Lev Tahor Weingarten brothers convicted for role in 2018 kidnapping of two children

The U.S. government has now convicted all nine people involved in the scheme, through testimony of former Lev Tahor member Shimon Malka

Federal courthouse in White Plains, N.Y. Photo: Sean Wandzilak/Shutterstock (Inset: Lev Tahor brothers Yakov (left) and Yoil Weingarten. Photo: Government Exhibit, US v. Weingarten)

Mar 29, 2024 12:50 PM


Shmiel, Yoil, and Yakov Weingarten, three brothers from the Lev Tahor sect who helped kidnap two children in 2018, were convicted on Wednesday by a jury in White Plains federal court, Lohud reported. The U.S. government has now convicted all nine people involved in the kidnapping.

Wednesday’s verdict came after Shimon Malka, a 24-year-old former Lev Tahor member, testified that he also helped kidnap the two minor siblings from their mother. The mother had fled Lev Tahor, which is currently based in Guatemala, after her daughter, a 14-year-old was forced into marriage, to which the mother objected. The mother then joined a more mainstream Haredi community in New York. The kidnapping was intended in part to return the “bride” to her “husband.”

The brothers argued that they were rescuing the children from abuse, not kidnapping them, but the jury believed otherwise. Charged with transporting a minor for sex, international parental abduction, and conspiracy charges, the brothers face up to 30 years in prison.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams called Lev Tahor an “extremist” sect and praised the verdict. “The defendants’ conduct — which included forced child marriages, physical beatings, and family separations — is unthinkable and has caused irreparable harm to children in their formative years,” Williams said. “Whether in the name of religion or any other belief system, subjecting children to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse will never be tolerated by this Office.”

Founded in 1988, Lev Tahor has practices that distinguish it from most other Haredi communities, such as marrying children as young as 12 years old. Many Haredim disapprove of the sect, but there are some who support it. In 2014, the Haredi magazine Ami profiled the group positively, describing what it called “the unjust persecution of a group of pious Jews” after the group met trouble with Quebecois authorities, who accused them of child abuse and neglect.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 9.