TORONTO (JTA) — Canadian authorities have returned two teenage girls from an anti-Zionist Chasidic community to Israel.
The girls, aged 15 and 13, had been detained by Canadian immigration officials in Montreal and returned to Israel apparently under order of an Israeli court, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.
They were on their way to join Lev Tahor, a community living in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, a town north of Montreal. Lev Tahor is sometimes called the Jewish Taliban because its female members are clad in chador-like black robes, with head scarves tied tightly under their necks. Only the women’s faces and hands are visible.
The girls’ great-uncle had filed a legal motion expressing concern that they would be harmed by the group in Canada, and that they could be forced to wed male members of the sect, the newspaper reported.
The spiritual leader of Lev Tahor in Canada, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, denied using coercion.
"Use force? We want everybody who is not 100 percent happy … to leave us," Elbarnes told the Globe and Mail.
He said girls typically marry as teenagers, and partners are "suggested" for them.
"The women here choose of their own will," Elbarnes told the newspaper.
Elbarnes was convicted in 1994 by a U.S. court of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy studying with him. He fled to Canada in 2001 and eventually brought his followers, which have grown to about 50 families, to Quebec.