Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rabbi who fled Israel on sex crimes charges seeking return 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland of the Breslev Hassidim may be on his way back to Israel soon, nearly a year after he left the country wanted for questioning on sex crimes allegations.

People close to the rabbi said Berland has hired the services of attorneys Roi Belcher and Moshe Mazor, ahead of what may be an attempt to return to Israel. He also reportedly told his followers to cancel a visit to Africa to spend the Purim holiday with him, though a man close to the rabbi said the decision was made solely to keep the event – presumably to be held in Johannesburg – small, not because he expects to be in Israel by then.

“The rabbi is ready and willing to come back to Israel, but only if police change their approach and treat him with respect, not like some sort of criminal”, a man close to the rabbi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Berland has spent the past year traveling with an entourage of followers from one country to the next, living in countries that don’t have an extradition treaty with Israel.

Not long after leaving Israel he made his way to Morocco, where he set up shop in Marrakech and began forming a local community of Breslev followers.

In November, Breslev left Morocco for South Africa, reportedly after he was deported from Morocco on the order of King Mohammed VI. Other reports have stated that he left Morocco after the local Jewish community complained about the presence of dozens of the rabbi’s followers, who stuck out in the Muslim city and were attracting too much attention.

Berland, the founder and head of the Shuvu Benim Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by a number of female followers.

The Israel Police does not have an arrest warrant for him, but he is considered “wanted for questioning” in connection to the allegations.

The lawyers he hired are also part of the legal team representing Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, the rabbi at the center of the corruption case involving Menashe Arbiv, the former head of the Israel Police unit LAHAV 433.


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