A member of the Hasidic Lev Tahor cult has escaped Israel and traveled to Guatemala, his lawyer said Tuesday, six months after he was indicted for abusive behavior against 9- and 10-year-old children.
Rabbi Elazar Rompler, 46, was charged in May at the Jerusalem District Court with assaulting and abusing children mentally and physically in 2009-2011, when he served as the principal of a school belonging to the fringe community in Canada.
A former cult member has said Rompler, who was in charge of kashrut, would starve children by forbidding them from eating almost everything. He also allegedly barred some from taking medicine — even when urgently needed — without his written approval.
In one case, according to the indictment, Rompler had a child stripped, tied up and beaten for several hours over suspicions he stole money from a charity money box.
In another, he is accused of instructing other teachers to hold a child down and beat him repeatedly for allegedly lying about needing eyeglasses.
Rompler left a 17-page letter with his lawyer, Gabriel Tronisoili, who updated the court on the development Tuesday, shortly before a hearing that had been scheduled in the case.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Rompler managed to leave Israel.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, has frequently relocated to escape criminal accusations.
In 2014 it moved from Canada to Guatemala following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages. In 2017, members are believed to have crossed the border to Mexico, although they have since reportedly returned to Guatemala.
Rompler was arrested in December 2019 after arriving in Israel for unspecified reasons.
But despite having an order against him barring him from leaving Israel, Rompler managed to travel to Guatemala, claiming he wouldn’t receive a fair trial and that he wanted to see his family.
“He emphasizes that this isn’t out of disrespect for the court, but due to his feeling that in light of pressure on him and on everything to do with Lev Tahor, he won’t receive a fair trial and will be forced to go through a prolonged legal proceeding while under restrictive conditions and unable to see his wife and kids,” Tronisoili wrote in a document handed to the court.
Tronisoili asked the court to delay the hearing. Prosecutors asked for 30 days to look into the matter.
Other Lev Tahor members have been previously indicted in the United States over child abuse, including kidnappings and underage marriages. Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common. The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.