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Rav Berland finally faces ‘sexual offences’ charges




Rabbi Eliezer Berland, leader of his Breslov chasidic community’s Shuvu Banim sect, was also indicted for alleged abuse of authority this week. He was remanded in police custody for the duration of his trial.

Prosecutor Shmulik Barzilay asked Judge Hanna Miriam Lomp to deny Berland bail, explaining that Berland was considered a serious flight risk. “This is someone who conducted a three-continent journey, went from country to country, and fled the United States, Morocco, Zimbabwe, South Africa and The Netherlands.”

Berland Israel wheelchair

RIGHT: The frail 79-year-old rabbi arrived at court with a huge police escourt and in a wheelchair

Barzilay told the judge that Berland had fled Holland “despite depositing €50 000 bail money” (which he forfeited). “The rabbi has not just the will to flee, but the ability as well,” the judge heard. “He has the ability to get on planes, get a fake passport, an Ivory Coast diplomatic passport (and) the ability to get sums of money.”

Berland was handed over by Interpol agents to Israeli police two weeks ago, after having been extradited from South Africa. Israeli police have questioned the rabbi extensively. Then, on the Sunday before last, the police put the rabbi (who had spent the bulk of his three-year exile in South Africa) face-to-face with some of his four accusers.

Some Israeli newspapers reported that Rabbi Berland had made a confession on tape, but his defence team denied that at last Friday’s hearing.

Berland Israel supporters

LEFT: Rabbi Berland’s followers had to be restrained behind police barriers outside the court last week Friday.

The charges brought by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office last week Friday against the sickly 79-year-old Berland, were that:

  • Berland allegedly kissed and hugged a minor against her will during a counselling session;
  • The rabbi had grabbed and groped a woman seeking spiritual guidance, despite her pushing him away. The prosecution said Berland “forced physical contact” on the woman, and even “offered to give her money to buy a car, so she could visit him”;
  • The third count alleges Berland forcibly kissed another female follower without her consent;
  • The fourth count details how the rabbi grabbed one of the complainants, forcibly kissed her, groped her and tried to disrobe her;
  • The rabbi is also accused of ordering two of his followers to assault a man who had exposed Berland’s actions and threatened to go to the authorities.

The attorney acting for all four complainants, Sara Markowitz, asked the prosecution to completely conceal her clients’ identity after a few of them had received threats for coming forward.

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The State Attorney’s office granted the request and the indictment does not include any identifying details, even excluding the initials of the women’s names.

Berland Israel Airport

RIGHT: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray during a demonstration in support of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, ahead of his arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on July 19.

Rabbi Berland was represented by attorney Rachel Toren, who told reporters last week Friday: “Regardless of all the media attention, this case boils down to basic charges of indecent acts allegedly carried out five and nine years ago. We have no doubt these charges will be refuted soon.”

Police say that all of the complainants claim that Berland asked them to cite the Tikkun HaKlali prayer while committing his indecent acts. Berland himself has denied all of the allegations against him.

He fled his Shuvu Banim yeshiva in Israel when police sought to question him in April 2013, regarding their investigation into his alleged misconduct which was launched in 2012.

Berland on plane

LEFT: Rabbi Berland on the El Al plane during his extradition to Israel

Rabbi Berland was eventually arrested in Johannesburg earlier this year and extradited to Israel two weeks ago.

The court extended Berland’s arrest until further notice and set down his next appearance in court for August 10.

Among the text of the indictment (or charge sheet in South African legal parlance) was a paragraph that read: “The defendant kissed one of the complainants on the cheek and forehead and hugged her. While hugging her, he grabbed the complainant’s chest over her clothes and she felt his body shiver. The defendant did this while exploiting his status as a community leader and his religious authority.”

After several incidents of his followers attacking law enforcement officials during the course of legal proceedings against him, Rabbi Berland issued a signed instruction telling his followers to refrain from harming security forces or anyone escorting him during the investigation into the allegations.

“Anyone who loves the rabbi must beware that he does not do him harm,” the notice signed by Berland says according to Channel 10 TV.

Follow @antkatz1 on Twitter for all the latest news on Rabbi Berland as it breaks

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