Are the Lev Tahor Orthodox or Hassidic?

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Lev Tahor members in Chatam Ont.

Lev Tahor members in Chatam Ont.

by Zvi Hershcovitch,
Republished with permission

With recent intense media coverage of the allegations of abuse against the Lev Tahor and their dramatic move from St. Agathe to Chatham, Ont., many Outremont/Mile End Hassidim have been alarmed at how many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, are assuming that the Lev Tahor (LT) are Hassidic.

This confusion is understandable. The Lev Tahor men dress in a Hassidic style and are depicted in the media as “Ultra-Orthodox” and even “Hassidic”.

A screenshot of Lacerte's article

A screenshot of Lacerte’s article

Unsurprisingly, Pierre Lacerte, the anti-Hassidic blogger, gleefully takes this perception even further. In November 2013 he posted a photo of a couple that had escaped the LT cult with a caption that read, “Hassidic Taliban on Durocher”, insinuating that this is a normal sight in Outremont. (As an aside, the woman in the picture has since abandoned the black garb). In the accompanying article, as in others, he desperately tries to tie Lev Tahor together with, what he calls, the “fundamentalist” or “extremist” Hassidim of Outremont.

Because of this, we feel an obligation to clarify this faulty perception once and for all. We won’t discuss the child abuse allegations brought against LT, nor are we going to advocate for any action to be taken against their followers who might be innocently entrapped in that cult. We leave that to the authorities. We are simply going to point out how depicting them as “Ultra-Orthodox” or “Hassidic” might be inappropriate and inaccurate.

Are the Lev Tahor Orthodox let alone “Ultra”-Orthodox?

The word “Orthodox” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “Following or conforming to the traditional or generally accepted rules or beliefs of a religion, philosophy, or practice.” With that in mind, let’s examine whether LT can legitimately define itself as that.

  1. LT’s full black garb from head-to-toe for women and girls from age 3 up: Although Judaism in general and Hassidism in particular ask that women dress modestly, it also puts a strong emphasis on women dressing in an elegant and royal manner. Never in Jewish history was there a time that women, let alone young girls, wore black from head to toe as part of the Jewish tradition. The only recorded instance of women wearing this style of black robe was when they were living in some Arab lands and conformed to local dress codes.
  2. LT’s shunning of Talmud study: Former members relate, that in LT, followers are taught to avoid Talmudic study; anybody caught studying Talmud is disciplined, thus depriving them of very basic critical thinking skills and knowledge. While many customs and rituals might differentiate between one Orthodox/Hassidic group and the other, there is one basic tenet that unifies them all, it is the belief in the Oral Torah with the Talmud at its core. The study of Talmud and the traditional Code of Law that is derived from it, is seen, from the most Modern Orthodox communities to the most pious Ultra-Orthodox groups, as one of the most important components of Jewish education that has been handed down from generation to generation for over 2000 years. Why would Lev Tahor ban this study? Perhaps because Talmudic study demands constant questioning and debating. It is this rigorous intellectual pursuit that cult leaders want to avoid at all costs; they don’t need their followers to have any questions regarding their leadership. They also don’t want their followers to have the knowledge to disparage their outlandish interpretations of traditional Jewish law.
  3. Lev Tahor rips families apart: In traditional Judaism, even when one chooses a stricter way of life, the obligation to respect one’s parents is of utmost importance. It is one of the Ten Commandments. Former members relate how in Lev Tahor, followers are dissuaded from keeping contact with parents and relatives living outside the community. Subsequently, many families have been ripped apart by their children joining Lev Tahor.

Is Lev Tahor Hassidic?

Lev Tahor members wear the garments of Hassidic Jews but they have very little in common with the Hassidic traditions.

  1. One of the core Hassidic tenets – taught by its founder, the Baal Shem Tov – is the importance of serving G-D with joy, happiness and zest. In contrast, according to the testimony of former members, Lev Tahor uses severe punishments to enforce their strict interpretations of traditions.
  2. Part of Hassidic tradition is to choose a Rabbi – a spiritual leader – that one feels inclined to follow. It’s common practice even amongst the most pious Hassidim to leave one Rabbi to follow another in the search for the right fit. In Lev Tahor, however, those who attempt to leave their community are severely intimidated and punished. Former members relate, how in LT, followers end up relinquishing control of their bodies as well as their finances. The leadership alone decides who will marry who, and the leadership alone controls all the finances of all the individuals of the community.

Is Lev Tahor a cult?

The Oxford dictionary defines a cult as “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.” After reading all the above it is self-evident that Lev Tahor perfectly fits this description.

We truly hope that the media come to this realization and will consider specifying that Lev Tahor is simply a “cult,” thus clearing up the confusion of seeing them as Hassidim or Orthodox.

It important to note that since Lev Tahor moved to Quebec about a decade ago, the Montreal Hassidic community has looked upon Lev Tahor as simply a bizarre and weird but innocent community. Out of pity we have sometimes offered them charity. Only once some members began leaving LT did some of the details start to leak out. It was then that several prominent Hassidic and Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis have come out and officially condemned LT conduct as being against traditional Judaism and the Hassidic community came to the realization that the leaders of Lev Tahor are much more sinister and dangerous than previously perceived.

8 comments (5 comments in English, 3 comments in French)

Pour lire ou poster un commentaires en français allez à "Les Lev Tahor sont-ils des orthodoxes ou des hassidiques?"

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  1. Leona
    May 11, 2014

    Bravo for clarifying this misconception, this story is causing unimaginable damage to your community, I heard so many people who think all hasidic are like Lev Tahor.

    The Lapresse recently did a poll asking Quebecker`s about their attitude towards Hassidic Jews and the results a shocking 56% have negative feelings towards the hassidic, the pollster Youri Rivest attributed those results to the recent headlines about Lev Tahor, most quebecers dont have any contact with hassidic their only exposure is thru the media, that is why you need to get this message across to all the media outlets.

    here`s the lapresse article|_0

    • Cheskie Weiss
      May 11, 2014

      Thanks Leona for your comment, that’s exactly why we decided to republish this article. Please forward this to your friends and colleagues.

  2. David Leiberman
    May 11, 2014

    Thanks for clarifying this for so many.
    I wholly support the Hassidic community of Montreal, yet was under the impression LT were on the fringe of the Hassidic movement.

    Have you approached the Gazette and La Presse with this piece? It is well written and thorough.

    Best regards,
    David Lieberman

  3. Gordon Martin
    May 11, 2014

    In this “international” world of trade, television and travel I cannot understand people like Lacerte. Years ago I hoped that he would “get a life”. Alas his nitpicking seems to continue. One of the delights of this neighbourhood is its variety and congeneality. I know nothing about Lev Tahor. But they appear to be off the rails and must be dealt with according to the laws of the land. We have enjoyed the presence of the Hassidim for the 36 years we have lived here. They add to the texture and character of Hutchison. Best wishes to all!

  4. Laura Thomson
    May 24, 2014

    Along with poster David Lieberman above, I would urge you to try to share this illuminating article with The Gazette, La Presse, Le Devoir, Journal de Montreal, etc.

    After all the negative press wrongly implicating Hassidim and incorrect assumptions about Lev Tahor’s affiliations, let’s hope people will read and believe the truth with equal interest.

    It saddens me to think that some elements of our society are still so ready to jump to negative conclusions about their neighbours. Actually, it not only saddens but embarrasses me and makes me ashamed.