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Fugitive Rabbi, followers, cause uproar

faced with hundreds of followers of alleged Israeli sex-pest Rabbi Eliezer Berland in Joburg for Pesach, Chief Rabbi retracted his initial instruction
by ROBYN SASSEN & ANT KATZ | Apr 23, 2014

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Hundreds arrive in Glenhazel

In the face of hundreds of followers of alleged Israeli sex-pest Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 77, in Johannesburg, over Pesach, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein retracted his earlier instruction to the SA Jewish community not to shelter or support the rabbi or his followers.

Breslov
RIGHT: Berland is the head of the Shuvu Banim Chassidic sect whose colourful and distinctive dress and hair styles were everywhere to be seen


According to The Star newspaper of April 15, Rabbi Goldstein urged the community to assist the rabbi’s “destitute” followers. “Many who travelled with Berland were without food or shelter during Pesach.”

Rabbi Goldstein said: “Given the dire circumstances, those who are able to help these destitute people over the course of Pesach should do so on the following condition: that after Pesach, the entire group of these followers must agree to return to Israel immediately.”

Rabbi Goldstein added that Rabbi Berland should return to Israel to face the criminal justice system there. He added, referring to talks with the Chief Rabbi of Israel and SA’s Rosh Beth Din, Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag it would be “untenable and unconscionable to harbour a fugitive”

Rabbi Eliezer Berland - HOMERabbi Berland (PICTURED LEFT) is the head of the Shuvu Banim Chassidic sect, associated with the Breslov Chassidic movement and its Jerusalem-based Yeshiva. According to the Jerusalem Post he is accused of sexual abuse by a number of his female followers, including a 15-year-old girl.

These allegations first came to light in 2012, and include allegations that Rabbi Berland fled as police opened investigations in Israel. Shortly after he fled, his son and several other followers were arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

Having fled from Israel seven months ago, he has previously hidden in the US, Switzerland and Morocco. He entered Zimbabwe on a 90-day religious tourism visa in December and set up shop in and around Bulawayo – eventually settling on a disused mine 20km outside the town as his new headquarters.

Although a deal had been struck with local Jewry that the Hareidim would not daven at their Shul, a member of the small Bulawayo Jewish community (who asked not to be named) told Jewish report that “150 of them arrived at Bulawayo Shul erev Purim and over-ran the place. Our community was devastated,” said the source.

“Berland was surrounded by four heavily-armed guards at all times,” he said. The community had in particular complained about the schechting of a sheep on the pavement outside the Shul, calling local residents Ni***rs, and “urinating and defecating on the public pavement,” he said.

Berland was expecting many hundreds of his followers to join him for Pesach in Bulawayo. But, on Monday 7 April, Berland and 12 of his followers whose visas had expired were arrested, fined $200 and deported on Wednesday. Under international conventions, deportations are to the country from which the deportee entered, in this case SA.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland - MOOZ courtesy Rab - SignsLast Sunday, outside Mooz Bros in the Sandringham ‘kosher strip’, there was a vociferous protest by members of the community (PICTURED RIGHT), under the leadership of Rebbetzen Wendy Hendler.

Rebbetzen Hendler, the leader of anti-abuse advocacy group Koleinu, said: “I made this demonstration in my own capacity, but it is consistent with Koleinu’s message of taking a stand against any hint of sexual abuse. A person wanted for questioning in regard to serious allegations of abuse should not be harboured by this community. The time has come for our community to say it out loud that we don’t turn a blind eye or pretend things away.”

She was very clear that the protest – which was attended by some 50 members of the community – was held about Rabbi Berland’s alleged sex crimes and his presence in South Africa, and not the situation of his followers. “Our message had nothing to do with the followers,” she said, referred to the Jewish values of compassion and chesed that caused many community members to open their homes to members of the Shuvu Banim sect. “The response,” she added, “was very positive. I even got an email from a woman who elected to remain anonymous, who spoke of damage she had experienced because of the fraud allegations of Rabbi Berland’s family.

“I did not want to make this into an Ashkenazi vs Sephardi thing and hope this doesn’t cause damage in this area of our community,” she referred to Chief Rabbi Goldstein’s statements. “I felt that he did not substantiate his first instruction to the community not to help the Haredi Jews, but I trust his leadership and believe he is an enormous advocate against sexual offenders. “

She confirmed that the SA Jewish Board of Deputies was in talks with several government departments to arrange for Berland to be deported.

Police are still investigating his entourage, including a rich businessman whose private jet it is believed they were using.

Last week it was reported that one of Rabbi Berland’s followers had transported Kosher-for-Passover food to Zimbabwe in advance of chag. Further, it was established that a wealthy Jew from Johannesburg, it is alleged, donated some 400 kgs of matzah and 60 cases of wine for the consumption of the rabbi and his followers during Pesach.

Chief Rabbi unavailable for comment

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein was unavailable to comment on the events as he is on leave and all attempts by the Jewish Report and SAJR Online were unsuccessful. His office simply released the two letters he had previously addressed to all Rabonim:

The first letter - 10 April

Dear Rabbonim שליט"א

This is to inform you that R. Eliezer Berland and his followers have arrived in Johannesburg. Reports indicate that Berland fled Israel following a police investigation into multiple and serious allegations of sexual assault. Over the last number of months he has been on the run, having been expelled from Morocco, and most recently Zimbabwe, where he had tried to find refuge.

I have discussed this matter with the Beth Din and we wish to notify Rabbonim to be aware of the situation so that our community not be involved with sheltering or supporting Berland and his followers.  Berland must return to Israel to face the criminal justice system.

Please notify any members of your congregation who you feel may be drawn into supporting or sheltering Berland and his followers. Use your discretion in this regard as many of your congregants may not be affected by this situation.

Yours sincerely, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein


The second letter - 14 April

Dear Rabbonim שליט"א

This is to inform you that R. Eliezer Berland and his followers have arrived in Johannesburg. Reports indicate that Berland fled Israel following a police investigation into multiple and serious allegations of sexual assault. Over the last number of months he has been on the run, having been expelled from Morocco, and most recently Zimbabwe, where he had tried to find refuge.

I have discussed this matter with the Beth Din and we wish to notify Rabbonim to be aware of the situation so that our community not be involved with sheltering or supporting Berland and his followers.  Berland must return to Israel to face the criminal justice system.

Please notify any members of your congregation who you feel may be drawn into supporting or sheltering Berland and his followers. Use your discretion in this regard as many of your congregants may not be affected by this situation.

Yours sincerely, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

4 Comments

  1. 4 Anon 24 Apr

    Chief Rabbi

    It is very ironic or is it? that right before Pesach a festival of Jews being a nation that stand together. You would publicly come out and tell the community to go against exactly what the Chag stands for and not extend a hand to the supporters of Berland.  Your statement should have been directed at him only!!!

    What happened to the Shabbat Project spirit our dear leader??

  2. 3 AA 24 Apr
    Dear Anon and whomever,
    How can we differentiate between the Rabbi and his supporters?  Did HaShem not make it clear in Torah that we are to set ourselves apart from sin and those doing so?
    If they support Him they support what he is doing. some of them are covering these sins on behalf of their own children.  
    Then the Chag is not as much to bring a nation together as waht it is about the Almighty and His power to deliver.  THAT is what we are to tell our kids each generation.  It is deliverance from oppression to become free.  What is Sexual abuse other than oppression in it's worst form?  ..especially done to women and children. They follow their husbands..where are they in protecting their children and where in Torah does it ever say that we are to protect leaders for the sake of whatever?  Did Moses himself not pay for his disobedience by not entering into the promised land?
    Did not HaShem kill sons on a highpriest for bringing a strage fire before HIM? And no mourning even was allowed for the sons.  The Rabbi and his followers are not following HaShem and protecting them is not at all standing for justice and righteousess as we are commanded in Torah. What are we d different than the Roman Church if we protect child molesters?
    Hashem called His people to be set apart so that the world may see that He is a righteous God and to show His glory.
  3. 2 Charles 27 Apr
    The Halocha is that you have to do Chesed to any Jew unless he rejects and rebels against  one of the Mitzvot or is an Apikores i.e he doesn't agree to the 13 principles of Judaism.
    Secondly, the Halacha is that a person who was known as a Tzadik is assumed to have done Teshuva until proven otherwise. Rumours also are not reason not to help such a person.
    Both Rav Berland and his followers should be helped. And the Rabbinic leadership here should go learn Judasim 101.
  4. 1 Yeshaya 28 Apr
    Following on Charles' line, Halocha also does not recognize the media as a place of reference were we pass judgment on people. Specially not on Tzadikim. We have seen the media response to R Ovadia Yossed ZTL, he remains the greatest Sffaradi Possek nonetheless. The media in Eretz Yisrael has an agenda to fight the Tora world, and make no mistake, the internet sites that pose as Charedik in EY are run by secular. If anything, a bad media coverage on a Tzadik is an indication of virtue.
    The secular world seems to have integrated the media into their justice system and for all intent and purpose view media judgment as a form of entertainment. This is not the Halocha in any shape or form. Hence, passing judgement based on media reports is not an act of Halocha. There is still a good 5 month before Rosh Hashana to make Tshuva.
    Second, if you failed, and actually accepted the Lashon Hara and Motzi Shem Ra that the media offers on R Berland, you would know that the underlying accusation is presented by a single witness, also not by Halocha, and the lady denies all. Then this criminal person presents his own wife a an alternative victim. Knowing all that and more, would you not protect your Rabbi? The Rav is attacked by very wealthy and powerful people, with vital interests to capture him that has nothing to do with the Ravs morality.
    Third, if you still fail to see the virtue of my Rav, what have I and my family and my friends families done to offend you? 
    Forth, I'm leaving here tomorrow. The people who hosted us and helped us are forever in our hearts. This is the kind of Ahavat Yisrael that has been saving our people for ages. When we are together nothing can touch as as a nation. Not even atomic bombs.

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