The Lev Tahor Families

lev tahor children

CANADA — Ontario Children’s Aid authorities have launched a legal battle to seize custody of 14 child members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor and send them into foster care in Quebec. As of December 2013, the situation was unresolved, and had grown into an international incident.

In November 2013, 40 families from the Lev Tahor group “fled Quebec and re-located to Chatham amid a social services investigation,” CTV News reported. A Quebec court had ordered 14 children from the orthodox Jewish group into foster care.

The Religion News Service explains that about 150 members of the group Lev Tahor “decamped from a village north of Montreal to Chatham, Ontario, about 200 miles southwest of Toronto. Comprising about 40 families, the sect fled just before a Quebec court ordered 14 children into foster care. The children, from three families, range in age from 2 months to 16 years.”

The article continues on to explain that: “Quebec authorities said they had evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor health care and an education curriculum that fell below the province’s standards.”

As the story progressed, some among the mainstream press were quick to brand the group as “radical” due to its orthodox beliefs, the Toronto Star among them. Nevertheless, the Star itself conceded that: “Officials have said they were unable to find any evidence of direct child physical abuse.”

The Toronto Star, in the same article, went on to describe a statement posted by the group on its web site as “rambling and often difficult-to-understand,” even as it conceded parenthetically that “most members speak only Yiddish or Hebrew.”

The Times of Israel pulled no punches in its coverage of the story, branding the group as a “Taliban-style Hasidic sect,” while going so far as to castigate their religious leader as holding out an “extremist ultra-Orthodox” philosophy.

“The Quebec social services found very minor things, like a single dirty mattress. They did not find any evidence of abuse, none. They found a few minor issues and we are cooperating fully to fix them. The only reason we left was because of education,” the group’s leader, Shlomo Helbrans said to reporters from The Times of Israel.

That seems to be the crucial point that is lost on many who have provided coverage of the story. Indeed, film crews and photographs reveal children who appear to happy and healthy, at work, at prayer, and at play.

Other reports would appear to bear this out. In early December, a justice of the peace in Chatham denied permission to the Children’s Aid Society to remove the children from the Lev Tahor group’s homes. The Children’s Aid Society appealed, and a hearing was set for December 23. However, CBC News Windsor reported on December 16 that two children had been removed by Children’s Aid, the order of the justice of the peace notwithstanding.

Apparently another court did not share the concerns of the Children’s Aid Society when it came to the drastic step of removing children from the community. On December 17, CTV News reported that:

Children belonging to the Jewish sect Lev Tahor will be returned to their parents with conditions, after being taken into protective custody by Chatham-Kent Children’s Services last week.

CTV’s Rich Garton was at a Chatham-Kent courthouse where a decision was made Tuesday, to return the children to their families. Two children were removed by child services on Thursday.

On December 23, CTV News reported that a judge ruled the media could have access to the story, as well as court documents related to the case, as the matter was one of public interest. This came with the stipulation that names of witnesses and the children would go unreported. That court was also apparently unsympathetic to the urgency of the concerns raised by the Children’s Aid Society, as the case was adjourned until January 10 of 2014.

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