Berland no longer under murder probe detention, but remains jailed in unrelated case

Cult leader’s son-in-law and unnamed mayor set free; prosecutors expected to indict a follower of Shuvu Bonim sect for murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit in 1986

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Convicted sex offender Eliezer Berland was released on Thursday from remand after he was detained in connection with two cold case murders — but remains in prison to serve a sentence on unrelated charges.

Berland, the leader of the extremist Shuvu Bonim sect, has been implicated in the murder of 41-year-old Avi Edri in 1990 and the kidnapping and suspected murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit in 1986. Police have accused Berland of sending his followers to kill Shitrit. His followers have also been tied to Edri’s death.

But on Thursday prosecutors said they would release Berland and his son-in-law, Tzvi Tzucker, as well as a third suspect — an unnamed Haredi mayor — under restrictions.

They said they would be indicting Baruch Sharvit, a Shuvu Bonim follower, for his role in Shitrit’s disappearance.

Last month, Berland was remanded into custody for continued interrogation over his role in the cold case murders. Judge Elad Lang said at the time that “there was reasonable suspicion that [Berland] committed offenses. He implicated himself and provided a detailed version of events.”

Though he is being released from custody in regards to the decades-old murders, he will remain in prison on charges of fraud for swindling sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels. He previously served a sentence in prison for sexual assault.

Baruch Sharvit is seen outside the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on October 17, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Dozens of figures — including many with ties to local and national politics — have been questioned in connection with the two alleged homicides, after the case burst back onto the scene in mid-October with a series of arrests.

Last month, the ultra-Orthodox current mayor was remanded into custody over allegations that he was present at Edri’s murder when he was 17.

According to reports, Sharvit — who once served as a member of the cult’s “religious police” — met with Berland last month in an interrogation room, and admitted to playing a role in the murders of both Shitrit and Edri. Sharvit was said to have additionally incriminated other suspects.

Nissim Shitrit (L) and Avi Edri in undated photos (Courtesy)

Shitrit was allegedly beaten by the sect’s “religious police” four months before he disappeared in January 1986. In a documentary broadcast by Kan in 2020, one of Berland’s former disciples said that the religious police murdered the boy, dismembered him and buried his body in Eshtaol Forest near Beit Shemesh. His remains were never found and the case was never solved.

Edri was found beaten to death in Ramot Forest in the north of Jerusalem in 1990.

The cult-like Shuvu Bonim offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect has had repeated run-ins with the law, including attacking witnesses.

Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers. After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016, on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to his ill health.

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