Shlomo Erez Helbrans (born in 1962 as Erez Shlomo Elbarnes) is the leader of the Lev Tahor community. He is an Anti-Zionist and claims to have modeled his group after the Satmar Hasidic movement. Originally having established his community in Israel, he and his non-Zionist community went to the United States where he was convicted for kidnapping in 1994 and served a two-year prison term before being deported to Israel in 2000. He then settled in Canada, where his community settled in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, for 12 years. In November 2013, amid clashes with the education authorities most members of the group (claiming religious persecution) left for Ontario.
A native of Jerusalem′s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. He was born to Pinchas and Yocheved Elbarnes, secular Jews. Around his 13th birth date, he became a religious boy and than study at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
On the 1988's he was part of the 'Arachim' lecturers who preaching and advocating Jewish religious studies for secular Jews. After few years, he established a independent Yeshiva named Lev Tahor.
Motivated by his anti Zionist views, Helbrans and his community went to the United States in 1990, where he continued leading the Orthodox group and taught some students at a small Lev Tahor yeshiva in Brooklyn.
In 1994 he was accused of aiding a 13 year religious Child named Shay Fima (or Shay Reuven) to hide himself from his secular mother due to religious conflicts. Helbrans denied any involvement. However after 2 years the FBI decided to bring him before trial, Shay Fima Reuven take the stand as a witness and describe his running and hiding with the involvement of Helbrans. However the jury found him guilty he was convicted. He was originally sentenced to four to 12 years in prison, but in June 1996 an appeals court, while not accepting his innocence, reduced the sentence to two to six years due to good faith. Three days later, he was placed in the work release program. After protests, since Helbrans lost his permanent resident status and was not allowed to work in the US, he was moved back to prison until the end of his two years term.
The high-profile case drew much attention in Israel and in the U.S., and gained further attention when Helbrans successfully convinced New York prison authorities to waive their requirement that all prisoners be shaved for a photograph upon entering prison, a violation of strict Jewish law in his opinion, and to accept a computer-generated image of what he would have looked like clean-shaven instead.
After the State Parole Board decided in November 1996 to release Helbrans after two years in prison, the case rose to near scandal with suspicions that the Pataki administration was providing him special treatment.
After his release from prison, Helbrans ran a yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y., and due to the lose of his status he was deported to Israel in 2000. He then settled in Canada, where in 2003 he was granted refugee status, finding that he will be persecuted in Israel due to his religious political beliefs.
Helbrans' community, Lev Tahor, is considered extreme by other Jewish groups. In Israel, it is nicknamed “Jewish Taliban” and “the Taliban sect.” The group has followers in Israel, particularly in the city of Bet Shemesh, in Europe, in the U.S., and in Canada.
In November 2013, Quebec authorities summoned Lev Tehor members to court on allegations that their homeschooling was not compliant with Quebec's education standards. A few days later, community members fled to Ontario, settling in the municipality of Chatham-Kent. On November 27, 2013, a youth court judge in Quebec ordered that 14 children from the sect be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical exams and receive psychological support. The hearing, in the St. Jérôme courthouse, took place in the absence of the Lev Tahor parents. The families sent a lawyer instead. The order was not immediately enforced because the Parents were resident of Ontario triggering a long legal battle. However on February 3, 2014, an Ontario Judge decided to send back the 14 children to Quebec, while pending an appeal the parents and children left Canada, some were returned, triggering another legal battle still pending.
- Oz Rosenberg (5 October 2011). "Court to rule on legality of Israeli ultra-Orthodox 'Taliban sect'". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Joseph P. Fried (23 November 1994). "Rabbi Given Prison Term In Kidnapping Of Teen-Ager". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Eric J. Greenberg (1 May 1998). "Pataki’s Con-Tacts?". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Clifford J. Levy (26 April 1998). "U.S. Asks Whether Leniency for Rabbi Had Link to a Pataki Backer". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- George James (29 December 2004). "Computer Replaces Razor For Rabbi's Prison Picture". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- "Rabbi Is Deported 5 Years After Conviction, Lawyer Says". The New York Times. 12 May 2000. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Sheldon Gordon (3 September 2004). "Convicted of Kidnapping, Rabbi Faces Deportation". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- Benjamin Shingler (24 November 2013). "Authorities monitor Jewish sect under investigation for alleged child neglect". The Gazette. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
- "Judge orders 14 Lev Tahor children placed in foster care". Canada MSN News date=27 November 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
- Articles about the kidnapping trial in The New York Times
- Stephen J. Dubner, The Vanishing. New York Magazine
- Jacob Zick and Dr. Bernard Fryshman, Is justice and liberty for all? offering different approach about Rabbi Helbrans' conviction.
- Shay Fogelman, Article about Lev Tahor and Shlomo Helbrans: Part I: Pure as the driven snow, or hearts of darkness? 9 March 2012
Part II: When you’re on the path of truth, you don’t care what others say. 16 March 2012. Haaretz.
- Hannah Katsman, What Lev Tahor admits? December 18, 2013. The Times of Israel.