Monday, August 09, 2021
Eliezer Berland, a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi and convicted sex offender, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized Saturday in serious condition.
The 83-year-old man has been hooked up to a ventilator at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports.
Berland is scheduled to return to prison in October after being convicted of fraud in a plea deal in June that sentenced him to 18 months in prison.
Berland, leader of the extremist Shuvu Banim sect, has already spent a year in jail before being released to house arrest in February in a show of leniency by the Supreme Court, which took into account his fragile condition.
Berland was arrested for fraud in February 2020 after hundreds of people filed complaints with police saying he had sold prayers and pills to desperate members of his community, promised families of people with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk and provide them with He told families about convicted criminals that his relatives would be released from prison.
In the arrest raid, dozens of boxes of powders and pills were found in Berland's home that were given to supplicants as "wonder drugs." Initial lab checks revealed they were over-the-counter pain relievers and candy, including Mentos, authorities said.
Berland has denied the charges, saying he only offered blessings and healing services when asked, and for amounts far lower than those alleged by police.
Last May, he was also charged with tax evasion, violations of money laundering laws and other crimes for failing to report and conceal the income generated through his activities with the Shuvu Bonim sect.
Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers. After evading arrest for three years and traversing several countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of preventive detention. Time served. He was released only five months later, in part due to poor health.
Despite his repeated run-ins with the law, Berland still has a cult following among the thousands of members of his group, an offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect.
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