The Jerusalem Magistrate Court on Thursday convicted a prominent rabbi after he admitted to two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault in a plea deal with the prosecution.
Under the terms of the deal, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 79, who was extradited to Israel to face the charges after three years on the run, was cleared of two other charges of indecent acts. His sentencing hearing will be held next week.
However, Channel 2 reported that he is likely to serve 18 months of jail time, including time served since his arrest in the summer.
Considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav Hasidic sect, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.
He was on the run from authorities until earlier this year, eluding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.
According to the indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and in Beitar Illit and held private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to commit sexual acts with women, including minors.
Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, had also been accused of instructing two of his disciples to hurt anyone who tried to expose his actions.
Days after his July 19 return and subsequent arrest in Israel, Channel 2 aired a recording, allegedly of Berland admitting to rape. Berland’s attorney denied that the voice on the recording was Berland’s, saying his enemies were trying to hurt him.
Last summer, prior to a move to South Africa, Berland fought his extradition from the Netherlands on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and that Israel does not have jurisdiction there.