Israeli Rabbi Convicted of Sexual Assault Arrested on Suspicion of Fraud, Tax Evasion

Eliezer Berland's followers confront police during arrest, with some of them hurling stones and other objects and wounding two police officers

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland in court, 2016.
Convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland in court, 2016. Credit: Ilan Ossendryver/ SA Jewish Rep
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland was arrested Sunday in Jerusalem on suspicion of money laundering, receipt under false pretenses, tax evasion and exploitation offenses.

In 2016, Berland, the leader of the Shuvu Banim Hasidic community, was convicted of two counts of indecent acts and assault after confessing and signing a plea bargain. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but in 2017 he was released from jail in accordance with the ruling of Israel's parole board after having served only 10 months.

>> 'God on earth': Followers of Hasidic rabbi convicted of sexual assault hail his 'superhuman powers'

Rabbi Berland's followers confront police forces during his arrest, February 9, 2020.

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court extended Berland's detention for five days, citing "concrete suspicion of obstruction of justice," among other reasons. 

Berland was arrested at 5:00 A.M. while teaching in a synagogue near his home in Jerusalem. Berland's wife was also detained, as well as four other suspects. Berland's followers confronted the police during the arrest, with some of them hurling stones and other objects, wounding two police officers in the process. Police used stun grenades during the raid. 

Some of Berland's followers then chased after the police vehicle he was taken in and laid down on the road to prevent it from driving away.

According to the police, Berland and the five arrested with him are suspected of "cynically and cruelly exploiting hundreds of people and their family members, who probably were in their darkest hour, while demanding them to pay the rabbi tens of thousands of shekels in exchange for his blessings." 

Berland is also suspected of providing his followers with candy instead of medications. 

Moreover, the police exposed "infrastructure for carrying out a variety of money laundering offenses, tax evasion and other tax-related offenses worth hundreds of millions of shekels."

Several of Berland's supporters were forced to take out loans in order to pay him. In some cases, terminal patients died despite of the rabbi's promises they would survive. Furthermore, following the passing away of those patients, Berland told their family members that their loved ones haven't died and can still rise if the family gives him more money. After receiving the additional payment, and it turned out the patient was indeed dead, Berland demanded to receive extra pay so that the deceased would rise first when the resurrection of the dead comes. 

Hundreds of people have filed complaints with the police that they were hurt by Berland. In addition, the police have gathered hundreds of testimonies by the rabbi's victims and additional arrests are expected at a later stage.

In 2013 Berland fled Israel and spent some three years on the run in multiple countries before being arrested in South Africa and extradited to Israel in July 2016.

Prior to fleeing Israel in 2013, Berland carried out sexual acts without consent on women and minors while abusing his position of trust. An original indictment filed against Berland after his extradition accused him of exploiting his standing within his community and the meetings he had with its members. 

The rabbi's conviction was based on a new indictment drafted after his confession. As part of the plea deal, the new indictment dropped multiple counts of molestation.

In October Channel 13 News reported that Berland demanded hundreds of thousands of shekels from a cancer patient while instructing her not to undergo medical treatment. Several months later and after her medical condition deteriorated, the rabbi agreed that she be tested, but by then it was too late and the woman had passed away. According to Channel 13 News, Berland operated in a similar manner in other cases.   

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