The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s court ruled on Tuesday that the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox sect living in Guatemala is a “dangerous cult” that is abusing children.
“Based on the conduct of the sect toward minors, it’s sufficient to call this group a dangerous cult that severely damages the physical and emotional well-being of the children of this community,” Judge Rivka Makayes wrote in her ruling, according to Hebrew media reports.
Makayes called on state authorities to take action in order to return the children held illegally by the sect. While the verdict has no jurisdiction in Guatemala, it reflects an official position of the state toward those considering joining Lev Tahor.
The court ruling comes in response to a petition filed by the attorney general and several relatives of sect members.
The decision cited severe physical abuse, marriage of minors to spouses decades their elder, separation of children from their parents, denial of formal education and expulsion from the community of minors who do not conform to group’s rules as reasons behind her decision.
The judge added that members of the community are subject to decrees of long periods of fasting if the leading rabbi’s guidelines aren’t followed.
In order to reach her decision, Makayes relied on previous court rulings as well as the testimony from rights organizations that have investigated Lev Tahor in the past.
Makayes agreed with the petition that asked to categorize the ultra-Orthodox children illegally taken by their parents to Guatemala to join the group as “at-risk” minors.
While the ruling will have little effect on those already in Central America, Makayes hoped the decision will dissuade other ultra-Orthodox families from joining the group.
The group practices an extreme form of ultra-Orthodox Judaism started in the 1980s under which the women wear black head-to-toe cloaks similar to the Muslim chador.
Its adherents do not believe the State of Israel to be religiously legitimate.
The 500-strong sect has left Israel, Canada and the United States in recent years amid allegations of child abuse and has been dubbed “the Jewish Taliban.”
In 2014, Rodolfo Perez, the mayor of the town of San Juan La Laguna, where they set up, tried to evict them after disputes with neighbors, though he was later indicted for “participating in the expulsion of a religious community.” He was sentenced to a year in prison earlier this month.
During his trial, Perez argued he had given the expulsion order to end “a clash of cultures” with the community.