Bizarre kidnapping case

It is unfortunately not uncommon for the parent of a divorced or separated couple that was denied custody of the children to abduct the children. But one kidnapping case had so many bizarre and disturbing features that it merited some comment, the chief one being that the child who was kidnapped had been ‘married’ to one of the kidnappers, so it was simultaneously a wife kidnapping as well as a child kidnapping.

Four members of “extremist Jewish sect” Lev Tahor were arrested Friday and charged with kidnapping two children in upstate New York, the Department of Justice said. U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York’s Southern District charged Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner, Aron Rosner, and Jacob Rosner with kidnapping two children from Woodbridge, New York and transporting them to Mexico, with the eventual goal of returning them to the sect’s base in Guatemala. The children’s mother had fled the Guatemala compound six weeks before the kidnapping, reportedly fearing for the safety of her children, and gained legal custody of all six. The release notes that “Public news reports indicate that children in Lev Tahor are often subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.”

The search for the missing children took nearly three weeks.

The idea of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect making their headquarters in Guatemala was surprising in itself. The current leader of the sect is the brother of the woman who fled. Having a large number of children is strongly urged by Orthodox Jewish communities so having six children is not unusual. For the mother to be able to escape from that country with all six reveals a high level of careful planning and organization on her part coupled with a desperate need to escape, since women in such cults have very little freedom and money. Furthermore, the group kidnapped just two of the six children in the US and managed to escape from the US to Mexico with them which makes me wonder whether they managed to also steal the children’s passports or got them into Mexico without passports.

But what is most disturbing are the reports that the children of this sect are subject to all manner of abuse. This Lev Tahor group had been based in Canada but moved in 2014 to Guatemala because of investigations by Quebec authorities of child abuse. The arraignment of the four kidnapping suspects in a New York reveals more details, such as that the 14-year old girl had been ‘married’ to one of the kidnappers.

Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner, Aron Rosner and Jacob Rosner were all charged in a White Plains federal court, after two children, aged 12 and 14 were kidnapped from a residence in Woodridge, New York, and unlawfully transported to Mexico, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Helbrans, 36, is alleged to be the current leader of the sect, formerly headed by his father, Schlomo Helbrans.

The release goes on to say that Jacob Rosner, 20, “is considered within Lev Tahor to be the husband of the 14-year old” kidnapping victim.

The backstory of this group is also disturbing. The former leader of the group, the father of the current leader and the mother of the kidnapped children, was himself accused of kidnapping a young boy in 1994 in the US and after serving two years in prison was deported to Israel. He sought and obtained refugee status in Canada in 2003, claiming that he suffered persecution in Israel.

What is also strange is that it is not clear who the father of the six children is and what role he had in the kidnapping. He was not named in the proceedings but the mother had a protective order against him.

This kind of abuse of children and women is often the case with close-knit religious patriarchal cults of all kinds. The extreme levels of secrecy that is imposed on all members and the fact that all matters are dealt with internally by the ‘spiritual’ leader or a ‘religious council’ and any contact with outside authorities forbidden, is highly conducive to abusive behavior because the men feel that they have almost complete freedom to act as they wish.


  1. anat says

    Almost like the Yossele Schumacher affair on steroids.

    ‘Lev Tahor’ translates as ‘pure heart’ BTW.
    If the girl’s marriage was performed according to Halakha then regardless of its legal status, if she ever wishes to live within an Orthodox Jewish community (even a non-Haredi one) and have a marriage to anyone else that would be recognized by said community she would need a ‘get’ (religious decree of divorce) which she can only obtain from the ‘husband’.

  2. Owlmirror says

    The 3rd link also has this:

    He said that there had been three cases of 15-year-olds from his community getting married. They travelled to Missouri, where children can be married at 15 with the consent of their parent or guardian, to be married by a judge before returning to the community in Quebec. In Quebec, it’s not a crime for children under 16 years old to refer to themselves as being married; however, their union will not be recognized as valid.


    As anat says above, what would matter to Orthodox Jews would be the halakhic marriage, not any secular registration. But it’s interesting that they felt the need to get that secular record.

    Also, unrelatedly:

    Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis are opposed to the existence of the Israeli state, because they believe a state for the Jewish people can only be legitimately proclaimed by God and cannot happen until the day the Messiah arrives. But Friedman says other anti-Zionist Rabbis in Israel have taken their opposition much further than Helbrans, with some joining rabidly anti-Israel leaders in Iran, without facing persecution.

    I knew that there were anti-Zionists in Israel, but not about any links to Iran. Huh.

  3. Mano Singham says

    anat @#1,

    Thanks for that link. It is quite extraordinary how so many people were willing to be involved in the concealment of Yossele Schumacher. Just shows how strong the bonds are within these communities.

  4. kestrel says

    When I first started reading the post, I thought for sure it would be about Mormon fundamentalists, or usually, polygamists. I grew up in UT and actually had polygamist neighbors. I’m sad to know that other religions have this same thing going -- basically pedophilia and child abuse that has been legitimized by religion. And yet I keep hearing about all the good religion has done in the world… I remain skeptical.

  5. Owlmirror says

    As anat says above, what would matter to Orthodox Jews would be the halakhic marriage, not any secular registration. But it’s interesting that they felt the need to get that secular record.

    After typing the above, I realized that of course it was with the intention of getting secular authorities to back away if there were complaints to police/child services about adults having sex with minors. “They are husband and wife! Legally married! See, official marriage license from state of Missouri!”

  6. purrs says

    @Crip Dyke
    It definitely feels extra bad to find out the perpetrator(s) were Jewish. There’s the element of “it’s terrible that someone did that”, and then there’s the element of “how dare *you* do that, you’re giving antisemites more ammunition”. It’s like, *yelling at the nonexistent sky man* it’s already fucked that the crime happened, you had to rub salt in the wound?

    (The feeling is bad enough when it’s an intracommunity thing, but when a Jewish person wrongs a non-Jewish person, it’s worse. There’s a joke about finding a dead presumed-non-Jewish child just outside a Jewish area, and everyone panicking until someone comes in saying “good news! she was Jewish!”)

    Of course, on the other hand, I have no doubt that Jewish communities have at times dealt with this by covering up crimes, because they’ve decided that not pursuing justice is better than the chance that people might be more antisemitic. Which, fuck that with a cactus.

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