Fugitive rabbi threatens life of South African chief rabbi
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Fugitive rabbi threatens life of South African chief rabbi

Followers of Eliezer Berland, on the run from sex charges, invoke Talmudic 'law of the pursuer' after police raid

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland participates in a mass prayer session at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2012. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland participates in a mass prayer session at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2012. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

An on-the-run rabbi wanted in Israel for sex offenses has threatened South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein with death under Talmudic law after police raided his hideout.

Followers of Rabbi Eliezer Berland made the threats on his website in his name following a police raid on his hotel room in Samrand, north of Johannesburg, where he had been staying for several months, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported.

Berland’s followers accused Goldstein of alerting police to his location, and claimed that he should be put to death.

According to the Talmudic din rodef, or the “law of the pursuer,” extra-judicial killing is permitted against “one who pursues his fellow to kill him.” In this case, the accusations that Goldstein informed police were interpreted by Berland’s followers to mean that he was seeking their mentor’s death.

South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein speaks at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013.  (Screenshot/Channel 2)
South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein speaks at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013. (Screenshot/Channel 2)

The raid was carried out 10 days ago by South African police at the request of Interpol; Berland escaped and avoided arrest.

Berland, of the Breslov Hassidic dynasty, and founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary, fled Israel to Morocco in 2012 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, one of the leaders of the Breslov hassidic movement, participant in a mass prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Jan. 25, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, one of the leaders of the Breslov hassidic movement, participant in a mass prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. Jan. 25, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

Since then he has been spotted in Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

It was the third time South African police have attempted, and failed, to arrest Berland — once he escaped after a high-speed car chase.

While Goldstein, the South African chief rabbi, has yet to respond, a wide spectrum of Jewish groups in the country condemned Berland.

“The South African Jewish community calls on Rabbi Eliezer Berland to return to Israel immediately to face the serious criminal charges laid against him and for which there is an international warrant of arrest against him,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“We further condemn the baseless malicious lies and incitement to violence aimed at our chief rabbi, including the libelous accusation that the chief rabbi was responsible for the police raid on Berland’s compound,” the statement said.

Israel has requested Berland’s extradition from several countries but has so far been unsuccessful.

When last arrested in the Netherlands, Berland denied the allegations against him and fought his extradition on the grounds that the alleged assaults took place in the West Bank and Israel does not have jurisdiction there. He escaped to South Africa after he was freed on bail.

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