Sex offender rabbi arrested for defrauding followers

Eliezer Berland, his wife and four others are suspected of doling out fake promises and cures for millions of shekels.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Eliezer Berland, a convicted sex offender rabbi who heads a Hassidic sect, was arrested Sunday morning on suspicion of bilking his followers of millions of shekels over years in exchange for false promises of cures, freedom or spiritual resurrection.

The 82-year-old head of the Shuvu Bonim community was arrested along with his wife and four senior members of his offshoot group of Breslov hassidim on suspicion of fraud, exploitation and tax offenses, including money-laundering.

In what police described as a “mafia-like” system, Berland had a price list for blessings, cures and amulets he would give in exchange for money, with the price going from thousands to hundreds of thousands of shekels, depending on the seriousness of the situation.

Police say the rabbi made hundreds of millions of shekels from people desperate for cures for their loved ones, or to get out of jail, or to be rescued from other problems.

All of the transactions were in cash. Some believers had to take out loans and even sell their homes in order to raise enough money to buy Berland’s favor. Their money was never returned when the promised help did not materialize.

Some were even duped again, when the ill patient died instead of being cured, and the rabbi said that if they gave more thousands, he would ensure that their relative would be “first in line” to be resurrected with the coming of the Messiah.

The police seized boxes of powders and pills from his home, which Berland promised were miracle cures and turned out to be candies, simple over-the-counter painkillers, or homeopathic drugs. They also have in hand secretly taped visits by one mother of a cancer patient who eventually died in part because he forbade her to undergo chemotherapy after a successful operation to remove a tumor.

In a Channel 13 report in October, Nurit Ben Moshe can be seen giving Berland thousands of shekels as he promises that her daughter will live to be 100.

Following the news report, the police gathered dozens more testimonies from people who were defrauded by the rabbi and his lackeys.

During the arrest operation, dozens of the rabbi’s followers protested and threw stones and other objects at the police, injuring two officers. Riot police had to surround the car taking the rabbi and his wife away to push away the demonstrators, six of whom were also arrested.

Berland was still popular even though he fled arrest for sexual assault in 2013 and wandered through several countries with a group of followers for three years until he was finally extradited back to Israel from South Africa.

After a plea bargain sanctioned by the court, he served a year in prison in 2016-2017 for sexually assaulting several women in his group, and ordering his followers to beat up the husband of one of the women he had assaulted.