Two Israelis Charged in 30-year-old Murder Case Implicate ultra-Orthodox Cult Leader

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, leader of the Haredi cult implicated in the killings, has been freed alongside his son-in-law. Berland, however, returned to prison to complete a sentence for robbing his followers

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Baruch Sharvit at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.
Baruch Sharvit at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.Credit: Noam Revkin-Fenton
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Israel pressed charges on Friday against two men in suspicion of murder in one of two unsolved murder cases that occurred over 30 years ago involving an ultra-Orthodox cult and its leader.

The suspects, Baruch Sharvit and an individual whose name has been placed under a gag order, are associated with the so-called "modesty patrol" of the Shuvu Banim Hasidic sect that Rabbi Eliezer Berland leads, which has been implicated in the killings.

Of the two cases, the murders of Nissim Shitrit and Avraham Edri in 1986 and 1990, only Shitrit's has been solved, police said, though only Edri's body was found in Ramot Forest in Jerusalem.

To date, there have been only two cases in Israel in which people were convicted of murder without the victim's body being found. According to the prosecution, no forensic evidence was found against the defendants, but they were accused by the other suspects in the case.

The two suspects are being charged in Shitrit's murder.

Baruch Sharvit at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.Credit: Noam Revkin-Fenton

Police said members of the patrol lured Shitrit to an apartment in Jerusalem, where they tied him up before driving him to Eshtaol Forest near Beit Shemesh, and beat him to death.

Berland was released from detention Thursday, presumably before being returned to prison to complete a sentence for robbing his followers. He has previously served prison time for other offenses, including sexual assault.

Berland’s son-in-law Zvi Zucker and an unnamed mayor were also released from detention, after being held for questioning.

The mayor’s lawyer said earlier Thursday in response to his client’s expected release from custody: “As we said from day one, the mayor’s association to Edri’s murder is like his association to the murder of Chaim Arlosoroff,” referring to the famously unsolved murder of the Labor Zionist leader who was shot to death on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933. “We’re glad the police understand that too,” he said.

An investigation last year by a reporter for the Kan public broadcast, Shani Haziza, found that Shitrit’s disappearance and Edri’s killing were linked to romantic relationships that the two had – to the displeasure of the sect's modesty patrol.

The report prompted the police to reopen their investigation into the two murders. There are currently nine suspects in the two murders.

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