removed), sent him for religious training. 

Rabbi Helbrans was arrested in the boy's disappearance once before, four days after the boy disappeared last April 4, but the District Attorney's office dropped the charges hours later, saying there was not enough evidence. The F.B.I. entered the investigation in June. 

The couple's arrest, which came four days after a state grand jury indicted them and the rabbinical student on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy, has provoked anger in the Satmar community, as well as among other Hasidic Jews. 

More than 400 Hasidim, many of whom arrived in school buses, gathered outside the courthouse on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, where yesterday's bail hearing was held, chanting prayers and blocking the entrances to the building. 

Rabbi Efroim Stein of Brooklyn said that the arrests had created "an atmosphere reminiscent of not so long ago in Europe," saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing against the rabbi or his wife. 

"This is a Tawana Brawley case if there ever was one," he said, accusing the missing boy's parents of having fabricated his disappearance. Many Reporters Barred 

The crowd became so large and boisterous that officials refused to open the courtroom to the public, allowing only a few people in for the hearing, which was delayed by the confusion. The officials barred many journalists from the hearing, permitting only one reporter, a photographer and a television cameraman to attend and provide an account. 

As demonstrators pushed on sidewalks outside, the lawyer for the Halbrens, George Meissner, argued that the authorities had harassed his clients and even beaten Mrs. Helbrans as she was taken to prison after her arrest, according to the pool account. 

Mr. Meissner denied that the Helbrans knew anything of the boy's whereabouts and at one point he accused the boy's father, mother and stepfather of having physically abused him. 
The remark prompted the boy's father, (Father's Name Removed), to leap from his seat and shout, "It's a lie! It's a lie! How can you say that when you take my kid away?" The judge ordered him from the courtroom. Few New Specifics 

The prosecutors offered few new specifics about the case at yesterday's hearing -- giving almost no information about the third suspect or about what evidence led them to charge the suspects 10 months after the boy disappeared. 

Justice Lebowitz ordered Mrs. Halbrens freed after the prosecution agreed to allow her to care for her four children, including a newborn, but he ordered her to surrender her passport by today. 

As she left the courthouse, supported by a woman on either side and surrounded by a cordon of court officers and police officers in riot gear, dozens of demonstrators pressed to reach her, shouting prayers for her. Her head bowed, she appeared deeply shaken, nearly collapsing at several points as the demonstrators sang and clapped their hands. 


Rabbi Is Said to Have Offered Deal for Missing Boy
New York Times - February 16, 1993

Video and audio tapes, letters and accounts of threats and bribes are among the major pieces of evidence against a Hasidic rabbi in the disappearance of a Jewish boy in Brooklyn, law-enforcement officials and relatives said yesterday. 

Much of that evidence, which was presented to a grand jury recently, was produced more than 10 months ago, shortly after the boy, (Boy's Name Removed), disappeared amid a dispute between his parents and the rabbi over the boy's religious upbringing. 

But additional evidence has surfaced since then, law-enforcement officials said. The officials would not talk about the evidence, but (Boy's Name Removed)'s relatives said it included information that showed the rabbi offered to make a deal to retain custody of (Boy's Name Removed). Father Lives in Israel 

(Boy's Name Removed)'s father, (Father's Name Removed), who is divorced from the boy's mother and lives in Israel, said he turned that information over to the police. "What I gave them were things that we needed to show that I had a deal with the rabbi before I came to the United States," he said.

It was unclear yesterday how large a role new evidence played in prompting District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of Brooklyn to bring the case before a state grand jury after he had deferred prosecution last spring. Federal authorities subsequently joined the investigation, but a Federal grand jury chose not to indict the rabbi, Schlomo Helbrans, and his wife, Malka. 

The Helbranses were arrested on Friday and charged with kidnapping and conspiracy. They were released Sunday night after other Hasidic Jews posted $250,000 bail. A third person, Mordechai Weisz, a rabbinical student and a follower of Rabbi Helbrans, has also been indicted in (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance and is expected to turn himself in soon to the authorities, law-enforcement officials said. 

The 14-year-old boy's whereabouts are still unknown. 

Many details of the case against the Helbranses are included in indictments to be unsealed today when the couple are arraigned in Brooklyn. 

But the parents of (Boy's Name Removed) and law-enforcement officials said yesterday that at the heart of the case were tapes on which the rabbi offers Mr. (Father's Name Removed) $10,000 in exchange for custody of (Boy's Name Removed), and one of the rabbi's bodyguards threatens to kill Mr. (Father's Name Removed) as the two men stand on a balcony outside a Borough Park yeshiva, Lev Tahor (pure heart). 

'Everything Was Arranged'
Mr. (Father's Name Removed) said the meeting in Brooklyn occurred in May after telephone calls between Israel and Brooklyn in which the rabbi told Mr. (Father's Name Removed) that he knew where (Boy's Name Removed) was. 

"The rabbi invited me to come to visit with my son," Mr. (Father's Name Removed) said. "So when I came to the U.S., three of the Hasidic people from the rabbi's yeshiva came and took me straight to the yeshiva. Everything was arranged before I got here. I didn't have to do nothing." 

In a separate interview yesterday, (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed), said the rabbi had offered her $60,000 in exchange for custody of (Boy's Name Removed). She also said that in April, two days after (Boy's Name Removed) disappeared, members of Mr. Helbrans's yeshiva had called her at her home in New Jersey. 

"They said, 'Don't get the police involved if you want to see your son,' " she said. 

Investigators say they also have copies of two letters, delivered to his mother in May, apparently in (Boy's Name Removed)'s handwriting, that ask that no search be made. A Small Group 

Rabbi Helbrans heads a small group that he describes as an offshoot of the Satmar movement of the Hasidic Jews, which he led to Brooklyn from Israel just before the Persian Gulf war. He accused Mrs. (Name Removed) and her husband, Jacky, of physically abusing the boy, an allegation they have denied. The (Name Removed)s countered that the rabbi was trying to convert their son against their wishes. 

The police in Israel have investigated Rabbi Helbrans as well, saying the case of (Boy's Name Removed) is just one in a series of reported abductions linked to the rabbi and his yeshiva. 

Members of the Satmar sect, which numbers about 40,000 in Brooklyn, have described Rabbi Helbrans as a good, religious man, while clearly keeping their distance from him. "He's a religious Jew," said Rabbi Hertz Frankel, "but he is not a member of the Satmar community." 

They also spurn talk of new evidence and characterize the arrest of the Helbranses just hours before the Sabbath as an act of harassment. The couple was arrested on Friday morning at a home in Monsey, N.Y.

Rabbi Pleads Not Guilty in Kidnapping
New York Times - February 17, 1993 

The father of a boy who disappeared 10 months ago collapsed in grief yesterday after a Hasidic rabbi, his wife and an associate entered not-guilty pleas to charges that they kidnapped the teen-ager. 

The rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, and his wife, Malka, rocked back and forth as they stood before the judge's bench in the Brooklyn courtroom, seemingly lost in their silent prayers. They and the third defendant, Mordechai Weisz, were arraigned in a case representing a bitter clash over the care and religious upbringing of a Jewish boy, (Boy's Name Removed). 
After their lawyer entered not-guilty pleas and the three were released pending further proceedings, the missing 14-year-old boy's father, (Father's Name Removed), screamed in the courthouse corridor: "My son is dead! My son is dead! Nobody cares!" He crumpled to the floor and was taken to Brooklyn Hospital Center, where he was in stable condition. Believed to Be Alive

The authorities say they believe that (Boy's Name Removed) is alive and unharmed and being kept in a Brooklyn location known to the defendants. They are accused of refusing to return him to his family and of offering the family money to "relinquish legal custody of (Boy's Name Removed)," in the words of the indictment that accuses the defendants of kidnapping and conspiracy.

The 30-year-old rabbi runs a Hasidic yeshiva, or school, in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, , and stepfather, Jacky, Israeli immigrants who were living in New Jersey last year, sent the boy to the yeshiva for religious training to prepare him for his bar mitzvah. They say that the rabbi manipulated the teen-ager to persuade him to stay as part of an effort to convert their son to the rabbi's devout brand of Judaism against their wishes. 

Last March, the month before (Boy's Name Removed) disappeared, the youth tried to run away from home, apparently to go back to the yeshiva. But he was found by police officers in New Jersey and returned home. 

Accusations of Abuse 
The rabbi accuses the (Name Removed)s of physically abusing the boy, a charge they deny. The rabbi was arrested several days after (Boy's Name Removed) was reported missing, but the Brooklyn District Attorney's office dropped the charges at that time because of what the office said was insufficient evidence. 

Yesterday, George Meissner, the lawyer who represented the three defendants at the arraignment, said his clients "absolutely" do not know where the boy is. 

Much of the evidence, which the authorities say includes tape-recorded conversations between the rabbi and the boy's father, Mr. (Father's Name Removed), has been available for months. This led reporters at yesterday's arraignment in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn to ask aides to District Attorney Charles J. Hynes why criminal charges were now being brought. 

Michael Vecchione, an assistant district attorney, replied that a "redeveloped investigation" had produced "appropriate information to present to the grand jury." He declined to specify what new evidence might have been developed to permit the grand jury last week to hand up the indictment of the rabbi, his 31-year-old wife and Mr. Weisz, 19. 

Rabbi Helbrans, who heads a small group that he describes as an offshoot of the Satmar branch of Hasidic Jews, and his wife live in a Hasidic enclave in Monsey, N.Y. Mr. Weisz lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has a large Satmar population. 

Justice Nicholas Coffinas set $100,000 bail yesterday for Mr. Weisz, who surrendered in the morning to face the charges and who was freed after the arraignment when "the community put up a bond for him," Mr. Meissner said, referring to the Hasidic communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park. Justice Coffinas continued the $250,000 bail on which Rabbi Helbrans had been freed Sunday, after his arrest Friday, and he continued the release of Mrs. Helbrans without bail. 

As the session ended, Mrs. (Name Removed) tried unsuccessfully to get the judge's attention, then bowed her head and cried. Later she told reporters that granting the rabbi and Mr. Weisz bail was unjust. Shortly before he collapsed, Mr. (Father's Name Removed) screamed at supporters of the defendants who were leaving the courtroom, "How can you do something like this?"


Perjury Conviction In Abduction Case
New York Times -February 4, 1994 

A man who prosecutors say helped a Hasidic rabbi kidnap a boy in 1992 was convicted on Wednesday of lying about the case to a Federal grand jury in Brooklyn. 

(Boy's Name Removed), then 13 years old, disappeared in April 1992. Prosecutors contend that Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who runs a Borough Park, Brooklyn, yeshiva that the boy attended, abducted him because the boy's parents, (Father's Name Removed) and (Name Removed), disagreed with the rabbi about his education. The rabbi, his wife, Malka, and an associate, Mordechai Weisz, are scheduled to go on trial next month in state court on kidnapping and conspiracy charges. 

Tobias Freund, 36, the man convicted Wednesday, had told the grand jury that he was not involved in the boy's disappearance, but prosecutors said he drove the boy out of the city. The boy has not been found. A jury convicted Mr. Freund of three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, for altering his phone records. He faces a prison sentence of up to five years for each count.


Boy, 15, in Religious Tug-of-War Meets With Parents After 2 Years
New York Times - March 1, 1994 

Almost two years after he vanished in Brooklyn amid a tug-of-war between his secular family and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, a 15-year-old boy was reunited with his parents today, but told them he wanted to be placed in the custody of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi in Rockland County. 

The appearance of the boy, (Boy's Name Removed), in Family Court here was the latest twist in a complex case that has pitted a strictly religious rabbi against non-religious Jews in a clash over the boy's spiritual upbringing. 

The parents have charged that (Boy's Name Removed) was kidnapped in April 1992 by members of a Brooklyn-based sect that was obsessed with converting the boy to its ultra-Orthodox ways. The parents said that they had sent the boy to the sect's yeshiva, Lev Tahor, to prepare for his bar mitzvah, but that while he was there he was brainwashed by the sect's leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. 

But the boy's lawyer said today that he had willingly left his family's home in Ramsey, N.J., to find religious fulfillment and to escape abuse by his mother and stepfather. 

And after an emotional 45-minute reunion with her son at the Rockland County sheriff's office, (Name Removed) told reporters that (Boy's Name Removed), who appeared dressed in the traditional black coat, yarmulke and payes, or side curls, worn by Orthodox Jews, said that he loved her but that he had left home because she was "not religious." 

Until a court date on Thursday, (Boy's Name Removed) has been moved to the Airmont home of Dr. Michael Alony, an Orthodox Jew and child psychologist who serves as a chaplain for the sheriff's department. 

The boy's meeting with his parents came just as jury selection began in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in the trial of Rabbi Helbrans and his wife, Malka, on kidnapping and conspiracy charges. 

Law-enforcement officials had made a deal with Rabbi Helbrans, the leader of a small offshoot of the Satmar Hasidic sect, in which (Boy's Name Removed) would be turned over to the Brooklyn District Attorney and then to his mother in return for reduced criminal charges against the Helbranses and Mordechai Weisz, 20, a rabbinical student also charged in the case. 

But on Friday, the date specified in the agreement, the deal apparently collapsed and the boy never appeared in Brooklyn. Instead, he turned up today at the Rockland County Family Court with his lawyer, asking to be placed in the custody of another rabbi. 

The boy's disappearance has sparked investigations by several law enforcement officials, including Israeli police, who said the (Name Removed) case was just one of a series of reported abductions of young non-religious Jews linked to Rabbi Helbrans and his yeshiva, which was based in Jerusalem until the Gulf War. 

In the months since (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance, the Helbranses and (Name Removed)s, also Israeli emigres, have traded accusations not only of kidnapping, but of bribery, extortion and attempted murder. Mother's Account 

According to Mrs. (Name Removed), (Boy's Name Removed) first met Rabbi Helbrans when she took him to his Borough Park yeshiva for bar mitzvah training in February 1992. The rabbi, she said, became obsessed with converting her son and demanded that she leave him at the yeshiva. She resisted, but agreed to let him visit Mr. Weisz, a follower of the rabbi, on April 4, in Brooklyn. The next day, when she went to pick him up, (Boy's Name Removed) was gone. 

Mr. Weisz and Rabbi Helbrans have said that they know nothing about the boy's disappearance, but suggest that he ran away partly to escape beatings by his mother and stepfather, Jacky (Name Removed). 

Tobias Freund, an associate of the rabbi, was convicted last month in Federal court on charges that he perjured himself before a grand jury when he denied participating in (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance. Mr. Freund was also convicted of obstructing justice by withholding and altering phone records that linked him to the case. 

Mrs. (Name Removed), who is separated from her second husband, has lived in a shelter for battered women and now lives in a home that she rents from the shelter. But she insists that her son was never hit or abused. 

While the details of (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance remains a mystery, the first accounts of his whereabouts since then emerged today. The Rabbi's Account 

As he waited at the Rockland County sheriff's office to speak with (Boy's Name Removed), Rabbi Aryeh Zaks, whom (Boy's Name Removed) has requested as his guardian, said today that the boy left Brooklyn shortly after April 4, 1992 on a bus headed for Monsey, N.Y., which is home to a tightly-knit community of more than 6,500 Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. 

"He ran away because his home was impossible to live in," Rabbi Zaks said. Mrs. (Name Removed), he said, had hit him with the flat side of a knife, and his stepfather had hit him with a bat. 

Rabbi Zaks said that (Boy's Name Removed) spent the past two years living with different Orthodox families in the Monsey area, where he attended yeshivas, or schools, under the name "Avraham," hoping to avoid discovery. Hasidic families are known to take in Jewish children who appear needy without delving into their pasts. 

Another Orthodox man, who accompanied Rabbi Zaks but who would not identify himself, said that (Boy's Name Removed) had chosen to leave Rabbi Helbrans's yeshiva because he found the rabbi "too strict," but that the youth had come to Monsey because he wanted to live as an Orthodox Jew. 

Rabbi Zaks said that (Boy's Name Removed) had come to talk with him eight weeks ago, saying that he heard Rabbi Helbrans was about to go on trial and that "he wanted people to know that he was not abducted in any way." 

By turning up in the Family Court, where he filed an application for guardianship, (Boy's Name Removed) avoided being returned to his mother. Separate Visits 

Earlier today, Rockland County Family Court Judge Bernard Stanger gave (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents separate 45-minute visits with their son and gave Rabbi Zaks one hour. A further hearing is scheduled for Thursday. 

Rabbi Zaks, who arrived at and left the office of County Sheriff James Kralik in a black stretch limousine, said that he did not know Rabbi Helbrans. 

Those seeking custody of the boy are Mrs. (Name Removed); (Boy's Name Removed)'s natural father, (Father's Name Removed), who lives in Israel; and Rabbi Zaks, who runs a yeshiva in Monsey. 

After Mrs. (Name Removed)'s meeting with (Boy's Name Removed), Mr. (Father's Name Removed) also met with his son, whom he had not seen in more than four years. "It was great," he said. "My son told me how much he loved me and I told him how much I love him and miss him." 

Alan M. Vinegrad, the Assistant United States Attorney, said he was "extremely pleased that (Boy's Name Removed) has surfaced," but declined to say what impact it might have on the prosecution of the Helbranses and Mr. Weisz. 

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Rabbi Helbrans sat quietly in a fourth-floor courtroom as Judge Thaddeus Owens heard pretrial motions and prepared for jury selection. Malka Helbrans rocked in her chair, her eyes closed, praying silently. 

Earlier, outside the courtroom, Rabbi Helbrans had smiled when reporters asked him about where the boy had been. "I don't know," he said. "I can't talk about it." He then went back to reading religious scriptures.


Father Requests Return to Israel For Boy in Religious Tug-of-War
New York TImes - March 4, 1994 

The tangled struggle over a 15-year-old yeshiva student, (Boy's Name Removed), grew more complex today when his father filed a petition asking that the youth be ordered to return to Israel with him. 

The father, (Father's Name Removed), stepped into the case as a Family Court judge in Rockland County started a hearing on the youth's request that an Orthodox rabbi, Aryeh Zaks, be appointed his guardian and that he be allowed to continue living with Rabbi Zaks and his family in Rockland County. 

But Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s lawyer, Neil R. Cahn, argued in the petition that American courts had no jurisidiction in the case and that only rabbinical courts in Israel had the authority to decide a custody dispute between Mr. (Father's Name Removed) and (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed), and the boy's wishes to remain with Rabbi Zaks. Hearing to Resume March 17 

The judge, Bernard E. Stanger, recessed today's hearing until March 17 and ordered that (Boy's Name Removed) continue living in Rockland County until then. Family Court proceedings are closed to the public, and Judge Stanger ordered the lawyers and their clients not to reveal details of the hearing. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed) emerged from court with a broad smile and his right arm draped over his son's shoulder and said later that he wanted to return to Israel with him. "I have to get to know him again," Mr. (Father's Name Removed) said. "He disappeared at the end of 1989." Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s lawyer, Mr. Cahn, contended after the hearing that Ms. (Name Removed) wrongfully abducted (Boy's Name Removed) in December 1989 when she emigrated with him from Israel to the United States. Her lawyer, Steven R. Rubenstein, denied that contention. 

(Boy's Name Removed) made no comment as he left the courthouse with his father. After they parted in the parking lot, Rabbi Zaks drove the youth from the complex. 

His mother declined to comment after the hearing. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s petition was filed after the hearing ended and was not subject to the order not to discuss the case, Mr. Cahn said. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s intervention opens a new chapter in a tangled saga that was thought to have started two years ago when Ms. (Name Removed) took her son to an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Brooklyn for religious training. (Boy's Name Removed) disappeared shortly afterward, and his mother contended that he had been brainwashed and abducted. The rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, and his wife, Malka, are to go on trial in Brooklyn soon on kidnapping charges. 

But Rabbi Zaks says the youth left Rabbi Helbrans's yeshiva because it was too strict and then spent the last two years living under an alias and attending yeshivas in and around Monsey, a Rockland County community of about 6,500 Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox families, because his mother and his stepfather, (Name Removed), had abused him. Visitation Rulings 

Mr. Cahn said his motion today to transfer the case to Israel was based on a series of custody and visitation rulings issued by rabbinical courts there and by Israel's Department of Social Services after (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents were divorced in 1981. 

Mr. Cahn said that officials in Israel granted the parents joint custody of (Boy's Name Removed) and that American courts had no authority to disturb those rulings. 

Despite the joint custody finding, Mr. Cahn said, Israeli officials ordered the boy, then a toddler, to live with his maternal grandparents after his mother married Mr. (Name Removed) in Israel, Mr. Cahn said. 

He said the rulings in Israel gave Mr. (Father's Name Removed) various visitation rights, including some religious holidays and alternate weekends. Those visits ended after Ms. (Name Removed) brought the boy to the United States in late 1989. Mr. (Father's Name Removed) was reunited with his son here on Monday. 

Mr. Rubenstein, Ms. (Name Removed)'s lawyer, disagreed with Mr. Cahn's contention of joint custody. He said the couple's divorce agreement in 1981 provided her sole custody of the boy, and gave Mr. (Father's Name Removed) two hours of visitation a week.


Rabbi Agrees to Guilty Plea in Boy's Kidnapping
New York Times - March 8, 1994 

A rabbi pleaded guilty yesterday in the Brooklyn kidnapping of a 15-year-old boy who has been at the center of a bitter dispute between his family and the rabbi, who sought to convert him to his ultra-Orthodox brand of Judaism. 

But with a complex custody battle swirling around him, the fate of the boy, (Boy's Name Removed), remained as uncertain yesterday as it was two years ago when he first disappeared. And even the facts surrounding his disappearance remained murky, as (Boy's Name Removed) and the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, continued to insist that Rabbi Helbrans had done nothing wrong, despite the guilty plea. Deal With District Attorney 

Rabbi Helbrans offered the plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to kidnap in the fourth degree in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The plea was part of an intricate arrangement with the Brooklyn District Attorney that will give the rabbi a sentence of five years' probation and 250 hours of community service. But under the terms of the agreement, the rabbi and another man, Mordechai Weisz, who will also receive five years' probation for the kidnapping conspiracy, did not admit that they had committed any of the specific acts with which they were charged. 

In addition, charges against the rabbi's wife, Malka, were dismissed. 
But the arrangement provoked more charges and countercharges between Rabbi Helbrans, who insisted that the boy had run away to escape beatings at home, and (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed), who insisted that her rights had been ignored. 

"You brainwashed him! You brainwashed him!" she screamed at the rabbi and his wife from her seat in the courtroom's gallery. 

Mrs. (Name Removed) and (Boy's Name Removed)'s biological father, (Father's Name Removed), have contended that (Boy's Name Removed) was kidnapped in April 1992 by the rabbi and some of his followers who were bent on converting him away from a non-religious upbringing to their strict ultra-Orthodox ways. But even after entering his plea before Justice Thaddeus Owens yesterday, the 31-year-old rabbi clutched a prayer book to his chest and said that he had nothing to do with the boy's disappearance and in fact had tried to find him. 

The boy resurfaced eight days ago at the Rockland County sheriff's office and is now in the temporary custody of a child psychologist who serves as a chaplain for the sheriff's department. Three different parties are now vying for custody of the youth: Mrs. (Name Removed); Mr. (Father's Name Removed), who is divorced from Mrs. (Name Removed); and Aryeh Zaks, an Orthodox rabbi from Suffern, N.Y., who began caring for (Boy's Name Removed) at least three weeks ago at the request of members of Rockland County's Orthodox Jewish community. 

Rabbi Zaks's brother, Isadore Zaks, also a rabbi, said (Boy's Name Removed) had decided to come forward because he thought Rabbi Helbrans was being unfairly prosecuted and to let people know that he had run away many times before ever meeting Rabbi Helbrans. 

Points of Agreement 
By telephone, Rabbi Zaks read a statement that he said had been prepared by (Boy's Name Removed), saying: "I told Rabbi Helbrans about the abuse in the house and simply ran away. But I never wanted to go to the yeshiva of Rabbi Helbrans. I went somewhere else."

Asked where (Boy's Name Removed) had been for most of the last two years, Rabbi Zaks said (Boy's Name Removed) had not divulged his whereabouts even to him and his brother, out of fear that it would bring repercussions to those who had sheltered him. 

Rabbi Helbrans and Mrs. (Name Removed) have agreed on a few points -- that she brought her son to the rabbi's Williamsburg yeshiva, Lev Tahor, in February 1992 to help prepare him for his bar mitzvah, and that (Boy's Name Removed) soon became deeply interested in religious studies and initially wanted to stay at the yeshiva. The rabbi has described the yeshiva as loosely affiliated with the Satmar Hasidim. 

But from there, the two sides' versions of events diverge sharply, and over the last two years the mystery of what happened to (Boy's Name Removed) has placed an unwelcome focus on the insular Satmar community. 

Mrs. (Name Removed) said that (Boy's Name Removed) began running away from her home, which was in New Jersey at the time, and that on April 4, 1992, she let Mr. Weisz, a 20-year-old man who befriended (Boy's Name Removed), take the boy to Brooklyn for a night provided he did not take him to the yeshiva. She did not see the boy again until last week, when she was permitted to see him at the Rockland County sheriff's office. She has charged that it was the intention of Rabbi Helbrans to kidnap (Boy's Name Removed) from the beginning. 'Beating of a Lifetime' 

While Rabbi Helbrans, who now lives in Monsey, N.Y., has steadfastly professed his ignorance about what happened to (Boy's Name Removed), he has repeatedly charged that the boy had shared "horror stories" with him about physical abuse he had suffered at the hands of his mother and his stepfather. 

Rabbi Isadore Zaks said yesterday that (Boy's Name Removed) had expressed fear that if he had returned to Brooklyn, he would have "wound up back with his mother and he'd get the beating of a lifetime." 

Yesterday, Mrs. (Name Removed) accused District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of dealing leniently with Rabbi Helbrans out of political concern over the Hasidic community.

Correction: March 12, 1994, Saturday 
An article on Tuesday about a guilty plea in the kidnapping of a teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed), misspelled the name of the hometown of the accused man, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, in some editions. It is Monsey, N.Y., in Rockland County, not Muncie. 

Correction: March 12, 1994, Saturday 
An article on Tuesday about a guilty plea in the kidnapping of a teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed), misspelled the name of the hometown of the accused man, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, in some editions. It is Monsey, N.Y., in Rockland County, not Muncie.


New York Times - March 12, 1994
An article on Tuesday about a guilty plea in the kidnapping of a teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed), misspelled the name of the hometown of the accused man, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, in some editions. It is Monsey, N.Y., in Rockland County, not Muncie

Custody Settled in Case of Boy Who Disappeared
New York Times - March 18, 1994 

The tangled and bitter custody feud over 15-year-old (Boy's Name Removed) appeared to be resolved yesterday when his divorced parents reached an agreement to share custody of him and to begin seeking ways for the teen-ager to observe the Orthodox practices of Judaism that he prefers. 

Under the main provisions of the agreement, the teen-ager will be reunited with his parents after two years of a secret life with Orthodox families that began in April 1992 when he vanished from his mother's New Jersey home, and she charged that he had been abducted and brainwashed by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Brooklyn. 

Lawyers for his father, (Father's Name Removed), and mother, (Name Removed), negotiated the settlement in recent days and presented it to Judge Bernard E. Stanger of Family Court at a closed hearing in Rockland County, N.Y. Afterward, the parents, smiling broadly, left in a county van with (Boy's Name Removed) for a temporary home in Bergen County, N.J. 

The parents, their lawyers said, were very happy. Mr. (Father's Name Removed), one of his lawyers, Neil R. Cahn, said: "He was thrilled. It's the greatest thing in his life to be reunited with his son after four and a half years." 'A Chance to Build Her Life Again' 

One of Mrs. (Name Removed)'s lawyers, Lawrence Meyerson, said: "She has her son back. This is her happiest day in the last two years. She has a chance to build her life again with her son." 

Under terms of the agreement, both parents and son are to begin psychological counseling to help them readjust to each other and to help (Boy's Name Removed) resume a more normal life after two years of hiding, using aliases, with various Orthodox families around Monsey, in Rockland County. For the next few weeks, Mr. Cahn said, (Boy's Name Removed) will be staying with his father in the home of an Orthodox family in Bergen County near his mother's home in Ramsey. Mrs. (Name Removed) is to have unrestricted visiting rights, said her other lawyer, Steven R. Rubenstein. 

In early summer, lawyers for each side said, the parents plan to go to Israel. Mr. (Father's Name Removed), a paralegal assistant, lives in the small community of Arad in southern Israel with his second wife and two children. He came to Rockland County in mid-February in the latest of several trips he made to the metropolitan area, looking for his son after Mrs. (Name Removed) emigrated from Israel with him in 1989. They were divorced in Israel in 1981. 

Mrs. (Name Removed) plans to return to Israel in June after her three children by her second husband, Jackie (Name Removed), finish the school year, Mr. Rubenstein said. He said that the agreement stipulated that (Boy's Name Removed) live with her when she resettles in Israel and that she and Mr. (Father's Name Removed) will share in all decisions, in New Jersey until summer and in Israel afterward, on accommodating (Boy's Name Removed)'s religious wishes. Lawyers said the youth is more devout than either parent. 

The court hearing that ended yesterday was set in motion in late February, after (Boy's Name Removed) emerged from his two-year secret life among the Orthodox, and filed a petition asking that an Orthodox rabbi in Rockland, Aryeh Zaks, be appointed his guardian.
He contended that his mother and stepfather, Jackie (Name Removed), had abused him before he disappeared in April 1992. At the start of the hearing two weeks ago the youth amended his petition, asking that his father, instead of Rabbi Zaks, be named his guardian. Judge Stanger granted that request yesterday. But the judge did nothing to limit (Boy's Name Removed)'s visiting Rabbi Zaks. 

"(Boy's Name Removed) has been through am extremely traumatic past two years," said Mr. Cahn, his father's lawyer. "He has come out of this thing confused and torn. He still feels close with Rabbi Zaks." 

In another phase of yesterday's hearing, Judge Stanger rejected the youth's contention that his mother had abused him. An official of the Rockland County Office of Child Protective Services told the judge that an investigation had determined that the charge was groundless. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed)'s co-counsel, Abraham Abramovsky, a professor of international law at Fordham University Law School, said yesterday that he had started searching, both in New Jersey and in Israel, for yeshivas that (Boy's Name Removed) could attend. 

"The boy's wish is to be put into a very Orthodox yeshiva," Mr. Abramovsky said. "Appropriate provisions will be made for (Boy's Name Removed)'s religious education and practices from this day forward." 

The youth's mother and father, he said, will share in the decision on what yeshiva and synagogue (Boy's Name Removed) will attend. 

Under yesterday's settlement, any disagreements between the parents are to be heard only in rabbinical courts in Israel, Mr. Cahn said. He contended that since these courts handled the 1981 divorce between Mr. (Father's Name Removed) and Mrs. (Name Removed) they had jurisdiction. 

On March 8 Shlomo Helbrans, the ultra-Orthodox rabbi whom Mrs. (Name Removed) had accused of kidnapping her son, pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn to conspiring to kidnap the youth. Under an arrangement with the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles J. Hynes, Rabbi Helbrans is to be sentenced to five years' probation and 250 hours of community service.


Jewish Youth And Parents To Split Again
New York Times -  March 25, 1994

A Jewish teen-ager reunited with his parents after he disappeared for two years in a struggle over his religious training will be separated from them again, a judge ruled here today. 

Judge Bernard Stanger of Rockland County Family Court nullified the father's custody of (Boy's Name Removed), who ran away from his parents earlier this week, and said the boy will live with an unidentified Orthodox family in Rockland County for now. 

The 15-year-old's parents and his religious teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Zaks of Monsey, will have restricted visiting privileges, the parents' lawyers said. 

Judge Stanger is to decide on April 4 whether the case ultimately should be settled in New York, or New Jersey -- where the boy lived before he disappeared for two years -- or in Israel. 

The youth and his parents, (Father's Name Removed) and (Name Removed), are all Israeli citizens. 

The struggle over (Boy's Name Removed)'s upbringing began in April 1992, when he disappeared while studying with Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn. The boy said his mother was not religious enough. 

He reappeared on Feb. 25 in Monsey, days before Rabbi Helbrans was to go on trial on kidnapping charges. The rabbi pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. 

Last week Judge Stanger awarded custody of the boy to Mr. (Father's Name Removed) and granted Mrs. (Name Removed) unlimited visitation. 

On Monday, however, the boy ran away from Mrs. (Name Removed)'s home in Ramsey, N.J., and was detained by the police as he headed for Rabbi Zaks's house. 

He contended again that his parents were not Orthodox enough.


Judge Orders Abduction Trial In Dispute Over Jewish Youth
By Joseph P. Fried
New York Times - April 14, 1994 

Saying that only 12 impartial people on a jury could disentangle the emotionally and politically charged saga, a Brooklyn judge yesterday ordered an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, his wife and a third defendant to stand trial on charges that they kidnapped a Jewish teen-ager from his parents. 

In the latest twist in a passionate battle over the boy's body and soul, Justice Thaddeus E. Owens rejected a plea deal granting probation to the accused rabbi -- a deal the judge had already accepted last month -- after hearing yesterday from the boy, his divorced parents, the rabbi and some of the lawyers in the case in an hourlong session in a packed courtroom. 

The 15-year-old boy, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), formerly known as (Boy's Name Removed), told the judge that he had not been kidnapped but "ran away" from his mother two years ago because she had been abusive to him. 

(Boy's Name Removed) disappeared in April 1992 after his mother, who had emigrated from Israel, sent the boy for pre-bar mitzvah religious training to a Brooklyn yeshiva then run by the accused rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, 31. The boy resurfaced publicly in Rockland County in late February. 

"If I am returned to either of my parents again, I will run away as many times as I am returned to them," (Boy's Name Removed) vowed, sitting on the witness stand in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, one of four courts in which various aspects of the case are currently being contested. The youth, wearing a yarmulke, charged that his parents, who are not orthodox Jews, "have a hatred of my religious beliefs and of all people who are orthodox." Custody in Dispute.

(Boy's Name Removed) is now staying at the home of a Rockland County rabbi under a Family Court order as his custody is contested in that court; issues related to the custody are being argued in Federal District Court in White Plains. 

Minutes before the boy denounced his mother and father yesterday in Justice Owens's courtroom, the parents, (Name Removed) and (Father's Name Removed), insisted that their son had been abducted and brainwashed by religious zealots who, after hiding him for nearly all of the last two years, had gained a plea bargain that avoided prison time because of political influence. 

"In the last two years, me and my kids and my parents and all the rest of the family lived without knowing if (Boy's Name Removed) is still alive," said Ms. (Name Removed), 32, who lives in Ramsey, N.J. "I remember nights without sleeping, and crying and a lot of pain and missing my son." 

Her former husband, a 34-year-old Israeli, said of the defendants: "They know they have the power to control the District Attorney's office." The rejected plea agreement would have allowed Rabbi Helbrans to receive five years' probation and 250 hours of community service in return for pleading guilty last month to fourth-degree criminal conspiracy. Criticism of Parents 

A co-defendant, Mordechai Weisz, 21, would have been sentenced to only five years' probation for his plea to the same charge. Kidnapping charges punishable by up to 25 years in prison would have been dropped against the two men, and all charges were to have been dismissed against the rabbi's wife, Malka, 32. 

Rabbi Helbrans, a Monsey, N.Y., resident who heads a small Hasidic sect, silently read from a prayer book during most of yesterday's proceedings. He denounced Ms. (Name Removed) and Mr. (Father's Name Removed) when the judge asked if he had anything to say. 

"I have never met such strange and terrible persons as these two," he said. "They told so much lies, and terrible lies that my English language is too poor to answer." 

The prosecutor from the Brooklyn district attorney's office, Richard Faughnan, said nothing during the entire session, but later a spokesman for District Attorney Charles J. Hynes denied that the plea deal had resulted from any political influence wielded by the defendants or their supporters. Doubts About Hynes's Motives 

"All of the decisions in the case were based on the facts, the law and the best interests of the child," said the spokesman, Patrick Clark. He said his office is ready to proceed to trial on June 20, the date ordered by the judge. 

In rejecting the plea deal he had previously approved, Justice Owens, who is known for his blunt, no-nonsense manner, said, "I do what I think is the correct thing to do and then I look for the law to support it." 

He gave several reasons for changing his mind, including the statements he had just heard from (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents. They "create a perception here that this is a political ploy, because Joe Hynes is running for Attorney General," he said, using the District Attorney's popular name and referring to his current campaign for the state's highest legal post. He added that the statements also suggested "that Rabbi Helbrans can get away with this because he's a religious person." 

The judge also cited a pre-sentencing report in which he said Rabbi Helbrans had said he "took the plea on the advice of his counsel" but believed he had not committed a crime. "Why should Rabbi Helbrans walk around with a cloud over his head?" the judge said. 

Ms. (Name Removed) and Mr. (Father's Name Removed) later expressed appreciation for the judge's action, while lawyers for the defendants and (Boy's Name Removed) expressed disappointment. The rabbi's lawyer, George Meissner, said he would seek an appellate order to reinstate the plea deal.

Jewish Teen-Ager Fights Return to His Parents
By Robert Hanley
New York Times - April 21, 1994 

The 15-year-old Jewish boy at the heart of a custody fight testified today he was dissatisfied with the religious life style his parents provided during a four-day stay with them in March. 

The complaints by the youth, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), that his surroundings from March 17 to 21 did not allow him to be as strictly observant of his faith as he wished came at a hearing that opened in New York Family Court here amid an intriguing flurry of legal cross-currents and a high-stakes, high-pressure atmosphere. 

Highlighting the tensions surrounding the case, tempers flared during a noontime court recess between (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed), and the father-in-law of Rabbi Aryeh Zaks, whom (Boy's Name Removed) wants appointed as his guardian. 

As the father-in-law, Leib Waldman, walked past Ms. (Name Removed) in the courthouse lobby, she struck him on the back with a folded newspaper. Afterward, she said he had called her a "hooker." 

Tough Words Outside Court 
Mr. Waldman denied the charge. "In my life, I've never used that word," he said. 

"He's lucky I don't punch him in his face," Ms. (Name Removed) said after court guards escorted her outside. 

Both filed complaints. Ms. (Name Removed) charged Mr. Waldman with a disorderly persons violation and Mr. Waldman countered by charging her with harassment, lawyers said. 

Their cross-complaints today are relatively minor elements in the legal dueling at work in the fight for custody of the youth between Ms. (Name Removed) and (Boy's Name Removed)'s father, (Father's Name Removed), on one side and Rabbi Zaks on the other. 

On Tuesday, a New Jersey Family Court judge, Birger M. Sween, held that his court had jurisdiction over (Boy's Name Removed)'s case because Ms. (Name Removed) lives in that state now. Today, the New York Family Court judge who has been handling the case, Bernard E. Stanger, declined, as is his right, to honor Judge Sween's order. He also refused to adjourn today's hearing to allow the parents to appeal immediately. And, late today, he said he would sign an order barring removal of (Boy's Name Removed) from Rockland County. 

One legal issue casting a shadow over the custody fight here is the pending trial in Brooklyn of another rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, on a charge he kidnapped (Boy's Name Removed) after his mother took him to Rabbi Helbrans in early 1992 for instruction for his bar mitzvah. The youth has said he willingly chose to live a secret life from early 1992 until late this February with various Orthodox families in Rockland County. His parents and lawyers contend now that he has been brainwashed and needs psychiatric care. Complains About Life Style 

Today's hearing focused on whether (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents kept an agreement with Judge Stanger on March 17 to provide religious training and an Orthodox atmosphere, in exchange for the judge's returning (Boy's Name Removed) to them. 

After four days with his parents, (Boy's Name Removed) ran away from his mother's home in Ramsey, N.J., on March 21 and later renewed his request that Rabbi Zaks be his guardian. 

Today's hearing was closed to reporters. Lawyers said out of court that (Boy's Name Removed) complained about an Orthodox family in Bergen County, N.J., who had agreed to house him. 

He disapproved of a TV and a VCR set in the home and complained that the yarmulke that the cantor wore there was too small, the lawyers said. He left the house after a day and moved into a motel with his father.


Rabbi Withdraws Plea
New York Times - July 12, 1994 

A Hasidic rabbi yesterday withdrew his guilty plea to a lesser charge and will stand trial on charges of kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager from his parents. 
he rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, is accused of kidnapping (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), 15, who disappeared in April 1992 while attending a Brooklyn yeshiva that was run by the rabbi. The boy resurfaced publicly early this year, saying he had not been kidnapped but had run away from his mother because she was abusive. 

In March, the rabbi pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy in a deal in which he was to get probation. But Justice Thaddeus Owens of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn rejected the deal. The kidnapping charge is punishable on conviction by up to 25 years in prison.


Custody-Rift Youth Is Reported Missing
New York Times - September 18, 1994

(Boy's Name Removed), who has been at the center of a long custody battle after he disappeared with a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn, has disappeared again, his mother says. 

This time, a lawyer for (Name Removed) said on Friday that (Boy's Name Removed), 15, had run away from a youth residence in Paris. 

Authorities detained him on Sept. 10 for traveling on someone else's passport. It is not clear what he was doing in France. 

The lawyer, Rosalind Jacobson, said that as far as she knew, the boy had not returned to the United States, and his mother was still in France searching for him. 

Mrs. (Name Removed) shares custody of (Boy's Name Removed) with Rabbi Aryeh Zaks, who was named his legal guardian in May. Rabbi Zaks is not the rabbi accused of kidnapping (Boy's Name Removed). 

(Boy's Name Removed)'s lawyer, Eric Thorsen, said he had filed a motion to end the mother's visitation rights, while Ms. Jacobson is seeking to end Rabbi Zaks's guardianship.
Both sides fighting for custody of the youth are to appear in Rockland County Family Court on Friday. 

Rabbi Zaks's spokesman and brother, Isidore, said earlier this week that the boy was "safe and sound and where he should be." He refused to elaborate. 

Judge Bernard Stanger of Rockland County has forbidden the parties to reveal where (Boy's Name Removed) is or when he will return to New York. 

(Boy's Name Removed) first disappeared from his mother's home in New Jersey in April 1992 while studying for his bar mitzvah in Brooklyn with Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi.


Trial Is Set for 3 on Charges of Kidnapping Hasidic Youth
New York Times - October 2, 1994 

In April 1992, a 13-year-old Jewish boy from Ramsey, N.J., disappeared after receiving bar mitzvah instruction at a Brooklyn yeshiva run by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. He resurfaced publicly last February in Rockland County. 

For nearly two years, the agonized parents of the boy, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), now 15, did not know where he was and said that he had been abducted and brainwashed by religious zealots bent on converting him to a devout brand of Judaism.
But the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, responded that (Boy's Name Removed) had voluntarily run away from a home in which he had been physically abused, and (Boy's Name Removed) made the same contention after he reappeared. The teen-ager also vowed that if forced to return to his parents, he would flee -- a promise on which he has since made good. 

Tomorrow, in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the emotionally charged and legally twisted tale will be back in court as Rabbi Helbrans, the rabbi's wife and another man are scheduled to go on trial on kidnapping charges. 

The trial is to begin as the bitter dispute over (Boy's Name Removed)'s custody continues -- and as his parents once more do not know his whereabouts. 

The youth's lawyer said on Friday that the teen-ager (whose name is pronounced Shy FEE-ma ROO-vin) was not missing. But the lawyer, Eric Ole Thorsen, said he could not divulge (Boy's Name Removed)'s whereabouts because of an order imposed by the Rockland County Family Court, where a custody battle is being waged between (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed) of Ramsey, N.J., and Rabbi Aryeh Zaks of Suffern, N.Y. The two agreed in May to shared custody of the teen-ager. 

Last month, (Boy's Name Removed) turned up in Paris with the passport of another person, after running off to a yeshiva camp in the French Alps. But he is no longer in Paris, Mr. Thorsen said. 

The lawyer said that (Boy's Name Removed) would testify for the defense at the trial of Rabbi Helbrans, 31, a resident of Monsey, N.Y., who heads a small Hasidic sect -- and his co-defendants, his wife, Malka, 32, and Mordechai Weisz, 21, of Brooklyn. 

"These people did not kidnap me and did nothing wrong, and I will testify to that if their case goes to trial," (Boy's Name Removed) recently wrote in a letter to Justice Thaddeus E. Owens, who is presiding at the trial. 

The rabbi's lawyer, Paul K. Rooney, said on Friday, "Rabbi Helbrans never had any intent to kidnap and did not kidnap this young man." 

Joyce David, Mrs. Helbrans's lawyer, said: "(Boy's Name Removed) was a troubled child and ran away from home before he ever met the Helbranses. There never was a kidnapping." 

Mr. Weisz's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client was one of many young Hasidic men who "had nothing to do" with Rabbi Helbrans's sect, but who "became involved in an effort to help" (Boy's Name Removed)'s family and found themselves "unwittingly involved in what turns out to have been an alleged kidnapping." 

The major prosecution witnesses are expected to be (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents, who are divorced: his father, (Father's Name Removed), 34, who lives in Israel, and Ms. (Name Removed), 33, who immigrated to the United States from Israel in 1989 with her second husband and her four children. (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents are not Orthodox Jews. 

Patrick Clark, a spokesman for District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of Brooklyn, declined to discuss the prosecution's evidence. But it is known that Mr. (Father's Name Removed), wearing a hidden tape recorder provided by the police, taped a conversation with Rabbi Helbrans not long after (Boy's Name Removed) disappeared. Mr. (Father's Name Removed) has said that the rabbi is heard on the tape offering him $10,000 in exchange for custody of (Boy's Name Removed) and that an aide to the rabbi is heard threatening to kill Mr. (Father's Name Removed). 

Ms. (Name Removed) has testified in court that she once took refuge in a shelter for battered women because her second husband abused her, but she has insisted that (Boy's Name Removed) was not abused. 

The trial almost did not happen. Last March, Rabbi Helbrans and Mr. Weisz pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy in a plea deal under which they were to be sentenced to five years' probation, while all charges against Mrs. Helbrans were to be dismissed. 

But a month later, Justice Thaddeus Owens rejected the deal after (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents argued that the arrangement was too lenient. The defendants again face the original state kidnapping charge, punishable on conviction by up to 25 years in prison.


Mother Tells Of Pressures On Jewish Son By a Rabbi
New York Times -  October 12, 1994 

Crying on the witness stand, the mother of a Jewish teen-ager who prosecutors say was kidnapped by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and his wife testified yesterday that shortly before her son disappeared for nearly two years the defendants intensely pressured her to leave the boy with them. 

The mother, (Name Removed), said that at one point before her son, (Boy's Name Removed), vanished in April 1992 she had to call the police for help in getting her son away from the rabbi's yeshiva in Brooklyn where she had allowed the boy to stay for nearly a month. 

She testified that she called the police after the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, said " 'If you don't want your son to be religious I have the right to take him away from you' " and after one of the rabbi's followers "held my arm and twisted my arm." 

She acknowledged that her son, who is now 15, wanted to stay at the Borough Park yeshiva rather than go home with her to Ramsey, N.J., but she suggested that he had been brainwashed. "He had a strange look in his eyes, like someone who's here and not here," the 33-year-old Ms. (Name Removed) told the jury in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. 

Mrs. (Name Removed) was the first witness in the emotionally charged case that stems from the bitter tug-of-war over the boy's care and religious upbringing. She took the stand after prosecutors and defense lawyers, in their opening statements, painted sharply contrasting pictures of the dispute involving the worlds of secular and ultra-Orthodox Jewry. 

Assistant District Attorney Alan M. Vinegrad said that Rabbi Helbrans and his wife, Malka, 32, and other conspirators "took (Boy's Name Removed) from his parents and hid (Boy's Name Removed) from his parents" for nearly two years. 

But the rabbi's lawyer, Paul K. Rooney, said there was no kidnapping because the youth ran away from a troubled and dysfunctional family in which his stepfather "beat him up, pushed him around, snorted cocaine and beat the mother" so that she and her children "ended up in a shelter" for battered women. 

"The rabbi and his wife gave ths boy sanctuary, as anybody would, with no criminal intent whatsoever, much less kidnapping him or trying to steal him from his mother," Mr. Rooney declared. 

Rabbi Helbrans heads a small Hasidic sect. 
Mrs. Helbrans's lawyer, Joyce David, questioned Mrs. (Name Removed)'s character and credibility, charging that she "does not do well meeting her responsibilities" as a parent and suggesting to the jury that her testimony would be influenced by the hope of making money on a movie or book about the case. 

With the jury out of the room, Ms. David told the judge, Justice Thaddeus E. Owens, that she would question Mrs. (Name Removed) about information that Mrs. (Name Removed) is infatuated with Mr. Vinegrad, which could further color her testimony. Mr. Vinegrad told the judge that "the source of the information is unreliable." 

Mr. Vinegrad, a Federal prosecutor, has been designated a special Brooklyn assitant district attorney so that he can take part in the state trial. He led a Federal investigation of (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance while the Brooklyn district attorney's office also investigated the case. 

(Boy's Name Removed) disappeared after receiving bar mitzvah instruction at Rabbi Helbrans's yeshiva. Mrs. (Name Removed) said yesterday she had sent him there at the recommendation of her aunt. (Boy's Name Removed) resurfaced publicly last February in Rockland County, and is now the subject of a custody dispute between his mother and another rabbi, Aryeh Zaks, of Suffern, N.Y. Since reappearing, he has said he was not kidnapped but voluntarily ran away from home. 

Mrs. (Name Removed), who said she does not consider herself religious, said that at one point Rabbi Helbrans said to her, " 'Why are you sending your kids to public school?' He told me it's not good for Jewish kids to go to school with black kids, Italians and other Christians." 

This testimony brought angry objections from the defense lawyers, who called it


Metro Digest
New York Times - October 25, 2006 

Prosecutors in the trial of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans maintain he criminally abetted the disappearance of a 15-year-old.


Boy's Father Testifies in Kidnap Trial of Rabbi
New York Times - October 25, 1994 

The father of a Jewish teen-ager testified yesterday that an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who is charged with kidnapping the youth asked the father to write a phony letter after the boy disappeared, authorizing the rabbi to hide the boy from his mother. 

The prosecution is arguing in the Brooklyn trial of the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, that the rabbi criminally abetted the April 1992 disappearance of the teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed), who was then 13. 

The youth vanished after his mother, (Name Removed) of Ramsey, N.J., had sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a Brooklyn yeshiva then run by the rabbi, who heads a small Hasidic sect. (Boy's Name Removed)'s family did not see him again until he resurfaced early this year in Rockland County, where the youth, now 15, reportedly lived under another name with Orthodox Jewish families. 

Lawyers for Rabbi Helbrans, 31, and his wife, Malka, 33, who is also charged with kidnapping in the case, say that (Boy's Name Removed) was not abducted but ran away from a troubled family in which his stepfather beat his mother and him, sending them to a shelter for battered women. 

Testifying for the prosecution in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Mr. (Father's Name Removed), a 35-year-old Israeli citizen who has long been divorced from Mrs. (Name Removed), said he learned from an Israeli newspaper article in late April 1992 that his son had allegedly been kidnapped on April 5, 1992. He said he then had a series of conversations with Rabbi Helbrans by telephone from Israel, while preparing to travel to New York to find his son. 

"He said the police are looking for (Boy's Name Removed) and they already asked him questions about the case," Mr. (Father's Name Removed), who works as an aide to lawyers in Israel, quoted Rabbi Helbrans as telling him in an April 29 phone conversation. He said the rabbi then "asked me to write a letter" that said, "I'm asking him to keep (Boy's Name Removed) for me and not let have him until I come to the United States." 

He said the rabbi had instructed him to date the letter April 1 -- four days before (Boy's Name Removed) vanished.

Transcript at Rabbi's Trial Is Interpreted in Two Ways
New York Times- October 26, 1994 

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi accused of having kidnapped a Jewish teen-ager said he would pay $10,000 for the youth's mother to give up custody of the boy, according to a secretly recorded conversation presented as evidence at his trial. 

The prosecution in the Brooklyn trial holds that the transcript of the conversation shows that the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, and his wife, Malka, criminally assisted in the disappearance of the teen-ager. The boy, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), vanished in April 1992 after his mother sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a Brooklyn yeshiva that the rabbi ran. He was 13 when he disappeared and is now 15; he did not resurface until last February. 

But the defense at the trial maintains that the transcript shows that the rabbi was willing to pay the $10,000 to help (Boy's Name Removed)'s father obtain custody of the youth from his mother -- the parents had long been divorced -- as part of an overall effort by the rabbi to help the troubled teen-ager. The defense insists that the boy ran away from a home in which his stepfather had beaten him and his mother, sending them to seek refuge in aa shelter for battered women. 

Each side chose excerpts from the transcript of the two-hour conversation to back its argument as the jurors in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn rustled pages of the transcript. The jurors did not hear the conversation itself, which was conducted in Hebrew between Rabbi Helbrans and (Boy's Name Removed)'s father, (Father's Name Removed), on May 3, 1992, nearly a month after (Boy's Name Removed) disappeared. Instead, they were given an English translation. 

The conversation occurred when Mr. (Father's Name Removed) went to the rabbi's yeshiva wearing a hidden microphone given him by the police. The police had been searching for (Boy's Name Removed) since his mother, (Name Removed) of Ramsey, N.J., had gone to them saying that the rabbi -- who heads a small Hasidic sect -- and his wife and associates had kidnapped the boy. 

With Mr. (Father's Name Removed) on the witness stand, a prosecutor, Michael Vecchione, read an excerpt from the transcript in which Rabbi Helbrans is quoted as having said to Mr. (Father's Name Removed), "The amount that I committing (sic) myself to is in the neighborhood of $10,000. More than that I would not be able to." 

Mr. Vecchione also read excerpts meant to show that Rabbi Helbrans intensely wanted custody of the boy, like one excerpt quoting the rabbi as saying, "I love him with all my soul," and and another quoting him as saying, "Should he not receive an orthodox education it will hurt me a great deal." 

But the rabbi's lawyer, Paul Rooney, read excerpts in which the rabbi was also quoted in the long conversation as telling Mr. (Father's Name Removed) such things as, "I personally do not have an interest in his staying specifically with me," and -- regarding where (Boy's Name Removed) was at that time, weeks after he had vanished -- "I do not now know where he is."


Orthodox Rabbi Found Guilty Of Kidnapping a Jewish Youth
New York Times - November 10, 1994 

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the leader of a small Hasidic sect in Brooklyn, was convicted yesterday of kidnapping a Jewish teenager who disappeared from his family for two years and became the center of an emotionally charged battle between the worlds of secular and ultra-Orthodox Jewry. 

The rabbi's wife, who collapsed sobbing in the courtroom after her husband was taken away to jail, was acquitted of the kidnapping charge but convicted of criminal conspiracy in the case. 

A Brooklyn jury deliberated for less than five hours before it returned its verdicts against Rabbi Helbrans his wife, Malka, in the disappearance of (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), who vanished in April 1992, when he was 13. The rabbi faces a maximum sentence of eight and a third to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 22. Although Mrs. Helbrans could be sentenced to up to four years in prison, the judge has said he would overturn any guilty verdict against her. 

The teen-ager, now 15, disappeared after he met the rabbi when his mother brought him for bar mitzvah instruction to the Brooklyn yeshiva the rabbi then ran. 

The prosecution charged that the Helbranses had kidnapped (Boy's Name Removed) -- who resurfaced last February in Rockland County -- by influencing him to convert from a typical teen-ager who liked sports and video games into a young adherent of the devoutly orthodox Hasidic ways, and by then conspiring with others to encourage and help him to run away and hide. 

But the rabbi's lawyers held that (Boy's Name Removed) was a troubled youth who voluntarily fled from a dysfunctional family in which his stepfather had beaten him and his mother, (Name Removed) of Ramsey, N.J., driving her and her children into a shelter for battered women. The lawyers also charged that the boy was beaten by his mother. 

The defense said Rabbi Helbrans, 32, and his wife, 33, immigrants from Israel, like (Boy's Name Removed) and his family, had not done anything to help the youth disappear but had simply given him sanctuary in the weeks before he ran away on his own. 

As the verdict was delivered, Rabbi Helbrans stared grimly at the defense table. In the courtroom gallery were some of the 25 Orthodox Jews who had prayed while waiting for the jury to return a verdict. 

Mrs. (Name Removed), also sitting in the gallery, bit her lip and appeared to be fighting back tears. Later she told reporters: "I lost my son because of Rabbi Helbrans and finally I see justice. He got what he deserves and he has to pay for his crime." 

Saying "we're bitterly disappointed," Rabbi Helbrans's lawyer, Paul Rooney, promised an appeal. 

Despite yesterday's verdict, the long and complex saga of (Boy's Name Removed) and his family remains unresolved. Last week the youth, who has recently been living with another rabbi in Suffern, N.Y., filed a petition in Rockland County Family Court seeking emancipation from his parents. 

Since he re-emerged in February, his visits with his mother and father have been marked by rancor and recrimination. His father, (Father's Name Removed), has long been divorced from Mrs. (Name Removed). 

The judge in the trial in State Supreme Court, Justice Thaddeus E. Owens, told the prosecution and defense lawyers earlier in the trial that if Mrs. Helbrans was convicted he would reject that verdict because he did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction. The jury was not in the courtroom when he said this. 

Yesterday, the judge postponed making a final determination on her case until Dec. 15, and he allowed her to remain free without bail. 

One of the prosecutors in the case, Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, told reporters, "The jury saw there was a kidnapping, as unusual as it was." 

A juror, Condell White, said the jury believed that Rabbi Helbrans "was making the decisions behind closed doors" that led to the help that (Boy's Name Removed) had in disappearing. 

Although (Boy's Name Removed) testified for the defense and said he ran away voluntarily, Justice Owens had instructed the jurors that the youth's decision did not by itself absolve the defendants of the charges, given (Boy's Name Removed)'s age. 

The judge said that under state law, a person can still be guilty of kidnapping if he helps somebody under 16 disappear from his parents or legal guardians without their consent. 

The five-week trial was the climax of a highly publicized case that offered a rare look at the religious and social tensions between Orthodox and nonreligious Jews. On most days, as the trial progressed, there was a heavy turnout of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews who packed the benches in the downtown Brooklyn courthouse, the men and women sitting on separate sides as if in an Orthodox synagogue. 

Although not religious herself, Mrs. (Name Removed) testified at the trial that she had sent her son to the rabbi's yeshiva at the recommendation of her aunt. After (Boy's Name Removed) vanished, his family did not see him again -- or even know where he was -- until last February. In her testimony, Mrs. (Name Removed) said she was consumed with agony during that period. 

Joyce David, the lawyer for Mrs. Helbrans, termed the defendants "people who enjoy doing mitzvahs, and one of the mitzvahs -- or good deeds -- is helping people who are in trouble." 
In his testimony, (Boy's Name Removed) said he decided to run away because his mother regularly beat him and added that the Helbranses had not helped him flee. But in a vigorous cross-examination, one of the prosecutors, Alan Vinegrad, sought to show that (Boy's Name Removed) was inventing stories of abuse by his mother in an effort to help the defendants. 

The prosecution evidence included statements that (Boy's Name Removed)'s parents testified the defendants had made, including the rabbi's purported remark: "If you don't want your son to be religious, I have the right to take him away from you."


Rabbi Given Prison Term In Kidnapping Of Teen-Ager
New York Times - November 23, 1994 

In a courtroom rife with rancorous passion, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was sentenced yesterday to 4 to 12 years in prison for kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager who disappeared from his family for two years. 

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the leader of a small Hasidic sect, was given the prison term after he declared fervently that he was the victim of the kind of "blood libel" that had "cost the lives of millions," and after the youth's mother spoke with equal intensity about losing her son to "people who control his mind." 

"This kidnap is not over for me," the mother, (Name Removed), said in a packed Brooklyn courtroom, referring to a battle she has been waging with another rabbi for custody of her son, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), since he resurfaced last February in Rockland County. The youth, now 15, was 13 when he vanished in 1992 after Mrs. (Name Removed) sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a yeshiva Rabbi Helbrans then ran in Brooklyn. 
(Boy's Name Removed) has said he was not kidnapped but ran away from a mother who beat him, an accusation Mrs. (Name Removed) has called a lie put into his mind by the rabbi and his followers in "brainwashing" him. 

"It was very hard and painful for me to sit in this courtroom and hear my son accuse me of beating him," the 33-year-old woman from Ramsey, N.J., said yesterday as she recalled (Boy's Name Removed)'s testimony as a defense witness in the five-week State Supreme Court trial that led to Rabbi Helbrans's conviction on Nov. 9 on second-degree kidnapping charges. 

But addressing Justice Thaddeus E. Owens, the 32-year-old rabbi, most recently a resident of Monsey, N.Y., insisted the pain was on his side. "I and my family and my community have passed through the seven partitions of hell," he exclaimed during a half-hour statement in which he switched back and forth from broken English to Hebrew and Yiddish, with translations by an interpreter standing next to him. 

In a courtroom where uniformed court officers filled the aisles to assure order and where most of the spectator benches were occupied by Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews -- men on one side, women on the other, as if in an Orthodox synagogue -- the bitter feelings that have been part of the case from the start poured over as the rabbi was led back to jail after he had insisted on his innocence and Justice Owens had sentenced him. 

The rabbi's wife, Malka, 33, cried out in the gallery: "I want to talk to the judge! I want to say the truth!" 

"You kidnapped my son!" Mrs. (Name Removed) shouted back from another row as court officers ordered the spectators to remain seated while she and her small party left and many of the Hasidic and other Orthodox people expressed dismay at the sentence but left the courthouse without any disorder. The rabbi could have been sentenced to as much as 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison. 

Mrs. Helbrans, who was tried along with her husband, was acquitted of the kidnapping charge but convicted of criminal conspiracy. But Justice Owens has said he planned to dismiss her conviction, and while he ordered the rabbi jailed upon his conviction, he permitted her to remain free pending her next court appearance on Dec. 15. 

After the sentencing, lawyers for the rabbi hurried to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in an effort to have him released pending the outcome of his planned appeal. But the appellate bench put off action on the release request until it receives briefs next week. 

The rabbi and his wife, like (Boy's Name Removed) and his family, are emigrants from Israel. 

Prosecutors had argued at the trial that the Helbranses kidnapped (Boy's Name Removed) by influencing him to convert from a nonreligous teen-ager to an intensely religious one, and by then conspiring with others to encourage and help him run away and hide. 

The rabbi's lawyers held that (Boy's Name Removed) was a troubled youth who voluntarily fled from a dysfunctional family in which his stepfather had beaten him and his mother, driving her and her children into a shelter for battered women. 

Justice Owens instructed the jury, however, that under state law a person could be found guilty of kidnapping if it was determined the person had helped someone under 16 get away from his parents without their consent.


New York Times - November 23, 1994 

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison for kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager who disappeared from his family for two years. Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was given the prison term after he declared that he was the victim of a "blood libel," and after the youth's mother spoke with equal intensity about losing her son to "people who control his mind."

Man Pleads Guilty in Plot to Kidnap Jewish Youth
New York Times - December 11, 1994

A 21-year-old Hasidic Jew pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to kidnap (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), a Jewish teen-ager who disappeared for two years before resurfacing in Rockland County, N.Y. 

Mordechai Weisz, a Brooklyn resident, entered the plea in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn under an arrangement in which he is expected to be sentenced to five years' probation and fined $10,000. The money is to be given to charities selected by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. 

A Hasidic rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, was recently convicted of kidnapping in the case, and the rabbi's wife, Malka, was convicted of conspiracy. (Boy's Name Removed), now 15, was a 13-year-old Ramsey, N.J., resident when he disappeared in April 1992, after his mother sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a yeshiva that Rabbi Helbrans then ran in Brooklyn.

(Boy's Name Removed) was missing until February 1994, when he reappeared in the custody of Rabbi Aryeh Zaks of Rockland County, with whom he still lives. 

A battle for custody of the youth continues between Rabbi Zaks and (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, (Name Removed), who is allowed to see him once a week. 

(Boy's Name Removed) has said he was not kidnapped, but ran away from a mother who beat him, an accusation Mrs. (Name Removed) has called a lie put into his mind by the rabbi and his followers in "brainwashing" him. 

Mr. Weisz was originally charged with kidnapping, but the case was severed from the charges against Rabbi Helbrans. 

Malka Helbrans, 33, who was tried along with her husband, was acquitted of the kidnapping charge but convicted of criminal conspiracy.


Judge Upsets Conviction of Rabbi's Wife
New York Times - December 16, 1994 

A Brooklyn judge yesterday threw out the conviction of a Hasidic rabbi's wife on charges that she conspired with her husband and others to help a Jewish teen-ager hide from his family for two years. Her husband has been convicted of kidnapping in the case. 

"I feel the evidence was legally insufficient," Justice Thaddeus E. Owens of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said in dismissing the wife's conviction. On Nov. 9, a jury had convicted the woman, Malka Helbrans, of conspiring to kidnap the teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed). 

While Mrs. Helbrans appeared in a state courtroom in Brooklyn, her husband, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was in Federal court in Manhattan fighting a battle of his own. The rabbi, citing religious grounds, is trying to prevent the state prison system from shaving off his beard. 

The rabbi is soon to be transferred into the state system, which has a policy of shaving off a new prisoner's beard so it can take a picture of him clean-shaven as well as bearded. The purpose is to aid a hunt should the prisoner escape and shave off the beard, state officials say. The prisoner may regrow a beard, though not in excess of one inch, or shorter than the rabbi's beard is now, his lawyer said. 

Since his conviction, the 32-year-old rabbi has been held in a city jail. The New York City jail system has no requirement for shaving a beard, said his lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel. He said yesterday that he expected that the rabbi would be temporarily transferred to a Federal jail in Manhattan, pending the outcome of the litigation over his beard, where he also would not face a shaving requirement. The hearing in that litigation will continue on Dec. 28. 

In arguing that Rabbi Helbrans's beard not be shaved, Mr. Shargel said his client, as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, "believes his beard should not be touched" because of the biblical command in Leviticus 19:27, which the lawyer quoted as saying: "You shall not round off the corners of the hair of your head. Neither shalt thou shave the corners of thy beard." 

Mr. Shargel said 22 states plus the New York City and Federal penal systems "have no requirement for prisoners to be clean-shaven, even for an initial shave." 

Jeff Maclin, a spokesman for the New York State Attorney General's office, said the shaving requirement for new prisoners had been supported by a 1984 Federal court ruling in the case of a Rastafarian prisoner. 

The long-running case involving (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed) has been charged with emotion. (Boy's Name Removed) vanished in April 1992, when he was 13, after his mother, (Name Removed), sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to the Brooklyn yeshiva that Rabbi Helbrans then ran. The youth, now 15, resurfaced last February in Rockland County, saying he had run away voluntarily from a mother who beat him, an accusation Mrs. (Name Removed) has called a lie put into his mind by the rabbi and his followers. She held that they had brainwashed him while influencing him to become an Orthodox Jew and helping him disappear. 

Mordechai Weisz, 21, a Hasidic Jew, pleaded guilty to criminally conspiring in (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance. 

In lifting Mrs. Helbrans's conviction, the judge said he did so even though he believed she was part of the conspiracy. He said he became convinced of her guilt on Nov. 22 as he sentenced the rabbi to 4 to 12 years in prison for his kidnapping conviction by the same jury that found his wife guilty of conspiracy. 

At the sentencing, Mrs. Helbrans, 33, screamed, cried and demanded to talk to the judge. "I want to say the truth," she said before she collapsed and was helped from the courtroom. Yesterday, the judge termed her outburst "disruptive and disgraceful" and said that the action and the "anger on her face" as she looked at (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother had convinced him that she was guilty -- though he also said he believed the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. 

Mrs. Helbrans made no comment after the judge dismissed her conviction, but her lawyer, Joyce David, said she was pleased. Had the conspiracy conviction been upheld, she would have faced up to four years in prison. The Helbranses have five young children, Ms. David said.

Computer Replaces Razor For Rabbi's Prison Picture
New York Times - December 29, 1994

A conflict between a New York State prison regulation requiring that inmates be photographed clean-shaven and a religious belief that a man's beard must not be touched was resolved in Federal court yesterday through the latest computer technology. 

For the first time, New York State accepted a computer-generated image of what an inmate, in this case, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, would look like without a beard instead of making him shave for a conventional photograph. The state requires that a bearded inmate be photographedshaven so that he can be more easily identified if he escapes and shaves off his beard. 

The image was produced by Engineering Animation of Ames, Iowa, a company specializing in scientific computer animation, which was hired by Gerald L. Shargel, the lawyer for Rabbi Helbrans. "Through the use of state-of-the-art-computer technology," Mr. Shargel said, "we were able to enforce a biblical command." 

The ruling was seen by Mr. Shargel and others involved in technology and religious-freedom issues as establishing a precedent, but the State Attorney General's office held that the decision applied only to this case. 

Rabbi Helbrans, the leader of a small Hasidic sect, was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison last month for kidnapping (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), a Jewish teen-ager who had been sent by his mother for bar mitzvah instruction at the rabbi's yeshiva. 

Rabbi Helbrans fought on religious grounds in United States District Court in Manhattan to keep the prison system from shaving his beard. His lawyer, Mr. Shargel, cited Leviticus 19:27: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." 

The state held that the shaving requirement for new prisoners was upheld by a 1984 Federal court ruling in the case of a Rastafarian prisoner. Mr. Shargel, however, felt that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993, there was no compelling security reason for the government to shave his client's beard if a computer-generated likeness could be used. 

He said he started with his neighborhood computer store and "just kept making calls" until a law professor at George Washington Law School recommended Engineering Animation.

Last week, the company sent its "visualization expert" and medical illustrator, Katherine Lattie, to Rikers Island, where the rabbi was in jail. She photographed and sketched front and profile views of his face. 

But as a woman, under the rabbi's religious strictures, Ms. Lattie could not touch him. So she had Mr. Shargel use calipers and a ruler to measure the rabbi's face, then scanned photographs into the computer and, using visualization software, replicated his facial structure as it would look without beard and side curls. 

In court yesterday, before- and after-beard images were shown on a monitor. After an expert studied them, the state accepted the computer likeness. 

Mikki Seligman, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General, said no precedent had been set but that in the future computer-generated photos would be reviewed "on a case-to-case basis." 

Mark Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Congress, said the "creative" resolution of the conflict was "a road map for every lawyer in the country who has one of these cases."


U.S. Asks Whether Leniency for Rabbi Had Link to a Pataki Backer
New York Times - April 26, 1998 

Federal prosecutors are examining whether state officials gave lenient treatment to a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in a widely publicized kidnapping case after appeals were made on his behalf by a fund-raiser for the campaign of Gov. George E. Pataki, officials and others involved in the inquiry say. 

State records show that prison officials moved the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, from prison into a work-release program even though he was ineligible for the transfer because Federal immigration officials wanted to deport him. The transfer in June 1996 was rescinded after a Federal prosecutor who had brought charges against Rabbi Helbrans protested to state prison officials. 

The inquiry into the case of Rabbi Helbrans, who was convicted of kidnapping a teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), in 1994, represents a broadening of the investigation by the United States Attorney's office into fund-raising by Mr. Pataki's campaign. 

The prosecutor who successfully intervened after Rabbi Helbrans was moved to work release, Alan Vinegrad, said in an interview that prison officials told him the transfer had been ordered by senior state officials. 

''When I spoke to the state correction officials about this, it was made clear to me that the decision to place him in the work-release program had been made at high levels,'' said Mr. Vinegrad, who is now a lawyer in private practice. ''The way this information was conveyed to me left me with the distinct impression that his treatment in the prison system was not considered routine.'' 

The State Parole Board later released Rabbi Helbrans, who was convicted of what is considered to be a violent crime under state law, in his first appearance before the panel. The decision to parole Rabbi Helbrans, made over the objections of Federal and state prosecutors, came in November 1996. At about the same time, the board released two other inmates in cases that are also being scrutinized by prosecutors, according to interviews with officials and others in Albany and New York City who are involved in the inquiry. 

The fund-raiser, Leon Perlmutter, is a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, a group that has long been courted by both Democratic and Republican officials. Mr. Perlmutter lobbied state officials on behalf of all three inmates, according to the interviews.
Pataki administration officials strenuously denied that anyone received favorable treatment because of lobbying by fund-raisers or campaign contributors. They said that after an extensive review of the file of Rabbi Helbrans, they were certain his case was handled appropriately. 

''The decision on his work release was no different than that for any other inmate,'' said Jim Flateau, a spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services. 

Mr. Flateau suggested that Mr. Vinegrad misunderstood the prison officials when they referred to high-ranking officials. Mr. Flateau said senior officials closely monitor the work-release program because, when used correctly, it helps reduce prison overcrowding. 

Besides the case involving Rabbi Helbrans, Federal prosecutors are looking at those of two convicted Israeli drug dealers who were paroled and deported in November 1996, as well as the cases of two Korean immigrants still in prison. Parents of the Koreans sought leniency from the Parole Board, though it was not granted. 

But prosecutors do not appear to believe that there was a widespread effort to grant favors in the state's criminal justice system, officials involved in the case say. 

William J. Muller, a spokesman for the United States Attorney's office in Brooklyn, has refused to respond to questions about the case, but others involved in the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the office was examining how Rabbi Helbrans was treated. 

The case of Rabbi Helbrans and (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed) attracted widespread attention. 

The kidnapping occurred after (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother, who is not an Orthodox Jew, entrusted him to the rabbi for bar mitzvah instruction. The authorities charged Rabbi Helbrans with keeping (Boy's Name Removed) away from his family for two years in order to educate him as a Hasidic Jew. 

In an interview, Rabbi Helbrans, a leader of an offshoot of the Satmar sect, acknowledged that Mr. Perlmutter had visited him several times in prison. He said Mr. Perlmutter had advised him on legal and prison matters and had acted as an advocate for him before prison and other state officials, seeking to insure, for example, that he received kosher food. 

Rabbi Helbrans, who is now running a yeshiva in upstate New York while he fights deportation, said he did not know if Mr. Perlmutter had influenced the decisions to put him in the work-release program or grant him parole. But he added, ''I didn't receive any kind of special treatment.'' 

Zenia Mucha, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pataki, declined to comment on Rabbi Helbrans or Mr. Perlmutter. 

Mr. Perlmutter did not respond to three messages left for him with family members at his home in Brooklyn. He is well known in the Satmar community for raising money for both political and charitable causes. 

One contributor who gave to the Pataki campaign in response to Mr. Perlmutter's appeals was a Satmar businessman named Abraham Lefkowitz, who donated a total of $45,000 individually and through his company in 1994, according to records and an aide to Mr. Lefkowitz. 

Rabbi Helbrans was originally sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison, after a joint Federal-state prosecution, but on June 17, 1996, an appeals court reduced the sentence to 2 to 6 years. Three days later he was put in the work-release program, which is for prisoners who are less than two years away from the possibility of parole. Under the program, inmates are freed from prison as long as they have a job, and they are required to report regularly to correctional officials. 

A day later, Mr. Vinegrad, the Federal prosecutor, demanded that the transfer be rescinded. Mr. Vinegrad said last week that he could not understand how Rabbi Helbrans, an Israeli citizen, was allowed into the program because he had been convicted of a violent felony and because Federal immigration officials wanted to deport him. On June 24, 1996, prison officials relented. 

Mr. Flateau, the corrections department spokesman, at first blamed the department for what he termed a low-level ''administrative error'' in granting Rabbi Helbrans work release.
He said the department had discovered the mistake on its own and rectified it, denying that Mr. Vinegrad had anything to do with it. 

In a subsequent conversation, Mr. Flateau conceded that Mr. Vinegrad had intervened, but he added that the department now believed that Federal immigration officials were at fault. He said the Federal officials had not properly notified the department that they wanted to deport Rabbi Helbrans. 

Mr. Flateau also said that while Rabbi Helbrans had been convicted of second-degree kidnapping, which is a violent crime under state law, the department had determined that the crime the rabbi had committed was not violent in nature, so he was eligible for work release. 

Mark Thorn, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, declined to comment, saying that the agency does not discuss pending cases. An immigration judge has ordered that Rabbi Helbrans be deported. He is appealing the decision. 

Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group that monitors conditions in the state's prisons, said he was surprised to learn that a person convicted of second-degree kidnapping was allowed into the work-release program. 

''Our understanding is that anyone convicted of a violent offense is, flat out, not considered for work release,'' Mr. Gangi said.


Widening Inquiry On Pataki Donors And Parole Board
August 19, 1999 - New York Times 

The scribbled note from a political fund-raiser for Gov. George E. Pataki to a Pataki administration official carried a terse directive: ''These are three names that need to be followed up with.'' 

What came next were details on three men in New York prisons -- violent young felons whose relatives had made sizable donations to the Pataki campaign in the belief, prosecutors say, that the money would get the inmates paroled. 

The note was among a series of documents unearthed by the United States Attorney's office in its investigation into the campaign's fund-raising, a trove that provides a rare view of Pataki officials assisting a handful of major campaign contributors. 

The documents, and courtroom testimony, recount how the campaign sent inquiries about the prisoners directly to the Governor's office, which passed them on to the Parole Board. In fact, this week, a parole official pleaded guilty to lying to Federal officials in the case and insisted in court that he had been told that the Governor's office had expressed strong concern about one of the prisoners, who was released on parole. The other two were not.

While strenuously denying any wrongdoing, even some of the Governor's closest associates privately acknowledge that the investigation has at times offered an unflattering portrait of the administration. 

And now it seems to be expanding. The parole officer who pleaded guilty this week, Ronald Hotaling, strongly suggested in court that the chairman of the Parole Board, Brion D. Travis, who was appointed by Mr. Pataki, told him of ''the interest of the Governor's office in the release'' of one of the felons. 

Several state officials say that in recent months, the administration has revamped the Parole Board, which is controlled by the Governor's appointees, and greatly reduced Mr. Travis's day-to-day role. Thomas Grant, a spokesman for Mr. Travis, would not comment. 

Prosecutors are also said to be focusing on a separate case involving possible lenient treatment given by parole officials to Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in a widely publicized kidnapping case. 

In a letter recently entered into the court record, the prosecutors say that a parole official ''took steps to facilitate the release of'' Rabbi Helbrans because the official felt ''improper political pressure'' being brought on the rabbi's behalf. Rabbi Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping a teen-ager, (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), in 1994, after (Boy's Name Removed)'s mother entrusted him to the rabbi for bar mitzvah instruction. 

Pataki aides dismiss the 20-month-old inquiry as a politically motivated attempt to embarrass the Governor. They say that no one received special favors, noting that of the three young prisoners, only the one with an exemplary prison record was paroled. They say that the two parole officials found guilty this month were hired during the tenure of Mr. Pataki's predecessors and that they were indicted for lying when questioned in the case, not for influence-peddling. 

Michael McKeon, the Governor's press secretary, declined to comment on specific documents or testimony. ''The prosecutors know that those members of this administration involved in these cases handled themselves appropriately and properly,'' Mr. McKeon said. ''At some point, they are going to have to acknowledge that fact. In fairness, it should be sooner, rather than later.'' 

In the Rabbi Helbrans case, prosecutors are examining whether the board released him at the urging of an influential rabbi, Leon Perlmutter, who has assisted the Pataki campaign in raising money from Orthodox Jews. In one document, the prosecutors assert that a parole staff employee was told by a superior that Rabbi Perlmutter was someone who could deliver votes and therefore should be listened to on inmate releases. The employee, who was not identified, was contacted directly by Rabbi Perlmutter about several cases, including Rabbi Helbrans, according to the record. 

Both Rabbi Helbrans and Rabbi Perlmutter have denied any wrongdoing. 

The inquiry by the United States Attorney's office in Brooklyn began in January 1998 after the parents of one of the three young inmates complained to the police that a volunteer Republican fund-raiser, Yung Soo Yoo, had offered to help win parole in exchange for contributions but had reneged. Mr. Yoo is a prominent Korean businessman in the New York region, and all three inmates were sons of Koreans. 

The family of one inmate, James Jhang, who was convicted of robbery, gave at least $12,000 to the campaign in 1994 and 1995, while the family of another, Boyoung Chung, who was convicted of murder, gave $9,500. Neither man was released. The family and friends of the third inmate, John Kim, who was convicted of armed robbery, gave several thousand dollars, prosecutors say. The campaign eventually returned most of the donations from supporters of the three inmates. 

Mr. Kim was released after Korean immigrants in Queens lobbied the Parole Board. His family has close ties to Grace Koh, the Governor's liaison to Asian-Americans, who also lobbied for his release. 

Several officials of the Pataki administration and campaign later testified before the grand jury. Besides the guilty plea from Mr. Hotaling, the prosecutors won the conviction of Sean McSherry, a parole commissioner, on perjury charges this month. Prosecutors have contended that Mr. McSherry caved in to political pressure and spearheaded the undeserved release of Mr. Kim in 1996. Mr. McSherry had been known as one of the most cautious commissioners in making release decisions. 

The documents portray a domino effect of inquiries that began with Mr. Yoo, who sent the names of the prisoners to Patrick Donohue, a Pataki fund-raiser. Mr. Donohue then sent the handwritten note to Jeff Wiesenfeld, director of community affairs for the Governor. Mr. Wiesenfeld in turn contacted Mr. Travis, asking for information about the three young inmates. 

In Mr. Kim's case, the documents show that Mr. Wiesenfeld, who supervised Ms. Koh in the community affairs office, tried to get Mr. Kim into a work release program. ''John Kim appears to have made a stunning turn from a life that was previously influenced and dominated by gang interactions,'' Mr. Wiesenfeld wrote to Mr. Travis on Dec. 7, 1995. 

Mr. Travis replied days later that Mr. Kim was not eligible for work release because of his conviction for a violent felony. But Mr. Travis wrote that Mr. Wiesenfeld's recommendation would be considered when Mr. Kim was up for parole. 

The Governor himself is not mentioned in the campaign and administration records, and there is no evidence that he had any involvement in the parole decisions. But according to court testimony, he did cross paths with one of the contributors. 

Detective George Slater, an investigator, told the court that Mr. Chung's mother, Incha Chung, recounted how she had met the Governor at a fund-raiser and whispered that she was ''waiting for news.'' 

The Governor, Mr. Slater said, replied that he did not know what she was talking about and walked away.


Rabbi Is Deported 5 Years After Conviction, Lawyer Says
New York Times - May 12, 2000 

A Hasidic rabbi on parole in Rockland County after serving a prison term for kidnapping a teenager under his tutelage was deported to Israel yesterday, even as his conviction was being appealed, his lawyer said. 

The case of the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, has drawn widespread attention not only for the nature of the kidnapping charge, but also because of a federal investigation into whether his parole after two years in prison was the result of improper political influence on the Pataki administration. 

Immigration officials have sought to deport the rabbi since 1992, at first saying he had entered the country illegally in 1990, and later citing federal law that allows the deportation of convicted felons. On March 7, the Board of Immigration Appeal dismissed his final appeal of a deportation order. 

Rabbi Helbrans, 38, an Israeli citizen, was arrested Wednesday night by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the police station in Spring Valley, N.Y., where he had gone expecting a regular meeting with his parole officer, said Mark Thorn, an I.N.S. spokesman. Yesterday, Rabbi Helbrans was put on a plane for Israel at 5:25 p.m., his lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, said. 

About an hour earlier, the rabbi's wife, Malka, was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental affairs and striking a federal agent at the Manhattan detention center where the rabbi had been held, Mr. Russo said. 

Mike Gilhooly, regional spokesman for the immigration agency, said he could not confirm that the rabbi was deported or that Mrs. Helbrans was arrested. 

The rabbi was convicted in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in 1994 in the kidnapping of (Boy's Name Removed) (Father's Name Removed), who disappeared in April 1992, when he was 13, after his mother sent him to a Brooklyn yeshiva run by the rabbi. When the boy resurfaced two years later, he said he had run away from his mother, who he said had beaten him. The mother called the allegation a lie, and accused Rabbi Helbrans of brainwashing her son. 

After a November 1996 decision by the State Parole Board to release Rabbi Helbrans after two years in prison, the United States attorney's office began investigating whether the board had been influenced by a personal appeal from Leon Perlmutter, a fund-raiser for Gov. George E. Pataki in the Hasidic community. The Pataki administration has denied there was any improper influence. Federal officials said yesterday that the investigation was continuing. 

Mr. Russo, the rabbi's lawyer, said he was disturbed by his client's deportation because he thought he had an agreement with the immigration service to wait for the result of an appeal of the kidnapping conviction in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

If the court overturns the conviction, Mr. Russo said, there would be no reason to deport Rabbi Helbrans, who had lived with his wife and their six children in Monsey, N.Y. Mrs. Helbrans is six months pregnant, Mr. Russo said. 

A jury convicted Mrs. Helbrans of conspiring with her husband to hide the teenager, but the conviction was thrown out by the trial judge for lack of evidence. 

Mr. Thorn of the immigration service declined to comment on Mr. Russo's assertions. Amy Otten, a spokeswoman for the agency in Washington, said there is no blanket policy on whether to withhold deportations pending criminal appeals. 

Rick Kenney, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, a sister agency to the immigration service, said that even if the kidnapping charge was overturned, the deportation order still included an earlier charge that Rabbi Helbrans entered the country illegally on Sept. 14, 1990. 

''That charge still stands,'' Mr. Kenney said. But, he added, ''Because it was a less serious ground for deportation, he might be eligible for more forms of relief. So, yeah, if he's trying to get his kidnapping conviction overturned, that might make a difference.'' 

Josef Goldman, a fellow Hasid in Monsey, where Rabbi Helbrans was affiliated with the Lev Tahor yeshiva, said the community was ''very, very upset'' about the rabbi's arrest. ''The I.N.S. is showing a very ugly face here, a very ugly face,'' he said.

Former Parole Official Is Indicted in Influence-Peddling Inquiry
New York Times - June 13, 2000

A former member of the New York State Parole Board was charged yesterday with repeatedly lying before a federal grand jury when questioned about whether the board had given preferential treatment to an inmate whose friends and family contributed to Gov. George E. Pataki's 1994 election campaign. 

In an indictment unsealed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the former board member, Leo S. Levy, was accused of misleading investigators looking into the early release of John Kim, a gang member who was serving time for violent felonies and was freed by the board in April 1996. 

Mr. Levy is the fourth person -- and the third state official -- to be charged in the two-and-a-half-year grand jury investigation into accusations that Pataki campaign officials used the promise of early parole to drum up campaign contributions. The accusations have been embarrassing for Mr. Pataki, who has sought to eliminate parole entirely and has made it tougher for violent felons to win release on parole. 

In November, Sean McSherry, a former Parole Board member who led the three-member panel that heard the case of Mr. Kim, was sentenced to two years in federal prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. Ronald Hotaling, the former executive secretary to the Parole Board, pleaded guilty in August to lying to federal officials and said he had been informed that the governor's office had expressed a strong interest in the Kim case. 

In December, Yung Soo Yoo, a New Jersey businessman and a volunteer Republican Party fund-raiser, was accused of promising favorable state parole rulings to the families of three convicted violent felons, including Mr. Kim's, in exchange for more than $36,000 in donations to Mr. Pataki's campaign. Mr. Yoo is scheduled to go on trial in Federal District Court in Brooklyn next month. 

The investigation by the United States attorney's office into the influence-peddling allegations began in January 1998 after the parents of a man convicted with Mr. Kim said Mr. Yoo and Patrick Donohue, a top Pataki campaign aide, had guaranteed that their son would gain an early parole if they contributed to the governor's 1994 campaign. Investigators later found letters and memos from the governor's office to the Parole Board concerning Mr. Kim and two other Korean-American inmates whose families had contributed to the Pataki campaign. Mr. Donohue has not been charged. 

Mr. Kim, who was released after serving the minimum of a 4-to-12-year sentence for committing three armed robberies in Queens, is the son of the Rev. Nam Soo Kim, a prominent Korean-American minister in Queens who contributed $1,000 to the Pataki election campaign. Others linked to the minister gave several thousand dollars more to the campaign, officials involved in the case said. 

The federal prosecutors who are overseeing the investigation have repeatedly said no evidence suggests that Mr. Pataki participated in or had knowledge of the various crimes alleged. Michael F. McKeon, a spokesman for the governor, has strenuously denied in the past that officials engaged in any wrongdoing, but did not return telephone calls last night seeking comment. 

The federal government is also focusing on a similar but separate case involving possible lenient treatment given by parole officials to Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in a widely publicized kidnapping case. Rabbi Helbrans was deported to Israel in May, his lawyer has said, but federal officials say their investigation is continuing. 

The indictment released yesterday against Mr. Levy charges him with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his testimony before the grand jury. For example, it accuses him of testifying that a parole officer named Thomas Burke was present at Mr. Kim's hearing; the government maintains that Mr. Burke was on vacation in another state at the time. Mr. Levy was also accused of lying about conversations he had had with other parole officials about incidents before, during and after Mr. Kim's hearing before the parole panel. 

Mr. Levy was appointed to the Parole Board by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in 1992 and stepped down in 1998. His lawyer, Brian Mumford, was away from his office yesterday and unavailable for comment. 

Mr. Levy was expected to turn himself in to the authorities later this week. If found guilty of all charges, he faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.


Following Up
Overcoming Tug of War Of His Family and Rabbi
New York Times - April 1, 2001 

The emotions were explosive, the words rancorous, the plot a tormenting tale of legal twists and melodramatic turns. 

Headlines highlighted a battle between a teenager's nonreligious Jewish parents and ultra-Orthodox Jews for the boy's heart and mind -- with bitter episodes like the youth's disappearance from his family for two years and a rabbi's conviction and imprisonment for kidnapping. 

In 1992, (Boy's Name Removed), 13, vanished after his mother, (Name Removed), an immigrant from Israel living in Ramsey, N.J., sent him to receive bar mitzvah instruction at a Brooklyn yeshiva run by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, leader of a small Hasidic sect. 

Ms. (Name Removed) and the boy's father, (Father's Name Removed), who lived in Israel and was divorced from Ms. (Name Removed), charged that the rabbi and his followers had abducted and brainwashed a secular (Boy's Name Removed) to convert him to their zealous brand of Judaism. 

Rabbi Helbrans's lawyers said at his 1994 trial that he had not aided in (Boy's Name Removed)'s disappearance but had given sanctuary to a boy fleeing a deeply troubled family in which his stepfather had beaten him and his mother. 

The rabbi was found guilty of kidnapping, jailed for two years and deported to Israel -- despite testimony from (Boy's Name Removed), who had resurfaced after two years in places like a yeshiva in France, that he had voluntarily run away after the Helbrans family showed him ''what a normal family was.'' 

Now 22 and living in heavily Orthodox Monsey, N.Y., Mr. (Father's Name Removed) repeated last week that he had been neither been abducted nor brainwashed. ''I was following the religion, not Helbrans,'' he said. 

''I'm religious, but not the way I was'' when living among Hasidic people until he was nearly 17, he said. ''I follow the Sabbath, but don't have side curls and don't dress in black.'' 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed) said he reconciled with his parents five years ago and had good relations with them. He lived much of the five years in Israel, he said, working in a hotel and serving in the army. 

At times during that period he stayed with his father, he said, and at times with his mother, who divorced his stepfather and returned to Israel. 

Mr. (Father's Name Removed), who hopes to attend computer school, said he and his parents did not talk about the past rupture. ''They feel I was brainwashed. I don't,'' he said, ''so we let it alone.'' 

Mass Transit Makeover Resurrects a Ghost Train 

It was known as the ''ghost train,'' but it carried live riders. 

By the 1990's, the Franklin Avenue shuttle in Brooklyn, a 1.25-mile subway spur from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Prospect Park, had hit rock bottom. ''Decrepit,'' ''crumbling,'' ''ramshackle,'' ''unsafe,'' ''filthy'' and ''neglected'' were the polite descriptions. 

In 1998, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began a $74 million rehabilitation, replacing tracks, eliminating one of the five stations and rebuilding others with elevators, security cameras and ornamentation from stained glass to wrought iron. The line reopened 18 months ago to accolades. 

The praise continues. 

''The only things we've heard are positive,'' said Jacob Goldstein, chairman of the area's Community Board 9. ''It's clean and runs well.'' Similar praise came from Gene Russianoff of the pro-passenger Straphangers Campaign. Citing what they consider the best endorsement, transit officials estimate that the number of riders on the line has increased to about 15,000 a day from about 10,000 before the makeover.


Lev Tahor: Pure as the driven snow, or hearts of darkness?
By Shay Fogelman
Haaretz - March 9, 2012

Haaretz spent five days with the controversial 'Lev Tahor' Haredi community in Canada to uncover the truth about the sect and its charismatic head, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Part one of a two-part series.

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans is trying to get me to repent and become religious. To this end, for the past four months he has been spending hours with me on the phone from Canada. He believes I have a good Jewish soul that somehow got lost, and insists he can, and must, show it the way back. I disagree with him about the soul, the Jewish thing and the path, but do find many other interesting subjects to discuss with him.

Rabbi Helbrans is a bit disappointed that I haven’t become religious yet, but he’s not giving up. He keeps trying at every opportunity. He maintains that discussion of God should not be relegated to the realm of fate, but rather that it is an absolute and provable truth. Therefore, before he would consent to be interviewed, he insisted that I devote 10 hours to listening to him present his proofs. Helbrans declared that if I came to him with an honest desire to explore the truth, I would no longer be able to deny God and his Torah, as given to the Jewish people at Sinai.

Despite my skepticism, I acceded to his demand. Because of this same skepticism, I also agreed to pledge to him that if I was in fact convinced, I would change my life and become religious. Helbrans was satisfied. He was so keen and confident of his success that, before I boarded the plane for Canada, he suggested that I cancel – or at least postpone – my return flight. I didn’t change my plans, but I do admit that, at least once, I did try to picture a Shabbat without a cigarette.

Shlomo Helbrans heads a small and controversial Hasidic community called Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart”). It is a zealous and insular community, situated at the outer fringes of the Haredi world. Helbrans and his disciples would surely be pleased with this description. Stringency – or true piety, as they would have it – stands at the heart of their community life. They don’t see any negative connotation in the word “extremism,” either. On the contrary. In many senses, theirs is an ideology that remains unshakable, even in the face of waves of criticism and derision.

Lev Tahor came into being in the mid-1980s in Jerusalem. In the early 1990s it followed Rabbi Helbrans to the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and from there to the town of Monsey, upstate in Rockland County. About a decade ago, the community settled permanently in the Canadian town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Throughout this time, the name of the community – and especially that of its leader – was associated with various scandals, including some that reached the courts or were the subject of police investigations in the United States and Israel.

The community currently numbers about 50 families, but it has hundreds more supporters and admirers, living mostly in Haredi areas of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and the United States. Some of them adopt certain aspects of the community’s extremist outlook, others emulate the women’s unique manner of dress, or some of the community’s customs. At least one or two new families join the community each year.

Then there are those who oppose Rabbi Helbrans and his community. Their number and strength is much bigger. They view the community as a dangerous cult, and its leader as a guru who employs brainwashing techniques on his followers. They refer to the community as Lev Tameh (“Impure Heart”) or as the Sabbatean Cult, and call Helbrans a false messiah and the “Sabbatai Zevi of our times.” (Zevi was a 17th-century rabbi who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.) Wall posters and pamphlets distributed mainly on the Haredi street assert that members of the community mortgage their property, independence and their very souls to Lev Tahor. “Everyone, without exception, is like a slave before him [Helbrans], and commanded to lie and deceive as necessary in order to satisfy the appetite and desire of the ‘Rebbe,’” are just some of these publications’ claims.

Opponents of Lev Tahor say that Helbrans, or his emissaries, beat wayward Hasidim and their wives. They say that teenage girls in the community are married off at a young age, in violation of the law. They also accuse the rabbi and his followers of polygamy, sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

But not only in the Haredi world is the Lev Tahor community considered controversial. In the past, the authorities in Israel, the U.S. and Canada tried to determine whether this was a legitimate Hasidic community or a cult that should be outlawed. It was in this context that the community’s name returned to the public consciousness last Rosh Hashanah. Media reports several days before the holiday said that two sisters from Beit Shemesh, ages 13 and a half and 15, had been sent to the Lev Tahor community in Canada by their newly religious parents. After an intervention by their grandmother, the girls were detained at Montreal Airport and returned to Israel three days later.

The negotiations that preceded my visit to Lev Tahor lasted three months and included dozens of phone calls and meetings with people with close ties to the community. Helbrans and his people were extremely wary. They say that all of the media coverage about them has been unfair. They state that reporters for both secular and religious newspapers just quoted rumors and derogatory statements about them, without any attempt to discover the truth. Publicly, the members of the community do not generally respond to the accusations made against them. They try to avoid interviews and being photographed, certainly when it comes to the Israeli press. They have also never filed a lawsuit alleging slander. They do not recognize the Zionist court system in principle, and so cannot use it.

It’s hard to figure out why Helbrans agreed to be interviewed for the first time, and why he allowed a reporter to visit his community. Perhaps his great eagerness to get me to see the light and change my ways played a key role in the matter.

During my five-day visit to Lev Tahor, I was given complete freedom to speak with any member of the community – men, women and also children. All of the community institutions were opened to me and I was permitted to question Helbrans on any topic, and to confront him with any suspicion or claim. All the community members also agreed to be photographed, even though this never usually happens, not even at wedding or other celebrations.

The full openness and the answers I received in Sainte-Agathe left me with a positive impression about the community and its way of life. But at the same time, the nagging doubts never ceased for a moment. Only later, after I returned to Israel, did I learn to what extent some of them were true.

Strictest of all
Morning mist covers Sainte-Agathe. Visibility is zero. It’s late January and the snow that fell all night has turned the streets white. The thermometer in the car reads minus 20 degrees Celsius. The weatherman is saying that with the wind chill factor, it feels like minus 30. The lake at the base of the town is frozen over. There are no ducks and no boats. The hundreds of tourists who descended upon the town for Christmas have all left. Here and there, decorated Christmas trees whose time has passed have been stuck in the snow on the side of the road.

Against this white backdrop, it’s impossible not to notice the Lev Tahor women as they walk the streets of the town clad all in black. The robes that cover them conceal the contours of their bodies as well as their footsteps. And in the fog, they appear to be floating over the snow.

Sainte-Agathe is about a two-hour drive north of Montreal. The population of 10,000 is comprised mainly of French-speaking Catholics, but there is also an English-speaking population and a single synagogue that belongs to Chabad. The town is surrounded by mountains, forests and lakes, and is considered an attractive tourist destination, especially in summer. In the winter, the area is home to several of Canada’s preeminent ski resorts.

The homes of the Lev Tahor members are concentrated on four small streets on the eastern outskirts of the town. They are typical suburban North American homes, either one or two stories, with tile roofs. Out front are wood fences and green lawns, but in the winter all is covered by five feet of snow. There are also a few homes scattered through the area that belong to local Christians, as well as some small wooden vacation cottages. In the center of the neighborhood, a large, three-story building is currently being built. When completed, some of the community’s institutions and its synagogue will move in.

All the females of the community, starting from age three, are covered from head to foot in a type of long black robe. A black scarf covers their heads. Only their faces, from forehead to chin, are exposed. In Israel, this burka-esque attire has earned them the moniker “Taliban women.” The Sainte-Agathe residents sometimes refer to them as the “Amish women.” Their entire culture and imagery – the males of the community also wear a specific uniform – is similar to that of the Satmar Hasidim, only with longer tzitzit (tassels). The children wear identical hats and everyone, aside from Helbrans, wears the same eyeglass frames. In addition, from age three all the males have the hair on their head shaved once a week. Their beards and sideburns will never be touched.

Melting pot
The Lev Tahor community follows other customs that seem quite peculiar to an outside observer. Many are also practiced in other branches of Hasidism, but nowhere as scrupulously as here. The prayers in the synagogue, for instance, often last up to twice as long as the norm; the words are pronounced slowly and with great emphasis, often with loud shouting. “Hoarseness is a sign of piety,” the Hasidim joke. The community’s diet is quite limited. While based on the familiar laws of kashrut, their interpretation of these laws is exceedingly stringent. For example, they will not eat chickens or their eggs.

They say that genetic engineering has made chickens tref (nonkosher), and so they will only eat the eggs and meat of geese. For halakhic [Jewish religious law] reasons, they insist that all fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, must be peeled. They will not eat rice, green onions or leafy vegetables for fear of tiny bugs. They eat a lettuce leaf once a year – from the Seder plate – but only after thorough cleansing that lasts at least half an hour.

They make their own wine. They will only drink cow’s milk from a dairy that will allow them to milk the cows themselves. They bake their own bread. The only kashrut approval they will accept is that which comes from Helbrans personally. They do not buy any prepared or preserved foods and use natural, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible. The children do not eat candies bought from a store, but only chocolate that is made at home. For other sweets, they eat mostly fruit and all types of roasted nuts and seeds.

Throughout my visit to the community, the people insisted that I eat together with them. They invited me to dine in their homes, wanting to fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality, but also for fear that I might foil Helbrans’ master plan and eat tref at one of the goyische restaurants nearby. For that reason, every night as I prepared to head back to the hotel, they also furnished me with a bag filled with seeds, nuts and baked goods prepared by the Lev Tahor women.

The customs and prohibitions followed by the Lev Tahor community have an explanation and an internal logic. The people there say their way of life is completely within the bounds of the halakha and Jewish tradition. That there is nothing new or different about what they are doing. Their central worldview derives from the attempt to return to the principles of Hasidism, as they see them. They place a great emphasis on “observation” and on processes that resemble meditation, and combine traditions from other types of Hasidism. Other customs that have been adopted by the community come from Mizrahi Jewish tradition.

Helbrans takes great pride in the integration and equality between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim within the community. The Hasidim also noted with satisfaction that, unlike in many other communities in the religious and ultra-Orthodox world, in Lev Tahor there is no ethnic discrimination. Ethnic identity does exist, but here its significance is confined to the folklore aspect. For the sake of unity, prayers are recited in the Hasidic fashion, but at gatherings and on holidays, various liturgical tunes that people bring from home are included.

When making a shidukh, a marriage match, the parents’ ethnic background is of no importance, so today many of the families in the community are mixed. Children are given names that are popular in the Hasidic world, but also names that are popular in Mizrahi tradition. One of Helbrans’ grandchildren is named Masoud, after Rabbi Masoud Abuhatzeira (also known as Baba Sali). Another granddaughter, Sulika, is named for “the Moroccan saint,” who according to Jewish legend was executed for refusing to convert to Islam.

The Hasidim I spoke with in Sainte-Agathe see themselves as the only ones following the true path, as the guardians of the walls, as the defenders of the last flame left in the Jewish world. They have contempt for other branches of Hasidism, which they view as overly compromising, describing them as despicable and degenerate. They consider other streams in the ultra-Orthodox world completely unworthy, especially those that enjoy the patronage of the State of Israel. And in their eyes, religious Zionism does not even count as a Jewish movement.

The basic requirement demanded of Lev Tahor Hasidim is simple: to worship and serve God at every given moment, with all their heart and soul. Their libraries contain only Jewish books. There are no televisions, radios or computers in their homes. Concepts such as free time, broadening one’s horizons or self-fulfillment, in their standard Western senses, do not exist here. The walls of their homes are also bare of any decoration; no pictures, amulets, photographs of rabbis. For the most part, the sole adornments are candlesticks, menorahs or silver religious utensils, all kept behind a glass case. In some homes, embroidery and other crafts done by the women are also displayed.

You won’t find the children of Lev Tahor out playing ball. They don’t have one. Nor are other games meant to help children develop physical coordination played. “This is not the human being’s purpose,” they say. There are books in Yiddish, puzzles, Lego, toy cars, plastic kitchen utensils and stuffed animals (kosher animals only). A father of a 2-year-old says: “You wouldn’t believe how fascinated he was one day by an onion.”

Another family said their children loved to draw and sing, and do role-playing games. In this particular family there are 11 siblings. Sometimes, with the eldest daughter acting as director, one of the younger children takes their father’s old shtreimel and dresses up as a bridegroom, while another wears an old dress of their mother’s and plays the role of the bride. There are always enough siblings around to hold up the sheet they use as the wedding canopy. The boys like to go out and play in the snow: They don’t build snowmen, but during school breaks they take little plastic sleds and slide down the street. This year they also built an igloo.

Goose eggs
Schooling begins at age three and is devoted entirely to sacred subjects. All the boys study in three heders, divided according to age. The girls are taught separately, and only at home. They assemble each morning in groups, according to age, and their lessons are given by women in the community. There is a different teacher for each subject: reading and writing, math, English, French, history and geography. The law of the province of Quebec allows for homeschooling, as long as the studies include a number of mandatory subjects, similar to those that are part of the core curriculum in Israel. In the name of the value of multiculturalism, so revered in Canada, Lev Tahor – like the Satmar community and other isolationist groups – is currently fighting for its right to follow a different method.

Employment is not perceived as something to strive for. A Hasid who can receive financial support from his parents will always prefer to study all day instead. Some of the Hasidim work outside the community, mostly as independent tradesmen or in temporary jobs working on computers or in customer service centers. The community also supports a number of teachers; three men who work in the community’s independent publishing house; and two managers, who are responsible for the Lev Tahor institutions and handling whatever problems arise. Donations to the community are limited, and so a large portion of the construction and maintenance work is done by the Hasids themselves. Unlike some other Hasidic groups, Lev Tahor is not backed by any financial titans or state authorities.

Everyone here lives very modestly and simply. Two or three times a week, each family receives a food delivery straight to the door. This way they do not have to make contact with strangers, and the prices for buying in bulk are better. Sometimes there are no goose eggs. Sometimes there are no vegetables. When I visited, there was no cow’s milk, so they drank coconut milk. “What really matters is Torah,” they say.

Every so often, the community tries to come up with business initiatives to bring in more income. In the past they tried to start a business making fruit compotes, and they also thought about building coops for a species of chicken that they consider kosher. But the necessary investment was too large and the weather conditions were not suitable. Their isolationism and aversion to the modern world also makes it hard for them to form business ties, and most do not speak French, the dominant language in the province. For some families, the child allowances given by the Canadian government are the main source of income.

Another key element of the community’s economic support system is the value placed on mutual assistance. This is not a collective in the usual sense. Each family has a separate bank account, private assets and property. But each family unit is also bound to the communal framework, and to the other units that make up the whole. About a year ago, a religious penitent couple and their three small children came from Israel to join the community. The father, who requested anonymity, says that in their first half-year in Saint-Agathe, they had no living expenses: “Every day – morning, noon and night – somebody would come, knock on the door and bring a hot meal for the whole family. Someone in the community also took care of paying the bills and the property tax in the first months.”

Real depression
After hours on the phone with Helbrans, I wondered what to bring him from Israel when I came to interview him. He, of course, yearned to see my lost soul repent; I just wanted to bring him some small, symbolic gift. I searched for something that would touch him, that would stir some memory, even emotion perhaps. I ended up buying him a large packet of Turkish coffee with hel (cardamom), with Badatz kashrut approval. I figured it was something he hadn’t smelled in years. Bingo. Helbrans was ecstatic when he saw the gift. He asked one of his aides to make us some coffee. The latter returned a few minutes later with large glass mugs, as if we were drinking half-liters of beer.

And I brought him something else, too: the new book by poet Eli Eliahu. To my mind, Eliahu’s poetry is truly marvelous. Beyond its keen emotional punch, it distills a secular, Hebrew and liberal ethos that is neither apologetic nor self-effacing before its roots – Jewish, ethnic or otherwise. I hoped it would give Helbrans a little glimpse of my world. When we met the next morning, he told me he had read the book. He complimented Eliahu on his writing ability and his rich language. He quoted whole verses and said that he had cried at times while reading it. I asked which poem moved him the most. He looked at me in astonishment: “I didn’t cry from excitement! I cried from sorrow. I cried from pain. I cried over your life, over the life of Eli Eliahu. I cried when I understood in what kind of hard and terrible world you live. A world without truth, without hope and without faith. These poems caused me great sorrow, for you and for him. Real depression.”

I was stunned. “Give me back the book,” I said to him. “You didn’t understand me and you didn’t understand Eli. Apparently it wasn’t the right gift. I’ll send you something else in the mail, when I get back to Israel.” He held out the book indifferently and said: “No problem. But send that Eli Eliahu here, too. Maybe I’ll be able to get him to repent.”

Helbrans’ obsessive concern with getting others to repent and become pious derives in large part from his own biography. Erez Shlomo Elbarnes was born in Jerusalem in 1962, the only child of secular parents, graduates of the Mahanot Haolim Zionist youth movement, who enlisted in the Nahal and married during their time serving at Kibbutz Hulta. They wanted to name him after a tree. They thought about Alon but settled on Erez. They added the name Shlomo to his birth certificate in memory of his grandfather.

Erez’s childhood friends from Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood described him as “a curious kid with an active imagination.” They say that he loved animals, and that he kept chickens and a cat named Cleopatra in his parents’ yard. “He was a kid who loved nature,” they say. He would spend hours hiking the rocky hills around the neighborhood searching for frogs and turtles. He was a member of the local Scouts group. Filmmaker and screenwriter Yoad Ben Yosef, who knew him from when he was a toddler, still remembers how they would play Cowboys and Indians in the park next to the neighborhood community center during summer vacations.

At school he was a good student. Not the best in his class, but good enough to be accepted into a class for gifted students. He was also popular among his classmates. Not the king of the class, but not someone who could be ignored, either. All of his childhood friends who were interviewed for this article said he had a keen sense of right and wrong, and would be outraged by what he saw as injustice. Some recall him getting hit when standing up for the weak and ostracized. His mother, Yocheved, says she was called to school a number of times over such incidents.

The attraction to a more religious way of life began before his bar mitzvah. “I was just curious to know why I’m alive and why the world exists,” Helbrans recalls. “I wanted to understand what it all meant.” He says he asked these questions to his parents and teachers, and every adult he knew. He also searched for answers in the books that were available to him as a boy. His mother remembers that the school janitor had to be called at least twice after Erez got locked in the library at the end of the school day.

Helbrans says he did not find any satisfactory explanations anywhere until he met Yosef Yagen, who was an energetic Haredi youth and a leader of the religious penitent movement that was beginning to grow in Israel at the time. Today Yagen is a Haredi rabbi living in America. The two young men met at the time through relatives, and they hit it off right away. Yagen showed the curious Erez the “code method” in the Bible, in which by means of skipping letters at regular intervals, one uncovers meaningful words. “That may have been the first thing that really excited me,” Helbrans says, adding with a laugh that he still recalls “what kind of beating Yagen later got from my father, who realized that he was the one who got me to become religious.”

His parents were vehemently opposed to their son’s return to religion. “It went against our whole outlook,” says his mother. His parents remained nonreligious and still live in Jerusalem. Over the years they have visited their son a few times and remain in close touch by phone with his six children and 18 grandchildren. But at the time, when they learned of his new interest in religion, they barred him from going to the synagogue and tried to keep him from having any connection with elements they thought could influence him in that way. Erez kept on studying in secret. And it seems like that struggle over the return to religion is still felt in the community today.

The big change occurred after Erez met, at Denmark High School, history teacher Dr. Abraham Fuchs, who was observant and wore a kippa. Erez tried to get explanations and answers from him. Fuchs noted the boy’s interest in religion, and in Hasidism especially, and suggested that he join him one evening for a tisch at the Belz yeshiva. His parents were alarmed when they heard about the idea, but the history teacher promised them that he would personally see to it that the boy did not suddenly become religious. His mother says she was sure the whole class was going to take part in the visit: “If I’d known that he was the only one going, I wouldn’t have let it happen.”

The holy Shabbat atmosphere in the Haredi neighborhoods captivated him and a few weeks later, Erez was wearing a kippa and tzitzit. He started keeping kosher and insisted on transferring out of his coed school. His parents refused. When the conflicts escalated, he ran away from home and found shelter in several different Haredi yeshivas. Twice the police searched for him. The welfare authorities also got involved. In the end, it was agreed that a compromise would be found with the help of Rabbi Dov Bigon, a former kibbutznik who became religious. He recommended sending the boy to the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. And that’s what happened.

“A year later he called me at work and said he didn’t want to be with hypocritical religious types,” says his mother Yocheved now, describing how the process of her son becoming ultra-Orthodox began. Erez was 15 now and his parents could no longer impose their authority. He embarked on a journey into the heart of the Haredi world, via yeshivas in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Safed. He taught at a Chabad school, then aligned himself with Braslav Hasidism; later on he became attached to the Toldot Aharon and Satmar sects.

His classmates from yeshiva remember him as “a real Torah scholar with a very sharp mind.” They say he was brimming with curiosity and that he managed to acquire a great deal of Torah knowledge in a relatively short time. In those days, he also began to stand out for his skills of rhetoric and his talents as a teacher, and at interesting others in becoming religious. At 17, he was married in an arranged match with Malka Azulai, a girl from Kiryat Ata who had also recently become religious.

Following Satmar practice, Erez rejected his Zionist name and declared that henceforth he wished to be known as Shlomo. He also altered the spelling of his surname from Elbarnes to Helbrans. He says this was how the name was spelled in his grandmother’s old Yugoslav passport. He also notes proudly that his mother’s family also came from Serbia, and that both parents grew up in Ladino-speaking Sephardi families. The Yad Vashem archives contain the names of a number of his parents’ relatives, who perished at Treblinka, Poland.
Shlomo and Malka Helbrans lived in Safed for six years. There he ran the Braslav Yeshivat Hametivta and was mentored by certain prominent Hasidic rabbis, including Rabbi Eliezer Shlomo Schik, known as “the tzaddik from Yavniel,” who heads one of the most extremist and isolationist Hasidic communities. In the mid-’80s, the couple and their three children moved to Jerusalem. In the Beit Yisrael neighborhood, Helbrans began to gather around him a small group of Hasidim, mainly religious penitents. Several of his first students now live in the community in Canada.

Writer Haim Be’er was a reporter on Haredi affairs in the late 1980s. He visited the young community in Jerusalem three times and recalls that it numbered no more than 20 yeshiva students. Helbrans agreed to speak with him but not to be interviewed, and so Be’er did not write about their meeting.

Be’er remembers the young Helbrans as “a radical, an original man with a different way of thinking,” but he also saw “dangerous extremism” in him. “Helbrans was searching for his path in the Haredi world,” he says, adding that, “for the religious penitent, someone who has family tradition or roots to draw upon, there are no boundaries or limits by which this extremism can be stopped.”

Be’er says that during his last meeting with Helbrans, something odd happened in the community. “It was shortly before the first Gulf War in 1991. Yeshiva students were coming and going, moving packages. There was a lot of activity. At some point, someone brought in a pile of 20 passports and placed it on the table. Helbrans wasn’t willing to divulge what the plan was. Hasidim around him said there was nothing here for them anymore. The next time I went there, maybe a week later, the place was empty. There was no trace of them.”

In Part II, to be published next week, Shay Fogelman writes about Lev Tahor’s policy on underage marriages, how its members really make a financial living, and speaks to people who left the community.


The Brooklyn D.A.’s Office Is Having a Terrible Day

The New Yorker - June 6, 2012

Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes has taken a shellacking in the press lately for his handling of sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, with critics arguing that he's going easy on offenders for political reasons, proliferating a culture of cover-ups, and inflating prosecution figures. Hynes has responded by announcing his support for legislation that would require rabbis to report sexual abuse allegations, but that doesn't erase past mistakes. Today, the New York Times digs one up with a galling story about Hynes attempting to go easy on a kidnapping rabbi.

And as icing on the bad-press cake, one of Hynes's employees allegedly punched a cop.

The Times reports that in 1994, ultra-Orthodox rabbi Shlomo Helbrans took a 13-year-old boy from his family and tried to brainwash him, only to have Hynes's office encourage police to drop the case. Michael Powell reports that the NYPD division commander and the boy's mother "drove down to the district attorney's office, seeking a meeting. They sat there for hours but never got past reception."

When the FBI pushed for prosecution, Hynes's office attempted to let the rabbi off with just community service, only to a have a judge reject the plea, noting that the family convinced him "that this is a political ploy," because Hynes was running for state attorney general. Yikes.

Flash-forward to the present day: As if the dredging up of this incident in the Times isn't enough of a headache for the D.A., assistant D.A. Yaser Othman was arrested over the weekend for taking "a wild swing" at a cop who pulled him over, according to the Post. He was charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest, reckless driving, and marijuana possession, because cops say they found a joint in his car. Othman, who has been suspended without pay, denies the charges and told the Post, "I don't know anything about a marijuana cigarette. I can't say if they planted it." He insisted, "The truth is going to come out."

But he should probably hope his boss just skipped the local papers today.


’When you’re on the path of truth, you don’t care what others say’
By Shay Fogelman
Haaretz - March 16, 2012

In the second part of Haaretz’s investigation into the Lev Tahor Hasidic cult in Canada, Shay Fogelman speaks to the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, about his prison time in America and the community’s attitude to underage marriage, to a young man who managed to leave the religious extremists and to a mother who defend their hard-line way of life.

Waiting for the Messiah
Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans’ arguments for the proof of God’s existence go on much longer than planned. After two and a half days, he still hasn’t finished laying out all his points. We spoke each day for many hours – about his worldview, his community, his life. We debated quite a bit, mostly about God. But the conversations and interviews were generally pleasant, and laced with a bit of humor at times. He has a good sense of humor, and is able to laugh at himself, too. Once in a while, he said he was offended and tried to employ emotional manipulation. At times he was dramatic, at other times quite childish. He is a fascinating interlocutor. He has a great thirst for knowledge, and is attentive and curious.

Our talks took place in his office, whose walls are completely covered with bookshelves crammed with holy books. In the middle of the room is a large table covered with an embroidered tablecloth overlaid with a sheet of plastic. Helbrans sat at the head of the table on a wooden, leather-upholstered chair adorned with delicate carvings.

Most of the time, one of the new Hasidim from the community was also present; he recorded the conversations and wrote down the main points. Every so often an assistant came in and handed the rabbi the telephone or whispered something in his ear. One aide or another served us coffee and cookies for hours on end. In the evenings there was wine and a hearty meal.

Like all the other Hasidim in the community, the aides always walked backward while leaving the room. Out of respect, they will not turn their back to their rabbi. Entering or leaving the room, they kiss his hand. They consult with him on just about everything and always accede to his authority. They call him the Tzaddik or Admor, as is customary in the Hasidic world.

The community’s detractors say the honor shown to Helbrans is excessive and call him a power-hungry megalomaniac. They say his adherents mostly show him blind faith that derives from fear. I tried to test these claims, and to stretch the limits. At times I would joke about him with his Hasidim. When one of them spoke admiringly about the rabbi’s dancing at a wedding, I said to him: “That kind of surprises me. He looks pretty fat.” When they spoke reverently of his intellectual abilities, I said I thought he was “a little rusty.” I joked again and again that he was a nudnik. No one was fazed by my provocations. Sometimes they laughed with me, sometimes they stuck up for him, but not in any way that went beyond what one would expect to find in the personality cults of other Hasidic sects.

Helbrans’ critics also describe him as an extraordinarily charismatic manipulator and charlatan. They ascribe to him an almost demonic ability to brainwash people. In talking with him for hours, my impression was that these claims are quite exaggerated. He is an impressive man, no doubt, but not overwhelmingly eloquent. Though clear for the most part, his arguments are sometimes overly convoluted and tend to get lost in examples and anecdotes. Sometimes he forgets what he meant to say, sometimes he repeats the same thing a few times in the same sentence. Sometimes he exaggerates a bit, sometimes he gets boastful. Sometimes he is mistaken, or veers away from the truth.

Helbrans’ first book of halakha is entitled “Derekh Hatzala” (“Path of Salvation”). It is well summarized by the subtitle printed in gold letters on its blue binding: “An illumination of what is occurring right now in the Holy Land, and the approaching erasure of the state, and of the magnitude of the danger to each and every one who is found there and resides there, and the path of salvation for each one who is found there and resides there, and many more important matters.”

The book was published by the community in Canada and thousands of copies have been distributed throughout the Haredi world. Some are sent by mail but mainly they are passed from hand to hand, under the table, in synagogues and yeshivas. Most of the Hasidim who have joined the community in recent years came to it after reading the book.

The main inspiration for Helbrans’ doctrine as presented in “Path of Salvation” is drawn from the book that is a keystone for all the most extreme Hasidic sects – “Vayoel Moshe” by the previous Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. As in that 1961 work, Helbrans’ main arguments against the State of Israel are based on Biblical prophecies, on interpretations of halakha and, above all, on “the three vows.” In these vows, which appear in the Babylonian Talmud, the Jewish people vow to God not to migrate en masse and by force to the Land of Israel, not to provoke the nations of the world and not to establish independent rule. In the Haredi world, there is much debate surrounding these three vows. Helbrans, like the Satmar Rebbe, has chosen an interpretation that is vehemently opposed to the existence of the State of Israel. In a review of the book six years ago in Maariv, Adam Baruch wrote: “If only Yossi Beilin or Avigdor Lieberman could write such a modern, clearly and energetically argued intellectual political book.”

Lev Tahor Hasidim strive to avoid any contact with the State of Israel and its authorities. A few years ago, some of them appealed to the Canadian authorities to recognize them as refugees without a homeland. They observe the Fifth of Iyar (the Hebrew date of Israel’s independence) as a day of disaster and mourning, often burning Israeli flags. But unlike Neturei Karta and other anti-Zionist Haredi sects, Helbrans insists he would not wave the Palestinian flag. “I’m prepared to identify with the suffering of the Palestinian people in the same way I identify with the suffering of any human creature on earth,” he says. “But I have no opinion as to the justice of their cause or the way in which they are waging their struggle.

“A Jew who believes in the Torah cannot take a side in this struggle,” he says. “The Zionist state must be annulled and quickly, from the Torah’s point of view. Because of that same outlook, other peoples must not be enslaved. The Jewish people must wait in exile for redemption and the coming of the Messiah. I pray every day for this to happen, but I would be happy if it is done without any bloodshed.”

The Shin Bet enters the picture
Helbrans’ anti-Zionist stance was formed when he was still living in Israel. After embracing the Satmar Rebbe’s doctrine, he began taking part in Haredi demonstrations and pasting up street posters denouncing the state. And when the ideas turned to actions, Helbrans and his followers started appearing on the security service’s radar. A man who was part of the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division at the time says, “The alarms were actually set off by information that came from the other side. One day, people in the field, who were monitoring the activity of radical Islamic organizations, passed on information about a Jerusalem group of religious penitents who’d sought contact with sheikhs and Muslim clergy. In the past we’d seen ties between members of the Haredi movement and different leaders in the Fatah movement or other secular Palestinian organizations. The background to it was always opposition to the state. But before this, we had never seen a single case in which extremist Haredim made contact with Muslim extremists.” The official says that, for a long time, the Shin Bet was trying to get to the root of this connection and its motives.

Helbrans says that the connection was made in the summer of 1988, with what was then the Islamic Movement in Israel. “We had a problem with the Transportation Ministry,” he recounts. “They wanted to pave a road over ancient Jewish graves in Wadi Ara. From past experience we knew that it would be hard to stop them with protests and to prevent the desecration of God’s name. So we contacted Raad Salah, who had just been elected as mayor of Umm al-Fahm [Salah was first elected in 1989]. We held an urgent meeting with him and presented our case. There was much mutual admiration and respect between us as men of religion. He understood the problem and immediately offered to help. The next day, hundreds of young people from Umm al-Fahm came to the road. They showed us just how a demonstration is done. A few days later, the Transportation Ministry backed off the plan and the graves were saved.”

On the eve of the first Gulf War in 1991, Helbrans declared there was a real and immediate danger to the lives of Jews who remained in Israel. Together with two families and about 10 of his students, he flew to New York. There the small community was warmly welcomed by the Satmar sect, particularly the isolationist group known as Bnei Yoel. The hasty departure of the Lev Tahor Hasidim was the subject of much criticism in the Israeli press at the time. They were said to be “running away.” The parents of several of Helbrans’ followers accused him of brainwashing and kidnapping their children, and filed complaints with the police in Jerusalem. But because these people were not minors, the cases were closed.

The families’ pain was great. For some, the trauma is still ever-present. “They left many things that are dear to us. The land, first of all, but also the Jewish people. To say that they are right and everyone else is wrong is not the way of Judaism or the Torah. This separation is hard for me, but they are my brothers and I love them,” says Rabbi Gavriel Goldman, whose two brothers, Uriel and Michael, were part of the group who left Israel with Helbrans in the early 1990s.

The three brothers grew up in Jerusalem and were taught to love the Torah, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. They took part in youth movements and served in the army. They belonged to the religious-Zionist elite. Gavriel, the eldest, is now the rabbi of Kfar Adumim, and struggles to explain just what attracted his brothers to the Lev Tahor ideology and way of life. “It’s the way they’ve chosen and they seem happy. But it’s hard for me to accept,” he says. “I wish they would sit down and have this discussion with me here. I would invite them to live with me. I would try to show them my world, which is much more complex – a world that contains both the Torah and Israel. Sometimes there are contradictions and you have to find a balance between different needs. This does not mean it’s a way of compromise. It’s a quest for the middle way, which is the way of Judaism. This is the reality and it is never painted in just black and white.”

Gavriel has visited his brothers in Canada but he says it was hard to communicate with his young nieces and nephews, who speak only Yiddish. He calls them on holidays and birthdays and tries to maintain a good, loving relationship. Despite the resentments of the past, their parents also try to visit their children and grandchildren in Canada each year.

’Angels in black’
A number of other relatives of Lev Tahor Hasidim were interviewed for this article. Some have trouble accepting or understanding their children’s decision, but they respect it and remain in touch by phone. A.’s daughter became very religious when she was 14. A year ago, when she was 22, she joined Lev Tahor in Canada, with her husband and their two children. Since then she has assumed a different name. “I’m still not used to it,” says A., who lives in central Israel. In her daily phone calls to her daughter, she continues to call her by her original name. “It’s not easy for me to accept this change. It’s not easy to deal with the physical and mental distance, but I’ve been there twice and she seems happy. She has a supportive community that provides a lot of mutual aid. When I left I told all the women I met there, ‘You are angels in black.’”

A. was alarmed when she read stories about the community on Haredi websites, but her visits and talks with her daughter reassure her. “My impression is that the community is being unjustly denigrated,” she says. “It’s not a regular place and it’s not for everyone. But I think people who are searching for themselves can find answers in this community. As a mother, I can honestly say I’ve never heard my daughter’s voice sound as calm and peaceful as it does now. She grew up in a world of plenty. She never wanted for anything. But there was always this restlessness in her. She was always searching for something else. I’m sorry she had to find the answers in such a faraway place.”

Aside from the distance, A. says it’s also hard for her to accept the way her daughter dresses and the anti-Zionist attitudes that are prevalent in the community. However, she immediately adds, “I’m always telling myself I have to accept the choice that makes my daughter happy. Soon I’m going to start learning Yiddish, so I can talk with my grandchildren on my next visit.”

Over the years, the media have also reported stories about families who could not accept their children’s decision to join Lev Tahor. Just a few weeks ago, the supplement of the Makor Rishon newspaper carried an article about the Lev Tahor community. It told the story of Malka Masoudi, whose two sons, Aryeh and Yosef, joined the community more than 20 years ago. It reported that she had turned to the Lev Le’achim organization for help, saying, “Erez Elbarnes took my two sons and kidnapped them away from Israel to America without my knowledge or consent.” The article also said she did not contact the police “because the boys were no longer minors.” Aryeh and Yosef never resumed contact with their mother and they still live with Helbrans.

Another story in the article has been publicized several times before, mainly in the Haredi media. It is about a young man who spent several months in the community, about 20 years ago. His mother says that “Helbrans took him for a walk in the woods. The whole night he walked with him among the shadows and said: ‘I know what you did.’ He scared him so much that my son completely lost his self-confidence. Helbrans explained to him that only he could save him from evil.”

The article goes on to describe allegations of violent actions by Lev Tahor Hasidim against the youth’s parents, the police complaints and more. In conclusion, it says: “The method Helbrans has been using for the past 20 years is to influence the child to pressure his parents to allow him to learn in the yeshiva. And when this pressure doesn’t work, Helbrans pulls out the heavy artillery” – what the article describes as false depositions that children file with the police against their parents. After a protracted legal battle, the youth was returned to his parents’ home, with his mother describing him as “a broken vessel.”

Helbrans denies the accusations. “These lies started 20 years ago and they continue to evolve in different forms. There is no truth to them. There never was any truth to them,” he says, although he does acknowledge that, over the years, a few families have been torn apart. Excommunications have been declared. Two couples divorced when one spouse wanted to join the community against the other’s wishes. One Hasid told me he had burned all of his childhood pictures. Another Hasid left his parents’ home with nothing but the clothes on his back, and has not returned once in the 20 years since.

There have also been cases of violence. Parents and other family members have sometimes come to the community and tried to forcibly take their children back. Complaints have been filed with the police from both sides, each accusing the other of provocation. Helbrans says he has been hospitalized at least twice after taking a beating. There have also been appeals made to the rabbinical courts, primarily in the United States, in an attempt to excommunicate the community. To this day, most of the controversy surrounding the community has been aroused in the wake of struggles like these.

But Helbrans does not draw all his followers from secular or religious Zionist families. Currently, about a third of the community’s members are Haredim from other Hasidic sects in the United States. Another third are people with Israeli roots who’ve recently become more religious. And the last third is comprised of Hasidim from the first generation that grew up within the community.

The bitter struggles triggered by Haredim from other sects joining Lev Tahor have been even more fierce than those that have occurred in secular families whose children joined the group. In fact, most of Helbrans’ real conflicts with the Haredi world began after Hasidim – including some with very distinguished family pedigrees – left their Rebbes to join the court of Helbrans, who is derisively referred to as “the kibbutznik who found religion,” and who comes from a Sephardi background to boot.

In this particular arena, the language used in the struggle is especially crude and harsh. “Shlomo Helbrans tormented and shredded the hearts of men and women, and stole good and decent children from their parents’ homes, and turned them into beggars, and lunatics, who shame their fathers and mothers, and who tell their fathers and mothers: ‘You have not seen him [Helbrans],’ and do not heed them,” says one flyer that was distributed around Monsey and in New York City. At the bottom is a hotline number one can call with complaints about Helbrans’ behavior.

A similar flyer in the Satmar community concludes with the words: ”He is the biggest scoundrel in Jewish history. Let us put an end to the darkness. This same man who was born in impurity in the kibbutz of the Zionists shall preach no more. Please help before it’s too late!”

Helbrans now has at least four followers in his court who come from preeminent Hasidic families and who gave up their standing and high positions in other important Hasidic sects, including the Kasho, Boyan and Satmar sects. This has caused an unprecedented sensation in the Haredi world.

Allegations of corporal punishment
Helbrans is an excellent interviewee. Nearly every line he utters could cause a sensation. The State of Israel: “The worst sin of all.” Torah Sages: “Who decided that they’re the greatest sages? It’s all deals and politics.” Chabad: “The notion that the Rebbe is the Messiah is nothing more than idol worship in the guise of Judaism.” Haredi political parties: “A tragedy.”

He believes there is one eternal and absolute truth. And that anyone not following it acts in error. Of course, he purports to know just what this path is. His disciples harbor that same powerful sense of internal truth – otherwise they’d have nothing to look for here. Their criticism of the entire world, Haredi and otherwise, is coherent for the most part, and based on an elaborate and fully formed worldview.

However, Helbrans says he also ready to acknowledge that he could be wrong. “The search for truth is the purpose. And at its base there exists the assumption that one could also be wrong. Otherwise, there would be no search,” he says. “If you convince me I am wrong about something, and that there is another truth, I won’t be able to avoid embracing it. I strive to maintain an open line of communication with the Hasidim, to hear them, to accept criticism and to amend things if there are mistakes.”

The customs and lifestyle of the Lev Tahor community have been consolidated over the past 25 years. On occasion there were attempts to write down a code of regulations, as is done in other Hasidic sects, but the frequent changes and numerous additions have been preserved instead as a kind of Oral Code. Like the leaders of other religious groups, Helbrans also aspires to return to the sources, to the foundations of early Hasidism. He believes all the community’s customs, no matter how controversial, have a halakhic [Jewish religious law] anchor and historic precedent in the Jewish world.

One of the most serious allegations leveled at Lev Tahor in the past had to do with the use of corporal punishment. Publications of the Va’ad Shomrei Mishmarot Hakodesh in New York said that in his yeshiva, “Helbrans gave beatings to Hasidim who are his servants, causing them to pass out and to shed blood and more.” In a 2004 article in the Haredi newspaper Besha’a Tova, Natan Nussbaum reported: “Helbrans himself goes to the extreme, adopting this way in all areas of life. Especially in the area of repentance for sins. For example, on every day of the year, he adopts the custom that was practiced by Shlomei Emunei Yisrael on Yom Kippur Eve, to receive lashings (malkot), as a means of repentance. The community also practices this throughout the year, and their daily prayers are also similar to that of the High Holy Days and more. From time to time, Hasidim fall to the ground to absorb ‘malkot’ that are meted out by whip, in order to repent for their sins.”

Speaking by phone from America, the reporter retracts many of the things that were said in the article. His real name is not Natan Nussbaum, and he is a Breslov Hasid living in New York. “I didn’t really check into those things,” he admits today. “There was a lot of talk that this is what they do. I personally never heard any first-person testimony about it.”

Another article that was recently printed in Makor Rishon described similar things. Yocheved Ma’uda detailed how for weeks she would hide at night in the women’s section of the synagogue, in order to see what the Hasidim of Lev Tahor were up to during the time her son Sinai was there: “Helbrans’ method was to establish these small groups in which the students would confess their sins and flog one another.”

In addition, the Makor Rishon reporter also quoted several former Lev Tahor Hasidim who wished to remain anonymous: “The former students tell of indescribable suffering inflicted upon them by the Rosh Yeshiva – having to roll in the snow, hundreds of lashings that cut the flesh of their backs, and other types of severe harm.” Aside from these statements, in recent years there has been no direct and verified testimony that these things are indeed happening. Not from any of the dozens of people who were interviewed for this article. Nor have any complaints to this effect been filed with the police.

Helbrans also denies that any such policy was ever employed in the community, but he does say that he and some of his Hasidim have had experience with some of these things. “If you take Judaism seriously, you cannot ignore the whole world of the ‘righting of wrongs’ that is found in the kabbala and the books of Musar (spiritual discipline). It’s an ancient halakhic tradition and all of the kabbalists, without exception, discuss it. In all of the books of responsa, the greatest halakhic arbitrators are asked what the remedy is for this or that deed.

“Since the days of the Second Temple, the practice has been for things to be done symbolically and with desire and consent. We never deviated in these matters from the written halakha. There were a few incidents, that were done by a few people on their own. It was never a policy in the community and I can’t understand why such accusations are hurled at us. I can count on one hand the number of times in which Hasidim rolled in the snow as part of a tikun, for having transgressed a negative commandment. This is something that is very common today in many other places in the Hasidic world. Maybe it bothers them that we did it better than they did,” he says jokingly.

Helbrans also says that, as in other Hasidic communities, here, too, on Yom Kippur Eve they also receive 39 symbolic lashings, but he insists that beyond this there are no other tikunim that involve corporal punishment. “Today these things no longer have a place in the way Lev Tahor works. Because of the libelous accusations, they are officially prohibited. From my personal life experience and the community’s experience, I haven’t been able to find a way to bridge between these ancient traditions and our way of work, which is based on looking inward. With fasting and self-mortification, you can’t keep your head clear to look inward.”

Child marriages
Lev Tahor has also been accused of having minors enter into marriages. In the course of talking with various people involved in the community, the names of at least seven recently married couples came up where one or both of the couple was under the age of 16 (which is against the law in Canada). One former Lev Tahor Hasid says that in all of these cases, the marriages were not formally registered with the authorities until the minor reached the age at which he or she could be legally married. He says that other couples composed of minors were sometimes sent to Missouri, in the United States, where marriage is permitted from the age of 15, with parental consent.

Helbrans’ first reaction to these accusations is insistent: “Of course I support marriage at as early an age as possible. According to the halakha, if the two young people are ready, they can marry as early as age 13. If I could have, I would have married a number of couples at this age who I thought were ready. But this is against the law in Canada. Here the minimum age is 16 and we adhere to that. Meanwhile, there are also cases where couples are not ready even at this age.”

In the course of preparing this article, when I had already returned to Israel, at least one case came to light in which a wedding ceremony was held by Lev Tahor at which the bride was still two weeks shy of her 16th birthday. Helbrans’ response: “I’m in shock.” He says he knew nothing about it. “This is a mistake that was apparently caused by various elements in the community.” I requested photocopies of the passports of the couples who were alleged to have married under the minimum age permitted by law, but at press time, evidence refuting the allegation was only received in regard to one couple. Meanwhile, from other sources came several ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) proving that marriages of minors were in fact held in the community in recent years. Helbrans insists this is a mistake.

Helbrans and his followers say the accusations made against them are part of a persecution campaign by those who will not accept their path, or those that were ejected from the community because they did not adapt to its lifestyle. This is what they say, for instance, about the last Hasid who left Lev Tahor. He is Nehemia Benzion Brodowski, 27, and he “escaped,” as he puts it, from Sainte-Agathe in the middle of the night, together with his wife, Leah Shaindel. The couple now live in Denmark and their first child, a boy, was born about a month ago. Brodowski says he still follows the Lev Tahor path and that he and his wife still follow all of the community’s kashrut rules and way of dress. But he adds that, “in Lev Tahor, everything is done right, but through coercion. We could not live that way any longer.”

Brodowski says he joined the community two years ago. He has an Israeli mother and a Danish father and grew up completely secular in Denmark and then Sweden. At 19, he became religious and went to study at several Haredi yeshivas in the United States, which is where he first learned of Lev Tahor. His wife was born and raised in the community, the daughter of one of its most prominent families.

Brodowski says he secretly obtained a laptop computer a few months ago. He then conducted Internet research about the behavior of cults and religious extremist groups, and eventually concluded that Lev Tahor was “dangerous.”

“The place is controlled by brainwashing and fear,” Brodowski says. “I went through dozens of websites and studies about the subject, and I was stunned to discover how on every criterion Lev Tahor is run in a way that is typical of dangerous cults. People there have a blind and total yearning to please the Rabbi. They try their utmost to be good Hasidim and get lost along the way. They will do whatever they are told. They have no control over their lives. They have no free choice. They have no will.”

Brodowski describes a series of punishments meted out to community members who don’t live up to the strict code. He says he was forced to flee Sainte-Agathe with the aid of foreign elements after he was made to sign an oath in which he pledged to immediately give his wife a get (Jewish divorce decree) should the community’s Beth Din or Helbrans himself order him to do so. As proof, he proffers the oath that he signed “under threat.” For fear that he would be called upon to divorce his wife, he cut off all contact with the community.

Brodowski displays a version of the oath he was forced to sign by Lev Tahor: “I hereby take upon myself to be ostracized and … cursed with all the curses written in the Sefer Habrit given to Moses at Sinai, if I should knowingly, after being warned, transgress any one thing of what I signed today being of sound mind ... and should I speak or tell about this path with any person, whether in speech or in writing or in any other way, anything that could cause financial or bodily harm. And also not to do any action at all in any manner, either by my own hand or by means of a messenger or by means of any deceit or ply that could cause financial or bodily harm or mental anguish to the Admor … or to the Lev Tahor community … or to anyone affiliated with the community.”

Helbrans denies all the accusations. He confirms the wording of the oaths that Brodowski signed, but explains that the man constituted a threat to the community. Helbrans: “If I were to find that there are people that feel frightened or pressured, even though they are here of their own free will, I wouldn’t keep them here for one minute. We are fighting for a path and a method that everyone is committed to, but it is done without any brainwashing or pressure.”

He says of Brodowski: “This is a fellow with serious mental problems who never fit into any framework.” Helbrans rejected similar claims I presented to him from others in the community in the same manner. Discussing one woman whom he suspected had spoken with me, he said: “She’s retarded. Plain and simple.” About another woman: “She is totally disturbed. For a long time we’ve been considering whether to throw her out or not.”

Family assistance
During my visit to Sainte-Agathe, the gravity of the deeds ascribed to Helbrans and members of Lev Tahor weighed on my mind. My wariness never left for a moment. Besides the meetings I scheduled with Helbrans and some of his Hasidim, I also went into the streets of the community without any prior coordination, I went into the children’s classrooms and the synagogue. At night, too, suspecting that awful things might be happening, I would leave the hotel and observe the houses in the neighborhood, looking for lights that were left on.

Every foreigner who has visited the community in recent years, and who was interviewed for this article, described similar feelings. Relatives of Lev Tahor members, as well as Canadian journalists who’ve visited Sainte-Agathe, say they felt that, below the surface, other things were happening than what was presented to them publicly. I, too, often had the feeling that the community members were putting on a show for me. Not until I returned to Israel did I obtain recordings that were made in Helbrans’ office before a visit by an outsider. “There are things he doesn’t need to know,” the rabbi is heard instructing his followers.

From Christian neighbors in the area, I heard some complaints about the Lev Tahor people. 
The neighbors grumbled about the way their yards were neglected and about their peculiar dress that draws reactions from tourists, upon whom Sainte-Agathe’s economy is largely based. A large portion of the complaints had to do with the cultural differences. There was nothing about abuse, violence or illegal actions.

But the neighbors, like an outsider who pays a brief visit, cannot comment on one controversial institution that exists in the community, out of their sight. It’s called Ezrat Mishpacha (“Family Assistance”) and Helbrans says “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.” He relates that the organization is headed by one of the most dominant women in the community, but insists that he takes responsibility for every decision or action. He describes this organization as a kind of “communal welfare bureau,’ whose role is “to keep an eye on all the families and help those in need. If a woman is sick, for instance, we make sure to send help to her at home. Or if we get reports that there are certain problems in education that need fixing, or domestic problems – such as complaints from a wife about her husband, or vice versa – the righteous women of Ezrat Mishpacha will do everything to help and to solve the problems.”

Others in the community offer a different view of the organization. They describe it more as a type of “modesty patrol.” They say it’s really a punishment mechanism for those who don’t hew strictly to the community line. They say that each week at a meeting of all the women of the community, there are reports made about people who have deviated, however slightly, from the community’s strict code of behavior. Some say it is sometimes family members who do the informing. The punishments include the silent treatment, confinement to the house or being sent to other homes in the community for “reeducation.”

Helbrans contends that such depictions are nothing but a distorted interpretation of things. “There are no punishments in Lev Tahor,” he declares. “The only punishment is expulsion from the community.” Excommunications, he says, are only made “in the few instances when we think that someone must be removed from the community. When we think that he is unsuitable, and so he is forbidden to take part in the community or to use its institutions.”
He confirms that, at his instruction or the instruction of Ezrat Mishpacha, several community members have been forbidden from speaking with others. However, Helbrans says, “This is not a fine or a punishment. Certain people can hurt one another and if Ezrat Mishpacha sees that this is the situation, it can order them not to speak to each other anymore. For example, one Hasid said his wife was chatting with another woman all day long. He complained that she was neglecting the house and the children. She admitted it, and so it was decided that these two women would only speak to each other once every two weeks. This kind of thing happens very rarely and the reasons for it usually concern a lack of productivity.”

Regarding instances in which adult members of the community were sent to live in others’ homes for a period of time, Helbrans says: “Everything was always done with consent. These are cases in which Ezrat Mishpacha recommends to a couple that the wife go and stay with her mother for a while if she’s not feeling well, for example. Other cases occurred when we saw that a woman was developing a certain amount of mental stress that kept her from being able to function at home.”

As for the transfer of minors to different families, Helbrans confirms it, but explains: “When a woman gives birth, all the children are moved to other families until she fully recovers. It can sometimes take up to a month. And here, too, it is always done with everyone’s full consent and desire.”

Elior Chen comes to town
Over the years, Lev Tahor’s location at the extreme fringes of the Haredi world has attracted all kinds of seekers and fringe types to its ranks. This is also one of the important elements that make up the community. Helbrans categorizes those who join Lev Tahor in two groups: “There are people who come because they seek the truth. They’ve heard about the community and they know it is the only place where they can live in the way that is right for them. And then there are people who come because they are terribly miserable and no one else is ready to help them. Only here in this community will they receive attention, warmth, love, patience and brotherhood. Sometimes they change, they get onto the right path and integrate in our way of life. We have many such success stories. But sometimes they don’t succeed.”

With surprising openness, some of the Hasidim in Canada told me about their difficult childhoods in broken families. One related that his Haredi father had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in America for raping his daughter. Ever since the trial, the family was torn apart. The mother “lost it,” the sister left the Haredi world. Another Hasid said he was sexually abused as a child. Another was kicked out of every school and institution he’d ever been in. He came to Lev Tahor when he was 18, and his friends recount that he couldn’t even read and write.

Lev Tahor has also attracted Hasidim who were rejected by other Hasidic sects due to poor marital ties, their background or other deviations from the accepted norms in that society. Teenage girls from Haredi families who fall into distress, for various reasons, are also sometimes sent to the community to be married off there.

The community’s isolationism and remoteness has also sometimes attracted people with dubious histories, who thought they would find shelter there. Some left of their own will, others were expelled by the community. The most well-known example is that of Rabbi Elior Chen, who fled from the authorities in Israel after being accused of very violent and serious child abuse (he was dubbed “the abusive rabbi”). Four years ago, with the help of one of his followers, he fled to Canada and went to Sainte-Agathe. “He told us he was a scion of the Abuhatzeira family and that he was being persecuted by the Zionists,” says Helbrans about their first meeting. “I hugged him. We gave him food and a warm bed for a few days, until we started to get reports about the charges being made against him in Israel.”

Helbrans says that, even with all his opposition to the Zionist state and its laws, he could not give shelter to such a man. Not to mention that he was also placing the entire community in danger because Interpol was already on Chen’s tail. Chen was forced to leave and fled to Brazil, from where he was subsequently extradited to Israel, tried and sentenced to 24 years in prison. Chen told one of his associates he tried to find shelter with Lev Tahor after he came upon a copy of the book “Path of Salvation” at a cemetery where he slept while on the run from the police. That’s how he learned of the community’s existence, he said.

A number of other negative fringe phenomena from the Haredi world have been mistakenly attributed to Lev Tahor in recent years, though. Because of the way the women dress, the woman known as “Mama Taliban” has been said to be a part of the community, as have the women the press came to call “The Abusive Mother” and “The Mother who Starves her Children,” as well as some of the Sikrikim in Beit Shemesh. However, these particular cases and people have no affiliation with Lev Tahor.

A white shirt in prison
"Listen well, Shay, listen well. I’ll tell you very clearly. Anyone that I see has the potential to come back to religion, and I mean anyone, at any age. I will do my very utmost to see that it will happen,” Helbrans said to me in one of our conversations. His wife Malka, who was standing on the other side of the room, appeared to clutch her head in disbelief, and whispered in desperation: “Oh no, not again. Not again.” Helbrans looked at her and then turned to me, raising both eyebrows, and said: “What can I do? This is the truth.” The Rebbetzin muttered, “I can’t listen to this anymore,” and left the room. “Hey, look, now you’ve got the big scoop,” Helbrans said with a smile.

This dialogue may sound insignificant, but 20 years ago this kind of thinking got Helbrans involved in an episode that culminated with prison time and deportation from the United States. In February 1992, an Israeli boy named Shai Fhima Reuven arrived at Helbrans’ home in the Borough (aka Boro) Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Newspaper coverage of the story said the boy arrived there accompanied by his mother, Chana. Two years earlier, she had smuggled him out of Israel and away from his father, from whom she was divorced. This was a month before Shai’s bar mitzvah and the mother wanted Helbrans to prepare the boy to be called up to the Torah. A week later, Shai began studying in the yeshiva and slept there four nights a week, with his mother’s consent.

Shai was also given a bar mitzvah party by the Lev Tahor community. Newsday, which covered the story, reported that “more than 60 people attended, most of them Hasidim of the Rabbi, including Jackie Fhima, Shai’s stepfather.” With his mother’s consent, Shai stayed on to live and study at the yeshiva for another whole month. During this time, he grew closer to the community and also began to follow its religious ways. Several times he told Helbrans and some of his Hasidim that his stepfather and his mother beat him, and that for two years they had not allowed him to have any contact with his father, who lived in Israel.

When his mother came to pick him up, Shai refused to go home with her and announced that he was also no longer willing to go to public school and study together with goyim. The mother objected and took the child, almost by force, back to the shelter for battered women where she was staying at the time. In the following weeks, Shai ran away back to the yeshiva several times and was only returned to his mother under threat and by force. In early April 1992, he disappeared.

Helbrans was arrested a few days after Shai’s disappearance, but then released. “I don’t care what Shai or Helbrans say. As far as I’m concerned, he is responsible for the kidnapping. Throughout these two years [of Shai’s disappearance, from 1992-4], he knew where the boy was. He tricked all the investigators but that won’t help him any because I know the truth,” says Michael Reuven, Shai’s biological father, with anger that clearly hasn’t subsided at all over the years.

The New York police as well as the FBI investigated the case. And the parents also hired private investigators to try to find Shai. Helbrans’ phone lines were tapped, surveillance vehicles and hidden cameras were set up near the yeshiva. “Helbrans burned two years of my life,” says Reuven. “After I got divorced from Shai’s mother, I started a new family. Because of the struggle over Shai, I neglected my business and my family. In the end I sold my house and later I got divorced, too.”

Helbrans vehemently denies that he was involved in the boy’s kidnapping. He claims to have no idea who was behind it. “If Shai Fhima would have come to me when he ran away, I don’t think I would have refrained from helping him. But I would have done it differently,” he says. “Besides, I have nothing to say about the kidnapping. I have no connection to it.”

In February 1993, about a year after the boy’s disappearance, Helbrans was arrested again, and this time his wife was arrested with him. The Jewish Advocate reported that Malka Helbrans was suspected of trying to prevent the child’s mother from obtaining custody of him, and Helbrans was said to have tried to purchase custody of Shai from his mother. Hundreds of Lev Tahor and Satmar Hasidim came out to protest the arrests, which were made on Shabbat eve, and the fact that Malka Helbrans was separated from her infant son.

An organization from Brooklyn called the Central Rabbinical Congress raised $250,000 to make the bail payment for Helbrans and his wife. Helbrans’ trial began in January 1994 and lasted five weeks. According to the indictment, he was facing a possible 25-year sentence. The New York Times, which gave the story extensive coverage, reported: “Throughout the trial, the rabbi insisted that Shai fled to him because of beatings he was receiving at home. And his mother, Chana Fhima, insisted that her rights to the child had been ignored. ‘You brainwashed him! You brainwashed him!’ she shouted out in the courtroom. The rabbi insisted, clutching a prayer book to his chest, that he had nothing to do with the boy’s disappearance and that he himself had tried to search for him.”

Eight days after the start of the trial, Shai suddenly appeared at the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office and asked to testify in court. He was questioned for many hours but would not reveal where he had been hiding for the last two years, for fear that “it would hurt the people and the families who helped me.” Regarding Helbrans, he had this to say: “I told Rabbi Helbrans about the abuse I experienced at home and that I just ran away. I never wanted to go and learn in his yeshiva. I went somewhere else.” He gave similar testimony twice in court.

Shai now lives abroad. He is not religious and declined to be interviewed for this article. He visited the Lev Tahor community about 10 years ago and remained on good terms with Helbrans and some of his Hasidim, even after he abandoned religion. In an interview about a decade ago with The New York Times, Shai was said to “still insist that he was not kidnapped or brainwashed by Helbrans. ‘I was going after the religion, not after Helbrans.’” The piece goes on to say that “He does not speak with his parents about the two years when he was missing. ‘They think I was brainwashed. I don’t. So we just let it go.’”

At the end of the trial, Helbrans was convicted but not on the charges for which he had originally been arrested and sued. The New York Times reported that a settlement was reached with the Brooklyn District Attorney, in which Helbrans was charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping in the fourth degree. According to the prosecution, Helbrans was recorded proposing to Shai’s father that he would handle negotiations with the people with whom Shai was hiding, and so he therefore knew who they were and where they were. He was sentenced to six to twelve years in prison, additional time on probation and 250 hours of community service. All the charges against his wife were dropped.

The prison rabbi, Herbert Richtman, told The Jewish Week about Helbrans’ time behind bars: “Helbrans wears only white shirts. I had to make a special effort for him because here, on Rikers Island, only guards wear white shirts ... The prison system decided that I would give him a white shirt each day and he would return it to me at the end of the day. This way, no one could use a white shirt to escape from the prison.”

Helbrans received other religious privileges while in prison. For the first time ever in the New York prison system, a prisoner was excused from being photographed for the prisoners’ album. Prisoners are photographed clean-shaven and Helbrans refused to shave his beard for halakhic reasons. In a precedent-setting decision by the New York State Court, a computer-generated portrait was permitted instead.

On the recommendation of the parole board, Helbrans was released after two years. The New York Times reported that the District Attorney launched an investigation to see whether he was released in wake of a personal appeal from a Hasidic fund-raiser for New York Governor George Pataki. Newspaper reports also said there was an investigation into whether Helbrans was given special treatment by officials during his incarceration and if they had any hand in his early release. The New York Times reported that records show prison officers transferred Helbrans to an open framework of working, even though he didn’t meet the criteria for it. The investigator said the prison officers told him this was done at the instruction of senior officers. A spokesman for the Prison Authority called it a minor administrative error. Helbrans was returned to prison to complete his sentence.

Helbrans rejects the claims that he received special privileges in prison. “I might have been the first Haredi rabbi in this place,” he says. “The system was dealing with someone it wasn’t familiar with. But I didn’t get any breaks. I paid a heavy price for something I wasn’t involved in. My family also paid a heavy price.” He says that one of the hardest moments was when his young son saw him in prison uniform and cried in alarm, “Tateh goy!”

Reuven, Shai’s father, is not willing to accept Helbrans’ denials of responsibility, but he does shed some new light on the story: “In retrospect, I can say that to a certain degree I was the one who led Shai to end up in Helbrans’ arms. After his mother smuggled him out of Israel, I didn’t hear from him for two years. After I exerted pressure on her family in Israel, she allowed me to have a brief phone conversation with him. This was two or three weeks before the bar mitzvah and I requested that he put on tefillin. I told him: ‘If you see some Hasidim, those guys with the black clothes, go up to them and say: “I’m about to be bar mitzvahed and I want to put on tefillin. My father wants you to help me.” They’ll take care of you.’ I don’t know where things could have ended up. Shai was involved with a bad crowd at the time, maybe he would have ended up involved in worse things, like drugs.”

God in colored markers
In the 1980s Helbrans was a rising star in the movement of getting people to “return to religion.” He worked independently as well as with his friend Rabbi Yagen, as part of the Arachim (“Values”) movement. Newspaper reports from the time describe him as “having tremendous persuasive powers,” and say that “religious penitents in Jerusalem say he is impossible to resist.” One widely known legend had it that once, while waiting at a bus stop, he managed to convince a secular soldier to turn religious. “One soldier? Lots of soldiers!” he says now. “Every time I got on a bus I looked for a ‘victim.’ Sometimes I even got him to get off at some yeshiva.”

Helbrans’ proofs of God’s existence were disappointing. I was expecting a complex theological debate, and what I got instead was the familiar series of arguments used by rabbis who bring people back to religion. He presented, for instance, the prophecies of the destruction of the Second Temple as they appear in Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy and the fall of the Kingdom of Babylon as prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah, maintaining that these prophecies came true exactly as predicted. He also presented several more Torah verses and examples that he says prove the eternality of the Divine truth as it appears in the Bible. In making his points, he referred to other books and drew on an erasable board with colored markers. His handwriting was practically illegible.

Helbrans is not aware of the power of the Internet. He hadn’t heard of Wikipedia, and using satellite pictures from Google, I challenged his claims about the destruction of Babylon. I showed him the results of archeological excavations that were done there. The fact that Saddam Hussein reconstructed some of the buildings also stood in contrast to the biblical prophecies as he presented them. The conversation turned into a discussion about the smallest details. We found ourselves arguing over different interpretations of the meaning of the vision of the eagle that appears in the prophecy of the destruction of the Second Temple, and even about the structure of the bee’s digestive system. Because he purports to present an absolute truth, I insisted that it be beyond any reasonable doubt. So far he has not succeeded. For the time being, we declared it a draw.

The whisperers
I’d already talked for hours upon hours with Helbrans and some of his Hasidim and still I had great expectations ahead of the final interview in the Lev Tahor community – an encounter with the women. This was supposed to answer many of the questions I still had. Over five days in Sainte-Agathe I’d occasionally seen then walking on the street, usually in groups. Often I saw them peeking through cracks in the window blinds or from behind doors. In Lev Tahor, the women aren’t just kept out of the public sphere, they seem practically absent altogether. Whenever I came to the home of one of the families, they hurried into another room. When I passed them on the street, they would slip into one of the nearby yards. They usually remain inside the home and do not come out in public or among strangers. Even with their husbands they try not to be seen in the public space. They keep up their strict dress code even when alone at home. Taking the interpretation of women’s modesty to the extreme, they also hardly speak; they have adopted a soft tone of speech that is nearly a whisper.

We met in the evening in the living room of one of the Lev Tahor families. The children had gone to bed, the men had returned from the synagogue, the women had finished the housework. Outside it was snowing. Inside it was pleasant. They introduced themselves: L., 34 and a mother of 11; M., 35 and a mother of 9; Z., 22 and a mother of three; and H., 26 with one child.

They described their daily routine. They say most of the women in the community are full-time housewives. Three also work as teachers. Other women in the community work at home as seamstresses. All defined their main work first of all as “worshipping Hashem.” They say they are good friends and that all the women in the community are very close, that they help one another with housework and child care. They all get together at least once a week for a Torah lesson given by one of the women. H. says she feels like they are “one big family.”

The women always give birth at the hospital in town. They also make sure that the children are vaccinated on time and receive any medical care they need.

L. and M. grew up in the Satmar Hasidic sect in America and came to Lev Tahor after they married. H. was born in the U.S., but before joining the community she lived in Israel for about a decade. Z., who became religious later in life, joined the community with her husband two years ago.

They say they’ve heard a little about the controversy that has grown lately in Israel surrounding the issue of the exclusion of women from the public sphere, but they say they have no interest in getting involved. L.: “It doesn’t concern us. We respect the society in which we live and we expect everyone to respect the society and the customs in the place where they live. Generally speaking, I think it was chutzpah on the part of that young Israeli woman to stir up anger and disputes. [She is referring to Tanya Rosenblit, who refused to sit at the back of a public bus in December.] If those are the society’s laws, people need to respect them and behave accordingly.”

They are familiar with the concept of feminism but M. says it has nothing to do with them. “It was meant for the outside modern world, not for Jewish women,” she says. “It’s not for me. I’m not looking for rights in order to attain political positions or to vote on policy. I’m not looking for equal rights in the workplace. That’s not the way of the Torah. That is what I follow, and only then can I be at peace with myself.”

As for the blessing that men recite each morning, thanking God “who did not make me a woman,” they say it actually attests to a flaw that exists in men. “I was created exactly in accordance with God’s will,” says L. “I say, ‘Blessed is He, who created me in accordance with His will.’ This is His perfection. Woman was created complete with no need to compare her to any other creature. Hashem created the world and woman’s nature. He did not create her so she should be unhappy with His creation. A woman who walks in the path of the Torah is one hundred percent happy with this.”

They told me about the handicrafts they do, about their hobbies and about the Yiddish books they read. They say they were the ones who wanted to introduce the dress code that is followed by the women in the community, even though there was resistance at first from the men, including Helbrans. They say they love the burka – that it’s comfortable – and they speak excitedly about the white robes they wear on Shabbat and holidays.

Their attire is made up of two dresses, a jacket with buttons, an apron tied on top of that, and on top of that a long robe and veil. L. insists that “the foundations of the community are not the way we dress but how we follow the path of Torah. And this attire is part of the Torah’s way. Sometimes I see women dressed in the style of the Western world and I don’t understand it. How can they walk in the streets like that? It’s so unrespectable and unworthy.

“Sometimes I feel the attention that my attire attracts,” L. adds. “People find it odd. We look different. But when you know exactly why you are doing this or that, it’s a lot stronger and more satisfying than all the judgmental eyes and the criticism. When you’re on the path of truth, you don’t care what others say.”

Throughout the interview, their responses are polite but formal. They were articulate and courteous, and never once interrupted one another. When I asked, all of them said they were happy. But throughout the interview with them, my attention and focus was often drawn to the green curtain with a floral pattern that was hanging in front of me. I couldn’t see the faces of the women who were sitting behind it. Nor their body language or hand gestures.

The green curtain was the condition that was imposed by the women in order to hold the interview. And this wasn’t the only curtain that I strained to see through during my visit to the Lev Tahor community. Their extreme worldview and way of life endlessly challenge liberal thinking. But even more so, Lev Tahor poses a challenge to the Haredi world. In many senses, it is putting forward new standards for this world, and defying the existing order.

The women’s attire is a good example of this. It may still be a marginal custom only practiced among the most extreme communities, but it is spreading and threatening some of the larger communities in the Haredi world, perhaps more than any other phenomenon that has arisen in recent decades. Because similar dress was adopted by a number of Jewish communities throughout history, to this day there has not been a single halakhic ruling from a prominent rabbi prohibiting it. The controversy around the women’s attire has become so great in the Haredi public that, in the last months, there have been a number of riots and demonstrations on this issue in Haredi enclaves in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

The visit to Lev Tahor is unsettling. Days later I still had more questions that I knew neither Helbrans nor any of his Hasidim would ever be able to answer. They are closed off and isolated within themselves and have no possibility or ability to examine their lives in relation to the world around.

My attitude toward the community and its ways also shifted a number of times over that period. One minute the things they said sounded logical and legitimate; the next minute it all seemed very strange and unreasonable. In terms of the halakha, I couldn’t express criticism of Helbrans or find fault in the community’s way of life. I simply didn’t have the tools to do so. On the human, ethical and legal level, I found more than a few faults.

As if to add to the journalistic difficulty and emotional weight, during the research for this article I was also contacted by some family members of people in Lev Tahor, who asked me to help rescue their relatives. I also received a good number of phone calls from people who introduced themselves as opponents of the community and wished to warn me against writing anything positive about them. They claimed to have evidence of the terrible things that are happening in the community. I spoke with dozens of them. Most of the evidence was about the same controversial episodes from 20 years ago. Helbrans and some of his Hasidim also called several times, curious to hear my impressions.

For weeks I struggled to remove the fluttering curtains before my eyes, until proof came of the marriages of minors, as did the story of Brodowski and his wife who had fled, with which it was hard to argue. Perhaps we, perhaps I, have a side in us that wants to believe in something, perhaps it’s the side in me that wanted to believe Rabbi Helbrans, too. The rabbi and his Hasidim who called me after the visit tried to provide answers and explanations in response to the arguments I raised about their alleged illegal actions. By this point, I could barely sense the curtain fluttering before my eyes.


Suspected Jewish child abuse cult flees Quebec homes
Fearing the imminent removal of its children, the hassidic Lev Tahor cult is reportedly fleeing Canada and heading to Iran
By Hannah Katsman
Times of Israel - November 20, 2013

Long dogged by accusations of severe child abuse and neglect, the 40 families of insular hassidic group Lev Tahor fled their homes Tuesday in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, fearing imminent removal of the children by Canadian welfare authorities

According to Oded Twik, an Israeli whose sister and eight children have lived with Lev Tahor for the last eight years, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and police worked through the night Tuesday to get information about the safety of the children.

About 200 people traveled in three hired buses to Ontario, where they rented a small number of hotel rooms. “The Canadian police have confirmed that the group planned to go to Iran,” said Twik.

Lev Tahor is led by charismatic convicted kidnapper Shlomo Helbrans. The group, mainly native Israelis and their Canadian-born children, lived in the resort town of Ste. Agathe-du-Mont, Quebec. Only five members have legal status in Canada and the children do not hold passports.

Born to a secular family as Erez Albaranes, the Lev Tahor leader currently calls himself Shlomo Helbrans, the Admor (hasidic rebbe) of Riminov.

He studied in Jerusalem yeshivas in his youth. In the mid-1980s, despite lacking rabbinic ordination, he opened the Lev Tahor yeshiva in Jerusalem at age 23.

In 1990, after an Israeli investigation for ties with what was then the Islamic Movement in Israel, Helbrans fled to the United States with about 20 followers.

In 1994 Helbrans was imprisoned for two years in the US for kidnapping Shai Fima, whose secular parents had sent him to Helbrans for bar mitzvah lessons.

Post-release, Helbrans and his followers moved to Ste. Agathe, about 100 kilometers north of Montreal. There, Helbrans successfully petitioned the Canadian government for refugee status, claiming persecution in Israel for his anti-Zionist opinions.

Oded Twik has urged the Canadian authorities to remove all 137 children from the community. Dozens of family members and supporters attended a demonstration outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv on October 14. Many family members have not communicated with their relatives for eight years.

In a similar case, earlier this year, Canadian Child and Family Services removed all 40 children of a Mennonite community in Manitoba from their homes in response to allegations of corporal punishment, withholding food, and moving children between families. The parents are cooperating with authorities and a few children have since been returned to their homes.

Reports of the neglect and abuse of the Lev Tahor children have circulated for years. The Israeli Center for Victims of Cults regularly sends testimony to the Canadian authorities.

Members who have left the group described a diet of dough, goose eggs and goat’s milk, but no fruits and vegetable. There are regular beatings, long prayers, and for the girls, dark clothing covering all but the face, and household servitude. Children, including babies and toddlers, are removed from their parents to live with other families, often repeatedly. Girls are routinely married off at 14, in some cases to men more than twice their age.

In October, 2011, two girls aged 13 and 15 from Beit Shemesh attempted to travel to join the Lev Tahor community via Jordan. The girls’ aunt, Orit Cohen, filed a petition via the family court, and the girls were intercepted at the Montreal airport and returned to Israel.
According to Twik, children in Lev Tahor get moved from family to family as punishment for their parents’ violation of Helbrans’s rules.

Tahor’s written regulations describe women as disgusting and deserving of isolation and a subsistence diet. A husband may hit his wife for disobeying the “rebbe’s” teachings.

According to Cohen, “Women who have grown up in Lev Tahor believe that constant humiliation and punishment is necessary for their own education. Even those who have left see themselves, their thoughts, and opinions as worthless.”

The girls get the barest minimum of education.

Helbrans’s son Nathan recently fled Lev Tahor after a dispute with his father, leaving his wife and children behind.

According to Twik and others familiar with the case, Nathan’s split with the group began as a small child when he witnessed his father’s disciples beating up Nathan’s mother, Malka, in her bedroom.

In January, 2012, Nathan bought a tape of Hasidic music for one of his sons who had trouble falling asleep. As punishment, Helbrans ordered that Nathan’s four children be housed with other families. The children would live with twenty different families over the course of two years.

When Nathan refused to accept this decision, Helbrans ordered him beaten up by two disciples who threw him into the snow and twisted his legs until they broke. Nathan lay in bed for four months, remaining loyal to Lev Tahor. He lied to the hospital about the cause of his injuries and refused an operation, for fear it would lead to an investigation.

But in April 2012, Nathan left the community and returned to Israel in June after death threats by Helbrans and his followers. He returned to Montreal and reported the abuse of his children to Canadian authorities with the support of Ometz (“Bravery” in Hebrew), a Montreal Jewish social services agency.

In early October, the Canadian authorities, accompanied by the police, removed the five children including an infant born while Nathan was in Israel. The children were placed in the Montreal home of an Orthodox social worker and his wife.

The Canadian Director of Youth Protection has since ruled that the children would not be returned to Lev Tahor. Lev Tahor appealed, claiming the evidence heard by the court is not reliable.

The situation of the children remaining in the group is complex.

“Before intervening, the authorities need proof that the children are at risk,” says Michael Kropveld, executive director of Info-Secte, a Canadian organization that works with victims of fringe groups. Then they have to ensure that a plan is in place that will benefit the children, with the added difficulty of finding the families to house them.

“Ideally, says Kropveld, “the authorities will work with the parents to improve the conditions so that the children can stay in the home.”

According to Kropveld, the worst-case scenario is a poorly planned removal. Not only could people get hurt, a failed attempt could ultimately make the leader stronger.

“People who have doubts will see a failed attempt as further proof of the leader’s powers,” he says.


Jewish sect Lev Tahor flees Quebec amid child neglect allegations

Quebec youth protection says children aren't capable of doing basic math

The Canadian Press - November 25, 2013

Authorities in Quebec are expected to meet today to decide what to do about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that left Quebec last week and moved to southern Ontario.
Quebec social services say they're investigating members of the group, known as Lev Tahor, for alleged child neglect.
Some of the families were due to appear before a Quebec judge last week for a hearing to ensure child welfare officials had regular access to their children.
But the group, which totals about 200 people, packed up and moved to Chatham.
The director of youth protection for Quebec's Laurentians region says officials have concerns about the children's health, their hygiene and their home-schooling.
Denis Baraby says the children aren't capable of doing basic math.
But he says child welfare officials haven't reached the point of trying to remove any children from the community.
A spokesman for Lev Tahor, Nachman Helbrans, denies any children are being neglected.

Lev Tahor sect controlled kids with fear, youth court told
Authorities worried Quebec sect would attempt mass suicide if children seized
CBC News - January 16, 2014
Children living in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor in Quebec were medicated with melatonin to control their behaviour, couldn’t do basic math and were married off as young as 14, according to allegations made by youth protection services in court testimony made public today.
At the time of the hearing in a Saint-Jérôme, Que., youth court last November, the community had already fled to southern Ontario.
The testimony in court alleged children in the Lev Tahor community could be in imminent psychological and physical danger.
Authorities were also concerned about the possibility of mass suicide if the children were seized.
The judge ordered that the children be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical exams and receive psychological support, but the details of the allegations were covered by a publication ban until today.
An Ontario court is now deciding if the children will be returned to Quebec.
The Quebec authorities had been working with the group until Nov. 18, when some 40 families left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in the middle of the night.
“We were shocked, I think is the word,” Denis Baraby, director of youth protection in Quebec’s Laurentians region, told CBC News.
In a transcript of that November hearing, a social worker testified that Quebec provincial police were worried about the risk of "collective suicide" among community members if the children were seized.
“We learned of a few teachings that the rabbi was doing and other related information that alerted us to that kind of a risk," Baraby said. 
That concern wasn’t raised with the authorities until after the families left Quebec, he said.

Lev Tahor community denies allegations
Child-welfare authorities and local police in Ontario say they found nothing unusual when they checked in on the Lev Tahor children. The community denies any mistreatment of the children. 
Christopher Knowles, a lawyer for one of the Lev Tahor families, said his clients deny the allegations made by youth authorities and believe the facts have been misrepresented.
He said that if the authorities truly thought the children were at risk, they would not still be with their parents.
Social workers in Quebec testified that the group likely "staged" the scene when authorities came to investigate in Ontario and the majority of the members were tucked away out of sight. 

'Children afraid of the outside world'
The community of about 200 people — about half of them children — was under investigation by social services in Quebec for a host of issues, including hygiene, children's health and allegations that the children weren't learning the Quebec curriculum.
At the November youth court hearing, several social workers described a cult-like atmosphere where members were isolated from the greater community and tightly controlled by the group’s leadership.
“Those children are afraid of the outside world,” one social worker told the youth court.
“Children confirmed to us that they are afraid of burning in hell if, for example, they are not modest enough.”
Two social workers described for the court the case of a young woman who repeatedly told a friend in Israel she wanted to leave, but was afraid to lose her children. That woman later denied that story.

Arranged marriages
The court also heard about young girls who were married off, possibly as young as 14, to much older men. But other testimony contradicted that, saying the girls were 16 years old.
One of those girls was of particular concern because of an advanced infection in her feet, a condition the social workers said is common in the community because women must adhere to a strict dress code and are barred from removing their socks.
In 2012, youth protection received a report about a young girl from the community who was in psychiatric care at a Montreal hospital. She was threatening to kill herself if she was ever returned to the community, the social worker testified.
“She was not even 14 and she was engaged, promised in marriage,” she said. “That was one of her biggest hesitations. I mean, she didn’t want to get married.”
The girl was eventually placed with a family in New York.

Controlled by fear
The social workers testified that children were controlled by fear and medication, such as melatonin.
“Fear is used constantly by the leaders, but also the parents, because that is a message that is used,” one of the social workers told the court.
“For us, this fear, this psychological abuse, is serious risk for harm of these young children.”
Children interviewed by social workers spoke of taking vitamins and melatonin, a natural hormone supplement that helps with sleep, up to three times a day. Others said it wasn’t given to children.
A social worker testified that one of the bus drivers who transported the families from Quebec to Ontario suspected the children had been administered some sort of sedative, possibly Gravol.
The driver told youth authorities a man in the group instructed her not to open the door for the duration of the 14-hour trip and let anyone off.  
“She saw the children urinating in Ziploc bags. No baby’s diapers were changed,” the social worker told the court.
The driver said to the social worker that the women and children ate only bread crusts for the duration of the trip.
The women and children initially seemed terrified when they got on the bus, the driver reported to the social worker.  
“A few minutes later, there was impossible silence for the rest of the trip,” a social worker testified.

Quebec police raid homes of Lev Tahor sect members in Chaham, Ont.
Materials seized while police execute a search warrant at homes of ultra-Orthodox Jewish community members 
CBS 0 January 29, 2014

Quebec police, working alongside the Ontario provincial police, searched homes of two Lev Tahor sect members in Chatham, Ont. during a raid.
The raid happened late Wednesday, while journalists from the CBC's the fifth estate program were in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
"We executed search warrants in the course of an investigation and since this is an ongoing investigation, we will not comment any further at this time," said Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Sûreté Du Québec.
Police told all occupants of the houses to leave as officers searched for computers and other materials.
Officers were seen carrying away a box containing items seized in the search.
The action comes just days ahead of an Ontario court ruling on whether to seize and return 14 children to Quebec.
In court materials made public earlier this month, Quebec youth protection services alleged children as young as 14 had been married off.
The testimony in court alleged the children in the community could be in imminent physical and psychological danger.

The lawyer for the group denied the allegations.


Children to be removed from Lev Tahor community: Judge 
Children to be removed from ultra-orthodox Jewish community
By Jason Magder
The Gazette - February 3, 2014

An Ontario judge has decided to uphold a ruling removing 14 children from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor.

The order means the children must be removed from the sect and placed into the custody of foster families in Quebec.

The ruling at the Chatham-Kent Courthouse upholds a Nov. 27 ruling in St-Jérôme by Youth Court Judge Pierre Hamel, who ordered the children be placed in temporary homes for a period of 30 days.

On Monday, Ontario Judge Stephen Fuerth ruled the Quebec Court had jurisdiction in this case, and said not to uphold the decision would "create jurisdictional chaos."

The children were ordered back to Montreal where foster families have already been identified. Fuerth exempted the oldest of the 14 children, a 17-year-old mother of an infant from the judgment.

However, the ruling won't take effect for 30 days, so the families can have a chance to appeal the judgment, Fuerth ruled.

Ahead of the Nov. 27 court date, about 200 members of the 240-person community fled Ste-Agathe-des-Monts for Chatham-Kent. The case has been tied up in Ontario youth court since that time.

The Quebec hearing, which was carried out in the absence of Lev Tahor members, had heard from a witness, a former member of the sect, who said children were hit in the sect's schoolhouse with wire hangers. The witness also described how children were routinely taken away from their parents and placed with other families as a form of punishment.

Social workers from Quebec's Youth Protection Department had also described how one of the children targeted to be removed was married at age 14, two years younger than the minimum legal age in Canada. Social workers also noted fungus on the feet of most of the girls, ostensibly caused from adhering to strictly modesty rules that they always wear socks, stockings and shoes.

Known as the Jewish Taliban, because of the full-body cloaks warn by women and the sect's anti-Zionist ideals, Lev Tahor has been widely criticized as an extremist cult in Israel. Most of the community's members are either born in Israel or Monsey, N.Y. The sect relocated to Ste-Agathe in 2004 after Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was granted refugee status in Canada. He claimed he would be persecuted in Israel if he returned there.

Francine Campeau, a spokesperson for Quebec's Youth Protection Department, said she was pleased with the ruling.

"We're happy the judgment was recognized, but we continue to be concerned for the children while they remain with their families," Campeau said.

A spokesperson for Montreal's Jewish community said back in November that several families came forward to act as foster homes for the children. The families are from ultra-Orthodox communities in and around Montreal, and they speak Yiddish, which is essential since Yiddish is the predominant language used in Lev Tahor.

"We welcome the ruling itself," said David Ouellette, the public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the community is anxious to help. "This is the course of justice. They have the right to appeal. That can't be denied to them."


Extremist haredi Orthodox sect staying in Canada 
JTA - November 24, 2014

Members of an extremist haredi Orthodox sect who fled Quebec have settled in Ontario and are not planning a move to Iran, as reported previously.

The members of Lev Tahor, or Pure Heart, left their homes early last week out of fear that Canadian welfare authorities would take their children. The Canadian media reported over the weekend that the group of 200, including more than 130 children, would make its home in Chatham-Kent, a southwestern Ontario town of 108,000 several hundred miles from Quebec.

According to a report last week, sect members were said to be planning a move to Iran from Ontario.

Sect members told the Canadian media that they made the move due to a dispute with education authorities in Quebec over the curriculum they were being required to teach the children, who are home schooled, including subjects such as evolution.

The sect was concerned that the children would be placed in foster care, according to The Star.

Ontario reportedly has liberal requirements for faith-based home schooling.

The sect, led by Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, reportedly uses extreme violence and mind control. Most of its members are Israeli-born with Canadian-born children.

Quebec youth protection services told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that there are concerns that the children were neglected. The children reportedly were forced to live in the homes of families other than their own for punishments.

Youth protection officials had been scheduled to meet in court with sect members the day after the group of some 40 families fled their homes, according to the CBC. The files have been sent to youth protection services in Ontario.

Some in the group already have purchased homes in the new location, and the rest are living in a local motel, the Globe and Mail reported.


Lev Tahor sect denied appeal of child removal order
Toronto Sun - February 22, 2014

Lev Tahor children are walked home during the lunch hour from the makeshift school they
attend in Chatham, On., Friday November 29, 2013. Leaders for the group living in Chatham
are planning to fight the Quebec orders to remove 14 children into foster care stating there are concerns
the children will be "damaged forever" in foster care.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor has no right to appeal a ruling that 14 children be returned to Quebec and placed in youth protection services, a judge ruled Friday.

Some 200 Lev Tahor members fled Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the middle of the night last November and resettled in Chatham, Ont., amid allegations of child abuse and neglect.

Quebec youth protection officials were poised take some Lev Tahor children away from their families when the sect relocated.

After they fled, a Quebec judge ordered that 14 children be returned to Quebec, placed under protective services and be subject to medical and psychological evaluations.

A Quebec Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed Lev Tahor’s attempt to appeal the ruling, saying the sect did not file within the 30-day allowable period.

Uriel Goldman, spokesman for Lev Tahor, told QMI Agency he is disappointed by the decision.

An Ontario court ruled in early February that 13 of the children be sent back to Quebec.
The scathing ruling chastised the sect for fleeing justice in Quebec.

The children, however, are still in Chatham-Kent and can remain there pending an appeal in the Ontario case.

Police documents unsealed in court last week show that Quebec cops were first made aware of alleged child abuse in the sect in 2012.

The documents allege girls as young as 14 or 15 are forced to marry adult men and bear their children, and that disobedient 13- and 14-year-olds are locked in basements.


Police documents list allegations of abuse, forced marriages in Lev Tahor sect 
CBC - February 27, 2014


Police in Quebec began investigating the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor back in 2012 amid allegations of child abuse, forced marriages and violence, newly released documents allege.

According to documents used to obtain search warrants, the Quebec provincial police started looking into Lev Tahor after allegations emerged that some teenage girls in the group were beaten and sexually abused.

It was alleged that some girls as young as 14 or 15 were being forced to marry much older men and that some children were taken from their biological parents if the community leader felt they were not being properly taught.

The documents, which contain allegations that have not been proven in court, also allege that some members of the Lev Tahor community were kept under psychological control with medication and that physical violence was used as an educational tool.

Lev Tahor denies all those allegations and insists that no children or young girls were ever harmed.
“We do feel that the whole process from the beginning was unfair…they pick a small community as an easy target,” said spokesperson Uriel Goldman.

In a video released Friday, the group’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, denounces Quebec authorities and accuses them of persecuting Lev Tahor members.

He says the group had no choice but to flee Quebec.

The community of about 200 people left Quebec in November while it was being investigated by social services, and settled in Chatham, Ont. 

An Ontario judge recently ruled that 14 Lev Tahor children must be turned over to child protection authorities in Quebec and placed in foster care.

The order is currently under appeal.


Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans' refugee case questioned

The fifth estate investigates refugee claim of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans

By Julia Sister
CBC News - February 27, 2014

The leader of a controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect may have used misleading or false evidence to gain refugee status in Canada, according to an investigation by CBC’s the fifth estate.  
Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans is the head of Lev Tahor, a sect that moved from Quebec to Chatham, Ont., last November, amid allegations of child neglect.
Recently released search warrants show that for nearly two years Quebec provincial police have been investigating allegations of physical abuse of children within the group, unlawful confinement and marriages between girls under 16 and much older men.
The sect is appealing an Ontario court decision upholding a Quebec youth court ruling that ordered the temporary removal of more than a dozen children from the sect.
Helbrans came to Canada after he was convicted of kidnapping in the United States and deported to Israel. He applied for refugee status in Canada in 2003, claiming that he would be persecuted for his strong anti-Zionist views if he were sent back to Israel.
One of Israel’s leading scholars on ultra-Orthodox groups, Professor Menachem Friedman, read Helbrans’ refugee file and dismissed his argument.
“When I read it, I laugh. If it was not so tragic, it is a comedy,” he told the fifth estate’s Gillian Findlay. “I don’t believe it at all.”
Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis are opposed to the existence of the Israeli state, because they believe a state for the Jewish people can only be legitimately proclaimed by God and cannot happen until the day the Messiah arrives. But Friedman says other anti-Zionist Rabbis in Israel have taken their opposition much further than Helbrans, with some joining rabidly anti-Israel leaders in Iran, without facing persecution.
Now the fifth estate’s investigation is raising questions about some of the key evidence in Helbrans’ refugee claim.  
When the fifth estate asked the IDF about Goldman, it was told they have no record of Goldman serving in the military intelligence.​
Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor members, says that as a young 
intelligence soldier in Israel’s defence force,  the IDF, he was ordered to spy 
on Helbrans. Instead, Goldman decided to join Lev Tahor.
Helbrans’ claim included testimony from a man who is now the spokesperson for Lev Tahor. Uriel Goldman testified that as a young intelligence soldier in Israel’s defence force, the IDF, he was ordered to spy on Helbrans. Instead, Goldman decided to join Lev Tahor.  
When questioned, Goldman told Findlay he did not want to talk about his testimony at the refugee hearing.
“I know that Israel is watching very carefully,” he said. “I think you can understand. I don't want to receive one day a bullet from a Mossad agent if it gets ugly.”  
He also suggested it’s not surprising that the IDF would not release sensitive military information.
“I understand why they say that,” he said. “And this was, like, not a normal operation.”

Criminal record

Helbrans also had a criminal record in the United States, something that would normally be an obstacle to gaining refugee status in Canada.  
In 1994, Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping a young boy named Shai Fhima in Brooklyn, NY.  He was sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison, which was reduced to two years on appeal.  Once released, Helbrans was deported to Israel.  
Six weeks later he came to Canada and began to re-establish Lev Tahor in Quebec.  Eventually, he applied for refugee status.
At his refugee hearing in 2003 he submitted a video of his kidnapping victim, Fhima, saying Helbrans’ conviction was a misunderstanding and that he wanted to clear the rabbi’s name.   
Fhima has recently told the fifth estate what he said in that video was a lie.  He says that Lev Tahor paid him $5,000 to make the recording, in a deal arranged by the community’s spokesman, Goldman. He also said that Helbrans really did kidnap him.
Helbrans told Findlay that is “absolutely false and a lie.”  
Goldman said Lev Tahor did pay for Fhima’s airplane ticket from Israel to Canada, but not for the recording.
In his decision, the former refugee board commissioner who heard Helbrans’ claim, Gilles Ethier, found all the testimony to be “sincere and relevant.”  Helbrans was accepted as a refugee.  
Since the federal government did not send a lawyer to the trial, there was no one to challenge Helbrans’ witnesses or evidence.  It is not the role of the commissioner to bring counter-evidence against refugee claims.
“The thing is that I had proof and evidence that was put in front of me, and I had to decide with that,” Ethier said.
The federal government did appeal his decision, but it was upheld by the federal court.


In January, police executed search warrants in several Lev Tahor homes in Chatham, in a raid captured by the fifth estate.  The search warrants, obtained by CBC and other media outlets that fought to have the documents made public, reveal that police are investigating allegations including child abuse and unlawful confinement.  
In January, police executed search warrants in several Lev Tahor
homes in Chatham, Ont., in a raid captured by the fifth estate.
“I never marry children against the law,” Helbrans told Findlay.   It was also alleged that some underage girls in the sect were married to much older men.
He said that there had been three cases of 15-year-olds from his community getting married.  They travelled to Missouri, where children can be married at 15 with the consent of their parent or guardian, to be married by a judge before returning to the community in Quebec.  In Quebec, it’s not a crime for children under 16 years old to refer to themselves as being married; however, their union will not be recognized as valid.
Helbrans claims the allegations against his community are due to anti-Semitism.
“The Jewish nation is a target from allegations [for] more than 3,000 years,” Helbrans said. “We are persecuted because of our spiritual background, because we are Jews, anti-Zionists, because we are extreme.”
But his claim that his sect is the target of anti-Semitism is not getting much sympathy in Israel.
“I think all the ways that this sect operates is contradictory to Judaism in every aspect of it,” said Yariv Levin, a government representative in Israel. He is on a parliamentary committee on the rights of the child that has been gathering evidence on Lev Tahor.
Israeli families who have children in Lev Tahor are pressuring their government to take action.  
Levin is now calling on Canada to shut Helbrans and his sect down.
“He doesn’t have any excuse and reason to be recognized as a refugee, but all of that we can deal with later on,” he said. “But now we have to deal with the children.”

Rabbi of the Pure Hearts: Inside Lev Tahor
CBC - February 28, 2014

Life in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor is supposed to be simple: the rules for dress, diet, schooling, marriage and worship are clearly defined and closely followed. But last November, in the middle of the night, about 200 members of the sect fled their homes in Quebec to start a new community in Chatham, Ontario, amid allegations of child neglect.  Now the sect is fighting to keep more than a dozen children that a Quebec court ordered removed from their families. Recently released search warrants show Quebec provincial police have been investigating allegations of unlawful confinement and physical abuse of children within the sect, as well as marriage of underage girls to much older men.

Their ongoing legal battles are raising an old dilemma: when does a group’s right to religious freedom get trumped by society’s obligation to protect children?  It’s also prompted a lot of questions about life inside the secluded community - and the past of its charismatic leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.  The fifth estate’s team travelled from New York to Israel to investigate his murky history, and host Gillian Findlay spoke to people with an intimate knowledge of his past.  With unprecedented access to the community in Chatham, including first-hand footage of a police raid there and an extensive interview with Helbrans, ‘Rabbi of the Pure Hearts: Inside Lev Tahor’ reveals the challenges of life in the Jewish sect.
A joint investigation with Radio Canada's Enquete program

Member of Lev Tahor sect flee Canada, intercepted in Trinidad
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect members fail to appear in court to appeal seizure of 13 children
CBC News - March 8, 2014

Some members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect from Quebec that fled to a town near Windsor, Ont., last November, have apparently flown the coop again, this time to Trinidad and Tobago, where their journey has been halted.

Immigration authorities said the sect members were in transit to Guatemala, but officials in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the members from flying to Central America after the authorities allegedly found some inconsistencies in their responses.

Members of Lev Tahor arrived at Piarco International Airport Monday and have refused to leave, an immigration officer at the airport told CBC News.

The members are not being detained as fugitives.

A spokeswoman with Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of National Security said the group was offered hotel accommodations, but the sect members refused.

She said sect spokesman Avraham Dinkel has continued to negotiate with local authorities to travel on to Guatemala and not return to Canada.

A statement released Wednesday by Trinidad's Ministry of National Security said, "the Immigration Services have been advised to pursue the decision of having the group return to their port of origin," which is Toronto.

Emergency motion
The flight south comes as two families were scheduled to appear in a Chatham-Kent, Ont., court today to learn the result of their appeal of an earlier court judgment that demanded the children be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care.

Stephen Doig of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said his agency has alerted sister agencies with offices along the Canada-U.S. border after the families in southern Ontario could not be found at their homes.

It's not yet known if the families involved in the court case are the same members who fled the country to Trinidad and Tobago.

A lawyer for the agency on Wednesday afternoon brought an emergency motion in the case of the removal of some children from the sect.

The motion resulted in a closed court hearing, where the Ontario judge ordered that the children be apprehended immediately and placed in foster care in Ontario, subject to the appeal.

Last month, an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec ruling ordering 13 children in the Lev Tahor sect to be surrendered to child welfare authorities. After being denied an appeal by a Quebec court, the group issued a request for appeal to an Ontario court.

Quebec’s Youth Protection Services alleged in court that children living in the sect were medicated with melatonin to control their behaviour, couldn’t do basic math and were married off as young as 14.

Much of the Lev Tahor community of about 200 people left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the middle of the night in November 2013, days after a child welfare agency started a court case against a couple of the families.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press


Lev Tahor: Ontario should have seen flight risk, Quebec says

Quebec's Youth Protection Services says 30-day appeal made it possible for families to leave
CBC News - March 7, 2014
Ontario authorities should have expected members of Lev Tahor to flee and should have taken custody of 14 children sooner, according to Quebec’s Youth Protection Services.

Twelve members of two families involved in a custody battle with the Ontario and Quebec courts fled their home in Chatham, Ont., ahead of their scheduled court appearance on Wednesday.

On that day, the members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect were supposed to find out the result of their appeal to keep the children that youth protection services in both Ontario and Quebec had ordered into foster care.

'Our intent was to bring everybody to court because we felt that all the children were endangered while being in that community.'

- Denis Baraby, Quebec Youth Protection Services
Instead, six minors and three adults from the Lev Tahor families were intercepted in Trinidad and Tobago while en route to Guatemala. Other members of the families who connected to Guatemala through the Mexico City airport on an earlier flight made it to their final destination.

Six children were on that flight, according to Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec’s Youth Protection Services (known by the French acronym, DPJ) in St-Jérôme, Que.

Baraby said two others — a 17-year-old mother and her baby — may be in the United States.

“When I learned that they left, I wasn’t surprised,” Baraby told Daybreak host Mike Finnerty on Friday.

“I think that we were all [fooled] by the people in that community, who manipulate their environment quite well,” he said in another interview, with Radio-Canada.

the fifth estate: Inside Lev Tahor

An Ontario judge yesterday issued an emergency order that the children from the Lev Tahor community, who are at the centre of a custody case, be placed in the care of child services.

The community had been under investigation in Quebec for approximately 18 months for issues including hygiene, children's health and allegations that the children weren't learning according to the provincial curriculum.

A spokesman for the community has said Lev Tahor children are given religious education and has denied all allegations of mistreatment. The group says the other children, not subject to the order, have been traumatized by the experience.

Possible for families to flee
The entire sect — of which about 200 people, including about 130 children, are members — picked up and left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in November after Baraby’s department tried to take 14 of the children.
One of the children is 17 years old and is also a mother of an infant.

They left ahead of a late November court appearance in which the DPJ asked for the children to be placed in foster care, instead sending their lawyer.

The court decided in their absence to take the 14 children and compel the children’s parents to turn over their passports. However, the families had already fled to the town of Chatham, near Windsor, Ont., at that point.

On Feb. 3, an Ontario judge upheld the Quebec ruling ordering the children in question to be surrendered to child welfare authorities in Quebec, but also granted them a 30-day appeal period in which the children were permitted to stay with the family.

The judge also agreed to not order the placement of the 17-year-old mother into foster care.
And on Feb. 24, Quebec Superior Court denied the sect the right to appeal its November decision to have the children returned to Quebec to be placed in the custody of Youth Protection Services.

“In youth protection, normally, judgments take effect the moment they are rendered,” Baraby said, adding that the Ontario court neglected to take into consideration that the family had already fled once.

“They fled Quebec to avoid court, and [in Ontario] they gave them a delay of 30 days that allowed them to get ready to leave,” he said.

Families retain lawyer in Trinidad

The two families stopped in Trinidad retained lawyer Farai Hove Masaisai.

Female members of the Lev Tahor ultra-orthodox Jewish community walk to their home in Chatham, Ont., Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The sect is made up of about 200 members, including about 130 children. (Dave Chidley/CP)

Masaisai sent a letter to the country’s Minister of National Security in which he wrote that the members of LevTahor were being detained for no good reason.

In his letter, he also identified six members of the group as of Israeli nationality, while two have American citizenship and one has Canadian citizenship.

However, the Trinidad's attorney general said late Thursday three adults and six children from the sect had lost their attempt to prevent being returned to Canada. The group had filed an emergency petition of habeas corpus after they were stopped en route to Guatemala, but the High Court dismissed their claim. 

The Lev Tahor, which means "pure heart," came to Canada from Israel in 2005 after their spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was granted refugee status here.

The courts have heard that children's aid has intervened with the community in the past.

Children’s safety questioned
Jewish advocacy group B’Nai Brith Canada issued a statement Thursday expressing its concern for the welfare and safety of the Lev Tahor children.

“Lev Tahor is not representative of any branch of mainstream Judaism,” the statement read.

Baraby of the DPJ said that because the entire sect moved to Ontario, it’s up to local child protection services to take care of the other 120 or so children remaining in Chatham.

“In Quebec, we had started by bringing these two families to court. Our intent was to bring everybody to court because we felt that all the children were endangered while being in that community,” Baraby said.

The realtor for the remaining families in Chatham told CBC Windsor Thursday that they have not shared any plans with him to leave their property. 

He said the last time they seriously considered moving was in January, at which time they were considering properties in Manitoba and elsewhere in Ontario.

“I’m still preoccupied very much by the fate of the remaining children that are still in Chatham and who have not yet gotten the attention of youth protection over there,” Baraby said.

He said he is in contact with his counterpart at Chatham-Kent Children’s Services and has offered his team’s assistance in the Lev Tahor case.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press



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