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The Lev Tahor Controversy in Canada


I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to comment on yet another religious controversy making headlines in my home country.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Canada lately, then you may have heard about a small ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, creating quite the controversy here in the Great White North.  Now, Canada tends to be known for its multiculturalism, and as a champion of individual rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  Although admirable, at times this tolerance creates a firestorm of controversy.

Late last year, media stories began percolating about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in a secluded and tight-knit community in Quebec.  They were clashing with the province over the education of their children, and fled to Ontario in order to privately educate their children (read about issues surrounding private and public education in my post on Creationism in Canada).  What began as an increasingly common story, religious rights versus the public education system, has turned into a media frenzy with accusations circulating of child endangerment, suspicious charitable donations, and religious discrimination.

I won’t bother rehashing all the details that have been steadfastly published in the media.  You can do that for yourself, here, here, and here.  You should also consider watching two investigative reports available on YouTube, one by Global’s 16×9, and the other by CBC’s Fifth Estate.  Both provide some interesting insight into this group, particularly during the interview segments.  Regardless of how sensationally the information has been portrayed in the media, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t quite right.  So, should Lev Tahor be considered a legitimate religious group simply trying to live in accordance with their beliefs, or are they a dangerous cult?

In all honesty, I don’t know.  I hesitate to label minority religious groups, fringe religious groups, or new religious groups as a cult, because the word is far too often misused and abused.  That said, after researching Lev Tahor, something is terrible amiss with the leaders of this group.

It’s no secret that I champion religious tolerance and freedom; however, it’s important to clarify that there are exceptions.  For example, religious rights should never trump basic human rights.  If there is even the suspicion that Lev Tahor children are not being properly cared for, then a full investigation is warranted.  Lev Tahor claims they have nothing to hide, then open your doors and let social service workers have unfettered access to your way of life.

There are also questions surrounding how Lev Tahor generates income, particularly when so few members work outside the community.  According to community leaders, generous donors help sustain the community.  It was reported that at least one charity run by Lev Tahor had their charitable status revoked.  As a taxpayer, I’d like to ensure that tax exemptions are indeed being given to real charities. Further, it was reported that some Lev Tahor members receive thousands of dollars in child tax benefits.  This causes me concern too.  Child tax benefits are intended to ensure that children are being adequately taken care of, but clearly there are numerous accusations that suggest otherwise.  This must be investigated fully.

I don’t wish to see Lev Tahor members persecuted, but there are too many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.  I hope that officials and the media can do so in a responsible and unbiased manner, so that religious freedoms and basic human rights are appropriately balanced and equally championed.  Anything less would be ‘un-Canadian’.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this story?  I’d like to hear from you!

M. xo

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