Thousands Protest Outside Remand Hearing for Rabbi Suspected of Sex Crimes

Court rejects police request to extend Rabbi Eliezer Berland's detention for another few days, but allows 24-hour delay for appeal of the decision.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland's followers outside the Magistrate's Court in  Rishon Letzion, July 25, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the leader of Israel's Shuvu Banim Hasidic community, was ordered released to house arrest on Monday afternoon. He was brought to court for a hearing on extending his police detention and the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court ordered him released, with restrictions, but stayed his release for 24 hours to allow the police to appeal the decision.

Berland is suspected of sexual harassment, indecent acts, assault and other offenses. He was arrested when he returned to Israel last week from South Africa under an extradition agreement.

The police had asked the court to extend Berland’s detention for another four days for questioning in order to complete their investigation.

Some 1,000 of his followers protested his arrest outside the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court in support of their rabbi. Some of his supporters carried pictures of the rabbi or signs, with slogans such as "The people are with the saint."  After hearing of the court's ruling, his followers broke out in song and dance – before they were told his release would be delayed for 24 hours.

Berland, 79, is one of the leaders of the Bratslav Hasidic movement in the country and is considered a holy man by his followers. He fled Israel in February 2013 after the police began investigating him.  

He is suspected of five counts of sexual harassment against four different women, and two counts of indecent acts against women in his community of followers. He is also suspected of assault and sending adherents to attack someone. 

On Sunday, Berland was forced to confront four of the women who have filed  sexual abuse and harassment complaints against him, in a session that continued into the night at the headquarters of the Lahav 433 serious crimes investigation division. The police expect the investigation will lead to an indictment against him.

Since being brought back to Israel from South Africa last Tuesday, Berland has appeared before a judge in the Central District Court in Lod four times. After the last time, on Friday, the judge ordered him released, but the police appealed and his detention was extended until Monday afternoon.

Berland’s attorney, Rachel Toren, filed a complaint on Sunday with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh about the humiliating treatment she said the rabbi had been receiving from investigators, as well as about leaks from the investigation.

Since his return to Israel and his arrest, his adherents have been demonstrating in support of Berland constantly outside the Ayalon Prison in Ramla where he is being held.