The Lev Tahor cult was founded by Shlomo Helbrans, an Israeli citizen, in the 1980's with seven members. Helbrans moved his anti-Zionist community to the United States, where he was convicted in 1994 for kidnapping a 13-year-old Israeli boy who was sent to study with him in preparation for the boy's bar mitzvah, for which he served two years in prison. During this time he was accused by a few former community members of child abuse, serving various medications including anti-psychotics, and using various heinous punishments on his followers. He was deported back to Israel, but in 2001 he fled to Canada where he wrongfully received political asylum under Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to which he claimed he was entitled due to perceived persecution by Israeli authorities for his anti-Zionist teachings. Helbrans used false evidence to obtain this refugee status, paying the kidnapped boy to testify on his behalf. He reestablished his community in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec.
In 2011, the Lev Tahor group came into conflict with the local school board, which took issue with the fact that the children of the group had not been registered in the local schools, and the children were not educated in accordance with the curriculum required by Quebec law. In April 2013, the leaders of the Lev Tahor community developed a contingency plan in the event that the authorities would initiate action and seek to apprehend the children. That August, 21 child services workers began knocking on doors. According to Denis Baraby, director of youth protection services in the area, they discovered some houses that were dirty, had 4–5 children sleeping in one bedroom, some mattresses soaked in urine, and children with fungus on their feet. They began weekly visits.
Quebec police issued search warrants in relation to allegations that members of Lev Tahor sect inflicted psychological and physical abuse on teenage girls. The abuses allegedly involved girls as young as 13 who were imprisoned in basements, and girls aged 14–15 who were married to older men in the group. One woman said she was struck with a belt and a coat hanger, and a pregnant 17-year-old girl said she was beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father, and married by force to a 30-year-old man when she was 15. On November 27, 2013, a Quebec court ruled that 14 children of the group must be placed in foster care, and arrangements were made for the children to be placed in Yiddish-speaking foster homes. On February 21, a Quebec court ruled the group did not have the right to appeal the previous ruling of a Quebec court, because they failed to file the appeal within a 30-day period, and soon, Canadian authorities began to seek custody of children of Lev Tahor members.
In November 2013, amid clashes with the education authorities, most members of the group left for Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario, amid the ongoing allegations of child neglect. Quebec child-protection authorities sought to place the children in the care of Jewish-Quebecer foster-care families, and had been taking steps to prevent the 127 children from leaving Canada.
On March 5th, 2014, after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice effectuated a ruling of the Superior Court of Quebec as to the disposition of their children under Quebec child-protection law, about 15 members of the group left for Trinidad and Tobago in an attempt to flee to Guatemala.
A group of nine people was intercepted at Trinidad and Tobago. The following day, at least two adults and six children from the group arrived in Guatemala. On 6 March, an Ontarian judge ordered that the 14 children of the two families that fled be placed in foster homes in Ontario, while they waited for the appeal to be heard in court. Two days later, six children of Lev Tahor from two families, their parents, and another adult, were repatriated in Canada after fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago. The following day, a mother less than 18 years old tried to flee to Guatemala with part of her family. She was arrested in Calgary and brought back to Ontario with her baby. On March 14th, three adults and six children who fled to Guatemala appeared before a judge in Panajachel. The judge decided to leave the children with their family. On March 17th, a judge in Guatemala ruled that six children who had fled would be allowed to remain in Guatemala, provided that they check in with the Canadian Embassy within three days. This requirement was later overturned on appeal on March 26th, allowing the group to stay without conditions for up to three months. A majority of the group's members subsequently settled in the tourist town San Juan La Laguna on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. The group again refused to send their children to local schools or participate in the community.
In July 2017, Mexican media outlets reported that Helbrans had drowned in a river while participating in a ritual immersion. A Mexican Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that an official from the Israeli consulate in Mexico headed to the southern state of Chiapas to confirm the death and to identify Helbrans's body. Control of Lev Tahor was left in the hands of Helbrans' more extreme-minded son Nachman Helbrans.
In December 2018, U.S. authorities charged Shlomo Nachman's son, Nachman Helbrans, age 39 at the time, and Mayer Rosner, age 45 at the time, US citizens from Guatemala with kidnapping two grandchildren of Shlomo Helbrans, whose mother had fled the community after she was ostracized for objecting to her 13-year-old daughter being married to an older man. An FBI agent stated in a court document that two children, a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, were kidnapped from Woodridge, New York, and transported to Scranton, Pennsylvania. They were then flown to Mexico City, in the charge of Lev Tahor members.
Members of Lev Tahor applied for political asylum in Iran in late December of 2018, and swore allegiance to the state's supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
On November 10th, 2021, Nachman Helbrans and Mayer Rosner were convicted on six different counts following a four-week jury trial of child sexual exploitation offenses and kidnapping. Helbrans and Rosner were convicted of: Conspiring to transport a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; Conspiring to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct; Two counts of international parental kidnapping; Conspiring to commit international parental kidnapping. Helbrans was also convicted of an additional count of international parental kidnapping. When they are sentenced, both men could face life in prison. No return court date has been announced as of yet.
In November 2021 a group of about 70 members reached Kurdistan in an attempt to make their way to Iran, but were detained by Iraqi officials and deported to Turkey. From there they left for Bucharest, Romania where they were turned back to Turkey.
Lev Tahor has been accused by its numerous critics (including former followers, estranged families of followers, religious scholars, and law enforcement officials) of child abuse, brainwashing, drug use and forced marriages of teenage girls to men as many as 20 years their senior. The group has been referred to as "Jewish Taliban" by the Israeli, Jewish and international press.
This cult is involved in child sexual and physical abuse on a large scale. Underage victims, girls and boys (some as young as 12), are routinely forced to marry other minors or adults. The children persevere ongoing mistreatment, beatings, starvation, complete isolation and other tortures. These tortures are routinely used as a method of control on minors and adults alike.