Fugitive Hasidic rabbi in South African prison over Passover

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A fugitive Hasidic rabbi charged with sex abuse is spending Passover in a South African prison while authorities determine whether or not to extradite him to Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 78, was arrested in early April in Johannesburg, four years after first fleeing sex abuse charges in Israel. A founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel and a member of the Breslov Hasidic branch, Berland has denied accusations that he sexually assaulted several of his female followers.

Haaretz reported Monday that the rabbi faces a bail hearing Tuesday.

Approximately 700 Hasidic supporters of the rabbi protested outside the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan on Monday, according to Arutz Sheva.


At a court appearance Friday, Berland, who was being held at the maximum-security Kgosi Mampuru Prison in Pretoria, claimed he had been “threatened by gangsters” there, and his supporters said he would die if he remained in custody over Passover due to health problems and lack of kosher-for-Passover food.

The judge moved him to a single cell in Johannesburg Prison’s “awaiting facility” and allowed the rabbi’s family to deliver Passover food to him.

Since fleeing Israel in 2012, Berland has hidden in Morocco, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe. According to Haaretz, he was staying at hotels and golf estates in South Africa prior to his arrest.

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