'I've been in Lev Tahor for 12 years, and it's a living hell'

Teen who grew up in fringe religious group describes life in the group. Adult escapee says drowned rabbi wasn't in charge.

Tags: Lev Tahor
Arutz Sheva Staff ,


After the leader of ultra-stringent group "Lev Tahor" drowned in Mexico, first-hand accounts from members of the group or those who lived near them began to circulate.

One 14-year-old boy, who belongs to the Sadigora hasidic court, spoke to Kikar Hashabbat about violence towards himself and his friends.

In a video taken two weeks ago - before Rabbi Shlomo Halberantz drowned - by a delegate who infiltrated the group and was sent by the boy's relatives, the boy can be heard speaking about the difficult life he and the other children in the community face.

The boy's parents are still part of "Lev Tahor," were mesmerized by Halberantz and joined his community.

"I've lived with Lev Tahor for twelve and a half years, and I want to tell them everything," the boy said, stuttering and with a low grade vocabulary. "I live there. This hell that everyone says isn't real? It's real. I want to tell you... I want to tell you about all the things that happened in Lev Tahor."

"I wrote this note, it talks about all the things I want to tell you. A lot of bad things happened here. First of all I want to tell you about A. He's a bad teacher. He did a lot of bad things with the children. He punched the children, kicked the children, and did a lot of bad things."

The boy then listed more of the group's leaders, explaining that one of them "killed a baby and another person, he punches and kicks the children." Later, he spoke about some of the group's more known personalities, who violently undressed the children and brutally hit them.

The boy also described horrific things which were done by one of the leaders to one of the children, but at some point he stopped himself and said, "I can't tell you more things that B did to C... He did a lot of very bad things."

About himself, he said, "They undressed me, beat me and kicked me many times, and they did a lot of bad things to me. At first I thought they were good Jews, but afterwards I saw that they are bad people, especially what D did to E."

Relatives of people who joined "Lev Tahor" told Kikar Hashabbat that they had recently begun placing pressure on Knesset members - including the haredi MKs - to remove the children from the group. However, their pleas went unheard.

"We beg the State of Israel, please remove the children from there. They are Israeli citizens, and the State must help them and use all the necessary resources to ensure that this abuse stops," one relative said.

Another relative said, "The State of Israel is silencing the agonizing crimes being done, because the children are haredi, and there is no one to speak for them. If it was a secular child, named Roni or Yaron, the State would have rescued them a long time ago."

R., who was raised by Halberantz's and later escaped, said, "I am in shock. I'm broken and very sad that our leader died. I'm not emotionally ready for all of this. I was the first child born in Rabbi Halberantz's community, when we were still in Tzfat. The rabbi was my sandek (person who holds the child during the circumcision). When I was two years old, my parents moved to the US together with the rabbi. It was in the 90s, a few years before the Gulf War."

"I am bleeding inside. I know from inside how everything works, and the person who controlled the community for the past twenty years was not Rabbi Halberantz but Meir Rosner, who took control over the community and is now their leader. 80% of the mess created in the past 20 years is because of him.

"It's true that Rabbi Halberantz was extreme and a separatist, and it's true that our policy was always to stick with the rebbe, but Rosner took it to a place that's really not good. It's not healthy at all. All of the abuse and the harassment is because of Rosner, so the cult won't change at all."

On Friday, Halberantz drowned in a river in Mexico's Chiapas province while immersing himself ritually in the river in preparation for Shabbat (Sabbath).