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During the hearing, Berland’s attorney Rachel Toren told the court that Berland, leader of the Shuvu Banim community, is suspected of five cases of sexual abuse against four women.
It emerged during the hearing that in one case Berland placed a tallith on the head of a woman and kissed her on the head, and began to shake with excitement. In two other cases, Berland is suspected of touching a woman’s breasts; however, he claims that in one case the woman’s husband was in the room at the time and in the other, there is a witness who claims the incident was not of a sexual nature.
The police say they have enough evidence of the rabbi committing indecent acts and they are planning to present it at a confrontation between him and the alleged victims on Friday.
Rehovot Magistrate’s Court Judge Menahem Mizrahi ruled that the charges should not be taken lightly and should be investigated to the fullest. “However, “ he added, “it should be remembered that this is an investigation that could have been completed even while the suspect was abroad, it would have been possible to wait until he returned to Israel to interrogate him, arrange the confrontations and prepare for an indictment.”
The judge said it was unclear why police had not yet completed the investigation from the moment of Berland’s arrest abroad, and that it should be completed as soon as possible.
Berland, one of the leaders of the Bratslav Hasidic movement in Israel, and considered a holy man by his followers, fled Israel a number of years ago when allegations were made by female followers that he had sexually harassed or raped them.
Berland was arrested in this year in Johannesburg after three years on the run in the U.S., Morocco, Zimbabwe (from where he was expelled in April, 2014), the Netherlands and other countries on three continents. Berland originally fled Israel in April 2013 when he was called in for questioning and has only returned after a lengthy extradition process in Johannesburg.