Fugitive rabbi convicted of sexual assault in plea deal

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A rabbi who was extradited back to Israel from South Africa after years on the run in several countries was convicted of sexual assault in a plea deal.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland admitted to two counts of indecent acts and one of assault under a plea bargain announced Thursday that cleared him of other molestation charges. The 79-year-old founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel will be sentenced next week in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

Berland was returned to Israel in July after being arrested four months earlier in Johannesburg. He had spent a year in South Africa along with dozens of followers.

He fled Israel in 2013 to Morocco when allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor, were first published in the Israeli media. Berland also lived in the Netherlands and Zimbabwe with followers.

He has been held in custody since returning to Israel since he was deemed a flight risk.