Fugitive Rabbi Accused of Sex Crimes Arrested in South Africa

Eliezer Berland eluded Israeli police for three years, skipping across three continents. He is suspected of having sexually assaulted women in his religious community.

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Rabbi Eliezer Berland, center, outside a Dutch court on November 17, 2014.
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, center, outside a Dutch court on November 17, 2014.Credit: AFP

Three years after fleeing Israel, the head of the Shuvu Banim community, Rabbi Eliezer Berland has been arrested this week in Johannesburg, South Africa, his followers told Haaretz.

Berland was on the run for three years from Israeli police, skipping across three continents since 2013, among Canada, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Holland and elsewhere.

He is suspected of commiting sexual offenses, especially against women who were a part of his community, Shuvu Banim. Some complainants had been inside a room with him seeking advice or a blessing.

Berland's lawyer Sharon Nahari confirmed his arrest and said Israel has filed a request for extradition.

"We are preparing to leave for South Africa and deal with the [extradition] request in court. Like we released him from detention in the Netherlands, we will fight now," Nahari said.

Berland, 78, also a leader of the Bratslav Hasidic movement in Israel, was arrested by South African police. According to one of his supporters in Israel, Berland underwent surgery a week ago at a local hospital and he may have been arrested there.

In the past year attempts were made to extradite him from Holland, before he succeeded in fleeing back to Africa.

Berland had come close to arrest in January when he issued a death threat against the chief rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein.

South African Police Service officers made an abortive effort at the time to arrest him, raiding a hotel north of Johannesburg where Berland had been staying. 

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