Ultra Orthodox cult leaders arrested in Guatemala over child kidnapping allegations

Ultra Orthodox cult leaders arrested in Guatemala over child kidnapping allegations
2 min read
07 July, 2021
Leaders of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Haredi cult have been arrested in Guatemala, and accused of conspiracy to kidnap a minor and other charges.
Lev Tahor members previously lived in Canada, before they fled to Guatemala [Getty/ Archive]

US police and local Guatemalan law enforcement on Tuesday evening raided a compound belonging to the extremist ultra-Orthodox Haredi Lev Tahor cult, according to reports by Globes

Police arrested at least three top cult officials in the village of El Amatillo, according to Guatemalan authorities. 

Two of the men arrested were brothers Yoel and Shmuel Weingarten, according to The Jerusalem Post, who reportedly both hold US citizenship and will be deported to the US to face charges.

Guatemalan National Civil Police accused the men of "conspiracy to kidnap, illegal use of identification or entering with false pretences, the securing of an airport area, and helping and inducing the international kidnapping of a minor."

The Lev Tahor cult has been accused of kidnapping young girls, child abuses and forcing girls, some as young as 12, into marriages with older men. 

The Guatemalan compound of the Lev Tahor cult has been raided a number of times by US and Guatemalan forces, mainly related to charges of child abuse of kidnapping. 

The group's leader, Yaakov Weinstein, was arrested last March and in 2019. Four of the group's members were indicted for kidnapping two children, while the son of the cult's founder, Nachman Helbrans, was charged earlier this year for arranging a marriage between a 12-year-old girl and an 18-year-old man.

At the time, the US Justice Department described how young brides were to "to have sex with their husbands, to tell people outside Lev Tahor that they were not married, to pretend to be older, and to deliver babies inside their homes instead of at a hospital, partially to conceal from the public the mothers' young ages."

The group was founded in the 1980s by Slomo Helbrans, and following convictions in the US, the group moved to Israel and then to Canada, before finally fleeing to Guatemala. 

Shlomo Helbrans drowned in Mexico in 2017, leaving control of the group in the hands of his son, who was reported to hold even more extremest views. 

Due to the fervent devotion to Judaism and some of their more extreme practices, the group has often been referred to as the "Jewish Taliban".