Lev Tahor: Raids may have sought evidence of child marriages

Montreal — A leader with the radical Jewish group Lev Tahor believes a police raid on the homes of two members Wednesday may have been in search of evidence of illegal child marriages.

The minimum age that someone can marry in Canada is 16 and while Lev Tahor members say that they respect the law, they believe children as young as 13 should be able to marry.

Nachman Helbrans, the son of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the group’s spiritual leader, says he suspects police were looking for original copies of marriage contracts alleged to have involved members below the minimum legal age.

Helbrans told the Star in an email his best guess is that police were trying to verify the authenticity of “unsigned drafts” of marriage contracts that are in the possession of a renegade former member, Adam Brudzewsky.

“The timing may be connected to our advice to the (Children’s Aid Society) that after six months of humiliating investigation of the innocent mothers, boys and girls, it is time to draw (a) conclusion rather than paralyzing the innocent families,” he said.

The search warrants that were obtained by the Sûreté du Québec led the provincial force to the former homes of Lev Tahor members in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., as well as to the Chatham-Kent, Ont., homes of Nachman Helbrans and Mayer Rosner. Rosner acts as a director or administrator for Lev Tahor.

Police would not say what they were searching for or what alleged crimes they are investigating, but they are believed to have seized computer equipment and some paper files. A spokesperson for the SQ said the search warrant has been sealed from the public while the investigation runs its course.

Brudzewsky, the former Lev Tahor member, told a Quebec court hearing last November that he had personally witnessed at least seven underage marriages performed when he lived with the group between 2009 and 2011 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal.

That hearing, which resulted in an order permitting child-welfare officials to take 14 Lev Tahor children into foster care, also heard that one of the children, who is now 17 years old and the mother of a young baby, is believed to have been married off at the age of 14 to a man in his 30s who had children from a previous marriage.

Brudzewsky himself was 25 when he married his 15-year-old bride in a ceremony he said was arranged by Rabbi Helbrans.

“It was common when I was there,” Brudzewsky said. “It was the stated goal of the community to perform marriages at the age of 13.”

Nachman Helbrans told the Times of Israel in December that no marriage ceremonies have been conducted in Canada involving children younger than 16. He added some parents have taken their teens to the state of Missouri, where individuals as young as 15 can be married.

He said in his email Thursday: “I will be proud to defend our legal and moral Marriage Policy in any relevant court.”

The first indications of a criminal probe into Lev Tahor’s activities come just days before an Ontario judge is set to rule on whether Ontario child-welfare authorities have the jurisdiction to carry out the Quebec court’s foster-care order.

About 200 members of the group fled Quebec for Ontario in mid-November, saying they objected to a provincial education system that forced them to teach their home-schooled children about such topics as homosexuality and evolutionary theory. The group is now appealing the foster-care ruling on the grounds that the children were no longer residents of Quebec when the judge’s order was made.