UPDATE:: Israel offers unprecedented benefits to bring home Jewish cultists_
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.
To the roughly 200 Lev Tahor adherents who followed their charismatic rabbi from country to country, Shlomo Helbrans knew the path to eternal truth. To his numerous detractors, he was a dangerous charlatan who deserved to be locked up.
Now, after Helbrans drowned last week in Mexico at age 55, the future of the cult-like group has been cast into doubt, and a path that has jumped from Israel to the United States, Canada, Guatemala and Mexico looks less clear than ever.
“There is now a power vacuum,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania who has been watching the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect for about a decade.
She said it would be hard for anyone to replace Helbrans, particularly when his death was so sudden. “The attachment to a charismatic leader in a very isolated group that engages in illegal practices is so strong,” she said.
Drowning of Lev Tahor leader raises fears over ultra-Orthodox sect’s future | National Post