Lev Tahor sect arranged underage marriage, former member tells youth court

By Jason Magder (Montreal Gazette)
January 17, 2014

MONTREAL — The stated goal of the Lev Tahor community is to arrange marriages for children as young as 13.

That was one of the facts revealed during the testimony of a former member of the sect in the Nov. 27 youth court hearing to consider removing 14 children from the community and placing them in foster care. Among the reasons listed by Quebec’s Youth Protection Department for the removal of the children is the suspicion that underage marriages are the norm in the community, a claim the community’s leaders have vigorously denied.

The court order has not yet been executed, and the children have not been placed in foster homes, because the community members fled from Ste-Agathe to Ontario a week before the hearing, which was held in their absence. However, the testimony from the Nov. 27 youth court hearing may now be published, since a reporting ban was lifted on Thursday morning.

Adam Brudzevski, 28, revealed that he married his wife when she was 15 years old and he was 25. The minimum legal age for marriage in Canada is 16.

In court, Brudzevski listed the marriages of 10 people in the community that he attended over the span of two years where one or both of the participants was underage.

He then said there was much rejoicing in the community when it was announced that a date had been set for the 13-year-old girl to marry a 12-year-old boy. It meant the community had finally reached its goal of arranging marriages for 13-year-olds.

Brudzevski, who was raised as a secular Jew in Denmark and joined the sect in 2009, said it isn’t common practice among ultraorthodox communities to have weddings at such a young age.

He was married nearly three years ago, a union arranged by the community’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. The rabbi called the man into his office and proposed the marriage. Helbrans proposed what he called an “A minus” girl who would need a strong man to keep her in line. Brudzevski didn’t learn his wife’s name until he saw it on the wedding licence.

Prior to his wedding, a little more than two years ago, Brudzevski said he was taught about his duties as a husband. On the day before the wedding, he was taught about marital relations by a teacher who used vague Yiddish terms for body parts. He was told not to worry too much about it, because the women would be knowledgeable on this matter. He said his wife told him that in her pre-martial lessons, she was told not to worry about sexual relations, because the men would know what to do.

Brudzevski said the main expectation for women in the community is to produce children. Women are urged to use ovulation tests to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. Even the daughters of community leaders had the same expectation. The man explained that the middle daughter of one leader was married at 14, and had her first child when she was 15. Her husband was the same age.