Quebec’s juvenile court on Thursday ruled that 14 children from the Jewish sect known as Lev Tahor are to be placed in foster care for a month. Their parents will only be allowed to visit them under supervision of social services, and other adults from the group not at all.
Last week, 200 members of the extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish group left Quebec for the neighboring Canadian province of Ontario, claiming they would have more freedom to practice their religious lifestyle there.
The judge, Pierre Hamel, ordered an immediate examination of the children by doctors and psychologists. Social agencies in Montreal have found Jewish families to house the children, many of whom speak only Yiddish or Hebrew.
The fathers of the children did not appear in court for the hearing.
The ruling’s timing remains unclear, as the Quebec court does not have jurisdiction in the province of Ontario. Denis Baraby, director of youth protection services for the Laurentians, a region in Quebec, told the Montreal Gazette that extricating the children from the grips of the community in Ontario may be tricky.
“Ontario authorities can take this decision now and get an order from a court,” Baraby said. “We think there is a high possibility they will return them here.”
Rachel Lichtenstein, director of the Israel Cult Victims Council, said the ruling was not surprising. “Once the five children were removed last year, after their father left the group, it was inevitable that more would follow.”
Most of the members of Lev Tahor — Hebrew for “pure heart” — have no contact with the outside world, but in the past couple of years two members have abandoned the cult and described its abusive lifestyle.
“Only then did we begin to understand the level of abuse and neglect within the community,” said Lichtenstein. “The children placed under protection of the court were in serious condition. Their clothes were moldy, their toes crooked from wearing shoes that were too small, they had serious fungal infections on their legs and broken teeth. When the foster parent called the names of the children, they would cover their faces because they anticipated getting hit.”
According to Montreal paper La Presse, a former member of the group told the family court about beatings he was required to give the children. After his wife became pregnant, her sister reported her for going without shoes in the couple’s apartment. This violated one of the group’s rules. As punishment, the pregnant woman was denied contact with her parents and threatened with having her baby put up for adoption.
The former member and his wife often cared for children from other families whose children were taken from them.
Oded Twik, an Israeli whose sister has been a member of the group for eight years, said his nieces and nephews lived in a series of homes within the group over a period of years. The children were only returned to their mother for a month or two at a time.