|Rabbi Eliezer Berland|
Rabbi Eliezer Berland (on the left, holding a cup) with rabbi Ofer Erez
|Birth name||Eliezer Berland|
December 26, 1937|
Haifa, Israel, Mandatory Palestine
|Parents||Chand and Etya|
|Alma mater||Knesses Chizkiyahu and Ponevezh Yeshiva|
Eliezer Berland (born December 26, 1937) is an Israeli Orthodox Jewish rabbi and rosh yeshiva affiliated with the Breslov Hasidic movement in Israel. As rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Shuvu Bonim (also known as Yeshivat Nechamat Zion) in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, he has counseled and guided tens of thousands of Jews from secular backgrounds to draw closer to the Torah path. The movement is seen by some as a sect. Berland is a member of Vaad Olami D'Chasedai Breslov (World Committee of Breslov Chassidim), a supervisory council for many Breslov activities.
Following allegations of sexual misconduct, Berland fled Israel traveling from country to country to avoid extradition to Israel. He was eventually extradited to Israel, where he confessed to having committed rape, and was sentenced to 18 months' incarceration for his sexual attacks on two women, as well as his instructions to assault the husband of one of the women he sexually assaulted.
Rabbi Berland was born in Haifa in 1937. While still a youth, he was recognized as a gifted student. He studied at the Knesses Chizkiyahu yeshiva in Kfar Hasidim under Rabbi Elyah Lopian and Rabbi Dov Yaffe. After his marriage to his wife, Tehilla, who is the daughter of Knesset member Shalom-Avraham Shaki, Rabbi Berland joined the Ponevezh Yeshiva kollel and, later, the Volozhin Kollel in Bnei Brak. He was a chavruta (study partner) with Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, known as the Steipler Gaon.
After coming into contact with Breslover Hasidim, he developed a close relationship with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, as well as elder Breslovers of the previous generation such as Rabbi Shmuel Shapira and Hirsh Leib Lippel.
Allegations that Berland has committed sexual offenses against female followers have been published. Several women reported that the rabbi sexually harassed or raped them. The allegations came to light in 2012, when the newspaper Israel Hayom reported an incident in which one of Berland's students allegedly encountered him at home, standing beside a naked woman. His supporters expressed anger over the report, and the person who leaked the story to the media was later violently attacked.
According to Berland's followers, the accusations were made by relatives of the rabbi's enemies.
After the police opened an investigation, Berland immediately fled Israel, and spent time in the United States, Italy, and Switzerland. He then left for Morocco, settling in Marrakesh. Berland lived in Marrakesh for seven months, and was welcomed by the small Moroccan Jewish community. He intended to establish a kehilla in Marrakesh, based on the Shuvu Banim yeshiva, and planned on building a community center, educational institutions, and apartments for his followers. Thousands of his followers began travelling to Marrakesh to celebrate holidays and commemorate events with him, and some took up residency there to stay with him. In November 2013, Berland and his students were ordered to leave Morocco, after King Mohammed VI personally ordered their expulsion from the country. According to news reports, a Moroccan newspaper had published an article profiling the rabbi and mentioning the circumstances in which he fled Israel, and the king ordered Berland's expulsion after reading the article. Berland's followers claimed that the king was merely concerned for their safety, as they were Hasidic Jews living in a Muslim country. Berland is thought to have left Morocco for Cairo, Egypt. He reportedly bought tickets for various destinations to confuse pursuers, considered between taking a flight to Zimbabwe or Venezuela, and in the end chose Zimbabwe. From there, he allegedly took a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was taken in by a relative. It was reported on April 14, 2014 that the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Dr. Warren Goldstein, has called on the South African Jewish community not to shelter or support Berland. From there, Berland flew to Zimbabwe, reportedly in a private jet owned by a wealthy follower. He lived in an upscale hotel room in Bulawayo, and led worship services for members of the small Zimbabwean Jewish community in a synagogue in the Bulawayo suburb of Khumalo. He was joined by some of his followers, and also hired two attorneys in Israel due to the possibility of being forced to return to Israel if his options ran out. On April 7, 2014, police raided the hotel room Berland was staying in, and found him with some followers from Israel. After it was established that his visitor's visa had expired, he was arrested and charged with remaining in Zimbabwe without a permit. He pleaded guilty before a magistrate judge, and was remanded to custody. He was also reportedly questioned over the sexual assault allegations. A magistrate judge gave him a choice between paying a $200 fine or three months in prison, and ordered him expelled. Berland paid the fine, and left for South Africa, returning to Johannesburg. There, he lived in hiding, and managed, with help from loyal followers, to narrowly escape two attempts by police to detain him. In trying to understand "the other side of the story", the South African Jewish Report featured the first interview of a student trying to defend the accusations against Berland. He claims a large conspiracy against the rabbi, and a persecution of the non-religious Israeli government against religion. In September 2014, Berland left South Africa on a flight to the Netherlands, and was arrested after arriving at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on 11 September.
Shortly after his detention, Berland was released. A Dutch court ruled against his extradition, after it was shown that there was no active arrest warrant for him in Israel. The Israeli Police confirmed that he was only wanted for questioning, and there was no warrant. The judge ruled that the Israeli authorities had failed to meet the burden of proof, and that the Israeli Police would have to obtain an arrest warrant from an Israeli court before starting extradition proceedings. In an interview with Israeli media shortly after his release, Berland claimed that the police had told him that the claims were nonsense, and a follower claimed that the Israeli media outlets which originally reported the allegations were now treating them as untrue in their more recent broadcasts. Israel and the Netherlands engaged in extradition talks over Berland, while in the meantime, he had been granted freedom of movement rights throughout the European Union while his case was pending.
After the court ruling, 300 supporters came to see him, and Berland hosted a reception for them on a Jewish-owned camping site on the island of Texel. The authorities evicted most of them, as the number of supporters rose over the site's capacity.
On December 1, 2014, Berland's extradition was further delayed by a Dutch court due to new evidence submitted by his defense.
On February 12, 2015, his extradition to Israel was ordered by a Dutch court. The decision to extradite him was in the hands of the Dutch Secretary for Justice, Klaas Dijkhoff. The followers of Berland later tried to install themselves in a camping in Susteren, but it was full. 250 people were lodging in a vacant youth hostel in Oldebroek, until the mayor ordered them to leave on May 3, 2015, because of inhumane circumstances and fire hazards.
The court ruling was appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court, which ruled on June 30, 2015, that Berland could be extradited to Israel.
As of July 6, 2015, it is believed that Berland has fled Holland, continuing his journey as he evades extradition to Israel from country after country. The Dutch public prosecutor admitted that the prosecution currently has no information as to his whereabouts.
On the night of October 18, 2015, Eliezer Berland's followers entered Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, as requested by the fugitive Rabbi Berland from abroad. Their entry without security clearance required their rescue by the Israeli army, and was followed by arson of the Tomb by Palestinians.
On April 7, 2016, he was again arrested in South Africa.
Preceding and following his arrest were mass prayer vigils and demonstrations. On March 22, 2016, facing arrest, Rabbi Berland asked his followers to hold an all-night prayer vigil at the cave of the patriarchs in Hebron. Approximately 8,000 people attended the six-hour-long rally which lasted until the morning. Then, following his arrest, on April 25, hundreds of followers demonstrated outside the South African embassy in Ramat Gan against the "unlawful arrest of the Rabbi" and his being denied humanitarian rights in prison. Then, on April 27, thousands of supporters once again held a mass prayer vigil at the cave of the patriarchs in Hebron.
On May 1, 2016, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman visited Rabbi Berland to "aid him and ease his conditions". While there, he spoke about the Rabbi's conditions, saying he is being denied food and hasn't eaten in days. He spoke about this to the media in order to raise awareness; soon, other rabbis like Rabbi Shalom Arush followed suit, and spoke to the media about Rabbi Berlands terrible condition.
On May 21, 2016, Rabbi Grossman flew a second time to visit Rabbi Berland, and apparently succeeded in making some kind of deal between the Rabbi and the Israeli authorities in which Rabbi Berland will be turning himself in voluntarily.
On May 27, 2016, Rabbi Berland released a letter and audio recording to his followers saying "I decided to return to Israel".
Conviction and sentencing
On November 18, 2016 Berland was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court after admitting to two counts of indecent acts and one assault. He was sentenced on November 22 to 18 months imprisonment.
Berland has expressed remorse over his acts and said that he takes responsibility for what happened. "I am willing to accept any punishment in the world, including burning me and stoning me because that is Torah law. The punishment that was meted to me was perhaps too light, and I am willing to accept a greater punishment".
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- Mordechai Sones: Eliezer Berland apologizes: 'I'm willing to be burned alive' May 04, 2017 .
- Rabbi Berland hospitalized Arutz Sheva Staff, 12 February 2017.