Ultra-Orthodox Sect Leader’s Son-in-law Among Suspects in 1980s Murder, Kidnapping

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, leader of the Shuvu Banim ultra-Orthodox community, has also been arrested in the investigation of two unsolved murders in Jerusalem

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Baruch Sharvit is brought to court for a hearing, last month.
Baruch Sharvit is brought to court for a hearing, last month. Credit: Noam Revkin-Fenton
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The names of two suspects in two three-decade-old murder cases in Israel were revealed Monday, after a gag order was lifted by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

Zvi Zucker and Baruch Sharvit, both past or present members of the Shuvu Banim ultra-Orthodox religious community led by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, are suspected in the kidnapping and murder of Nissim Shitrit, an ultra-Orthodox boy of 17 who disappeared in 1986, and the 1990 murder of Avraham Edri, a 41-year-old resident of Jerusalem. Zucker is Berland's son-in-law.

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Seven other suspects have been arrested in the case, including Berland and a mayor whose name remains barred from publication. One of the suspects has signed an agreement to turn state’s evidence.

According to a police representative at the court hearing on Monday, the investigation found that Shitrit was taken to Eshtaol forest near Beit Shemesh, where he was beaten to death.  

The lifting of the gag order on the identities of the two suspects was approved by Magistrate’s Court Judge Elad Lang following a petition filed by Haaretz.

Shitrit, a resident of Jerusalem, was 17 when he disappeared in 1986. His body has never been found. The body of Edri, who was 41 and also from Jerusalem, was found in 1990 in Jerusalem’s Ramot forest. An investigation last year by a reporter for the Kan public broadcaster, Shani Haziza, found that Shitrit’s disappearance and Edri’s killing were linked to romantic relationships with women that the two had – to the displeasure of the community’s “modesty patrol.”

The report prompted the police to reopen their investigation. The police have they are close to solving Shitrit’s disappearance, despite the lack of a body. Investigators believe that at least two people were involved in his death.

In recent weeks, investigators have collected testimony from additional sources, including a businessman previously close to Berland. Berland was arrested at the beginning of November. At a hearing on an extension of his detention order, the police said the rabbi had implicated himself in the case.

Last week, police arrested the mayor whose name remains the subject of a gag order. He was a juvenile at the time of Edri’s killing, and police say there is evidence of his direct involvement in Edri’s death.

Sharvit, a disciple of Berland, was questioned in the case early on, and according to officials familiar with the case, he admitted to involvement in at least one of the killings after he was confronted in person with Berland, who asked him “to tell everything.”

Berland later recanted his statements to investigators, and his lawyers claimed that he had made the statements in an effort to satisfy investigators.

Zucker is suspected of running Shuvu Banim’s modesty guard and of ordering the killings of both Shitrit and Edri. He was previously questioned in the case, and denied the allegations against him in a recent interrogation. He is no longer affiliated with Shuvu Banim.

According to Kan, Zucker confessed in a conversation with Nissim Shitrit’s brother to knowing that Shitrit is no longer alive. “I have no doubt that he’s no longer alive after disappearing. That’s clear,” said Zucker. “Beyond that I can’t help you, I don’t know exactly where his body is. The people I know were ... people I can’t ... [talk about] and reveal the location. I’ve tried but with no success. At the time, I heard that for certain he was in the Eshtaol forest [near Beit Shemesh].”

Despite Zucker’s denials, the police claim to have solid evidence of his involvement in the two deaths. They have said that his claim that he knew about the involvement of others but did not order the killings does not conform to the evidence.

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