Members of Lev Tahor in Guatemala.
(photo credit: JORGE LOPEZ)
The Labor and Social Services Ministry on Tuesday called on Israeli members of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor, or “Pure Heart” cult to “come home,” offering each family unprecedented absorption benefits.
The ministry appealed to dozens of families in the sect with the hope they will return to Israel following the death of their leader, Rabbi Shlomo Erez Helbrans, who drowned in Mexico two weeks ago. A statement from the ministry referred to the members as “victims” of the cult and emphasized the large number of children among them.
The benefits offered include flights to Israel, immediate residency and entitlement to children’s health insurance, financial support, housing assistance for a year, the placement of children in educational frameworks, the provision of tools and skills for an independent livelihood and psychological treatment.
The offered benefits are the result of cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry as well as the police.
Sometimes described in the media as the “Jewish Taliban,” Lev Tahor was founded in the 1980s and practices an extreme form of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. It also advocates anti-Zionism.
In April, an Israeli court ruled that Lev Tahor was a “dangerous cult” because it was physically and emotionally abusing the children in its community.
The ministry categorizes the cult, which has some 50-60 Israeli member-families, as “harmful.” Some 150 children are among the Israeli members of the sect who left Israel for Canada, then moved to Guatemala and later to Mexico.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz said: “We will adapt a program for each family according to its individual needs and we will meet all the necessary requirements for their optimal integration in Israel. We also ask family members who are in contact with members of the sect to inform them that the state wants them to return.”