In an isolated snow-swept town near Windsor, Ontario, the controversial Lev Tahor community is struggling to hold itself together amid allegations of child abuse and other legal irregularities. The lonely collection of houses, the groups of women dressed in black burkas, the unflinching devotion to a leader seen as a direct link to G-d, the tightly controlled yet perfectly behaved children, the self-imposed isolation, the hours-long prayers, the teenaged brides, the rickety shelves lined with rows of vitamins — all paint a picture that captured headlines but still remains a mystery to most.
Now the group, under the charismatic — and some say dictatorial — leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, is fighting to retain more than a dozen children that a Quebec court ordered removed from their families, due to charges of unlawful confinement and physical abuse. Rabbi Helbrans’s own wife Malka reportedly fled to Israel after allegedly being beaten by the rabbi’s followers when she took a public stand against child punishment tactics.
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