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Time for Berland to face music in Israel

  • Vanessa
The Jewish world is not short on excitement lately: in the US, a powerful Jewish billionaire has become the latest contender for the White House; Israel continues to grapple with violence and tensions in the territories, and the South African Jewish community is dealing with a roving Shuvu Banim Breslov sect from Israel in its midst whose eccentric leader, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, is a fugitive from Israeli authorities.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Feb 03, 2016

This story has developed like a Robert Ludlum thriller, having captured headlines in the international Jewish press as well. Berland has been on the run from Interpol since 2012 on sexual harassment charges, hiding in Morocco, the Netherlands, Zimbabwe and most recently South Africa. He was also here in 2014 and after avoiding several attempts to arrest him in 2014, he fled to Holland, where he eventually jumped bail and returned to Johannesburg, along with 200 of his followers.

After last weekend’s Sunday Times exposé - “Fugitive rabbi’s death threat to Jewish chief”, this ltest development, was unleashed to the world. Berland’s followers allegedly believe that Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein was behind an unsuccessful police raid on the group two weeks ago at a Midrand location, and apparently they issued a death threat against him. 

The chief rabbi is understandably fearful: the sect’s followers are considered dangerous and when the SA Police tried to arrest Berland last time he was in South Africa, they were shot at by Berland’s body guards.

Berland’s son also told the Jewish Report recently that his father had suddenly obtained South African citizenship, or some sort of diplomatic immunity. It is hard to imagine that citizenship, which is usually a five-year process, would be possible, while diplomatic immunity would require some high profile connections or payoffs. If Rabbi Berland is indeed above reproach and a great spiritual leader, why is he in hiding and not eager to prove his innocence? 

There remain a lot of other unanswered questions. Why have the police not been able to find him? How has he avoided capture in Israel, Europe and Zimbabwe? Rumours swirl that he has doubles; some people close to the situation believe he has recently managed to get back to Israel unnoticed by the police. He is reputed to have wealthy and powerful supporters who are paying the bills for the sect, and arranging places for Berland to hide out. Others say Berland’s group is involved in illegal business activities, never mind the harassment charges!

Several South African Jewish community organisations, including the Chief Rabbi, this week called on Rabbi Berland to “return to Israel immediately” to face the serious criminal charges laid against him. When a rabbi, or any religious or secular Jewish leader, is wanted for crimes – it is important that he or she is answerable to civil law. The Jewish community does better for itself when its members are not dealt with by internal mechanisms such as Batei Din or reprimands from other senior authorities as has sometimes been the case with fraud or abuse. The Melbourne yeshiva sexual abuse cases went before a Royal Commission in Australia; former Israeli President Moshe Katsav is serving a seven-year sentence for rape; while Washington’s prominent mikveh peeping rabbi is in jail too.  

It is a wise and important stand that the Chief Rabbi and our community have taken – Rabbi Berland needs to go home and face the music.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. 2 Judith Yacov 07 Feb
    And it's not melodious klezmer music that's waiting for him!
  2. 1 nat cheiman 08 Feb
    Perhaps a fair trial is awaiting him

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