Jewish group expelled from Guatemalan village

(Photo: REUTERS / Baz Ratner)Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths study religious texts at a synagogue in Jerusalem April 7, 2011. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or "Haredim", are a devout tight-knit community who make up 8-10 percent of Israel's 7.7 million population, with eight children per family on average. Many are supported by the state and live well below the poverty line. A Bank of Israel report in March said about 60 percent of Haredi men don't work.

More than 200 haredi Jews from the Lev Tahor group were recently forced out of a Guatemalan village due to a "culture and religious clash," Israel National News reported on September 7.

The Lev Tahor is described as a radical strain of Hassidic Judaism.

It is known to follow unique practices such as raising children with no access to doctors or proper education, underage marriages, and wearing of black, head-to-toe coverings for women.

In August, a group of elders from the indigenous population of San Juan La Laguna, 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Guatemala City, said that the Lev Tahor members are not anymore "welcome to stay."

The indigenous leaders accused the group of not respecting local culture and customs, of being unfriendly to the locals, and not believing in Jesus or Mary.

A spokesman for the indigenous council said that the move is just an act of self-defense.

Lev Tahor members had no choice but to leave with their families and stay in a dilapidated six-story building described as inappropriate to be considered home.

"It is an uncomfortable building, especially for children and women, because it was designed for offices, not for living," said Rabbi Uriel Goldman.

He added that they will look for a place where they can build the community homes.

To spare the members from going out of the building, the community has set up a makeshift mini-mart on the first floor of the building.

The expulsion of Lev Tahor was denounced by prominent Jewish leader Rabbi Shalom Pelman saying it's the same treatment the Jews received under the Nazis.

"This is not typical in the world I live in. Even in Iran, Jews are not expelled," he said in a phone interview by a Canadian-based news agency.

He added that what happened is a wakeup call for the international community, a problem that should be fixed as soon as possible.

Aside from the recent Guatemala expulsion, the Lev Tahor has been moving frequently after fleeing trouble with government authorities in Ontario and Quebec, Canada following child abuse allegations.

Lev Tahor leaders have denied all abuse allegations, which include charges of harsh physical punishments and even sexual abuse.

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