Recording purportedly features fugitive rabbi admitting to raping female follower

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A rabbi who was extradited back to Israel from South Africa to face sex abuse charges is heard admitting to raping one woman on a years-old recording. The recording purported to be Rabbi Eliezer Berland was aired Tuesday night on Israel’s Channel 2. It reportedly has been turned over to the police.

Berland is accused of sexually assaulting several of his female followers; he has denied the allegations.

Among the recordings is a conversation between Berland, 79, and several of his followers in which he talks about “the first time I raped her” — her refers to one of his followers. On the recording, Berland explains that the woman was not obligated to divorce her husband with a Jewish divorce, or “get,” since she did not consent to the sex act.

“She had no idea what was happening, so there is no need for a get,” Berland told his listeners. “The rape had completely broken her, start to finish.” He also said that “she never did it out of her own free will.”

Berland’s attorney has denied in interviews with the Israeli media that the voice on the recording is Berland’s, saying his enemies are trying to hurt him.

The attorney for several of Berland’s victims has called for the rabbi not to be released to house arrest, as a court is now considering.

Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, fled to South Africa for a year before he was extradited to Israel earlier this month. He was arrested in April in Johannesburg.

Last summer, prior to his move to South Africa, he had fought his extradition from the Netherlands on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and Israel does not have jurisdiction there.

Since the accusations in 2012, Berland had also hidden in Morocco and Zimbabwe.