(JTA) – A haredi Orthodox sect that has been living on the outskirts of Guatemala City for the past two years has relocated to a village in eastern Guatemala after saying they were harassed by local authorities.
Earlier this month, authorities in Guatemala City raided the fringe sect’s compound, separating children from their parents, amid allegations of physical and mental abuse. The crackdown came at the request of Israel’s Justice Ministry, the Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat reported at the time of the raid. Many members of the sect are Israeli. The French news agency AFP reported Monday that the Israeli ministry requested the raid to locate an Israeli girl who had been barred from leaving the country.
The Guatemalan government has suspected Lev Tahor of performing child marriages and abusing members, including children.
The group told AFP that it is moving to Oratorio, 30 miles east of Guatemala City. They plan to live in tents on land that the sect purchased to build housing.
In June, a court in Guatemala indicted the ex-mayor of a small Mayan farming village for “participating in the expulsion of a religious community” after some 230 members of Lev Tahor were forced out in late 2014. The expulsion followed religious disputes with the residents, who are Roman Catholic.
By August 2014, most Lev Tahor members had settled in Guatemala, leaving behind their previous place of residence in Canada after Quebec and Ontario authorities there alleged mistreatment of children. Others left for Israel and the United States.
Lev Tahor vigorously denied all the allegations by the Canadian authorities and said they are victims of a religious smear.
The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It was founded by an Israeli, Shlomo Helbrans, in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish Promised Land can only be established by God, not men.
Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.