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Berland’s son-in-law, follower named as suspects in cold case murders linked to sect

Tzvi Tzucker was head of Shuvu Bonim cult’s ‘modesty patrol’ at the time 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit disappeared; police tell court they plan to charge ex-minister’s son

Tzvi Tzucker is seen outside the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on November 1, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Tzvi Tzucker is seen outside the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on November 1, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The son-in-law of convicted sex offender Eliezer Berland and another follower of the extremist Shuvu Bonim sect were named on Monday as two of the suspects in the cold case murder and suspected murder tied to the cult.

The names of the two were permitted to be published after a ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The first suspect was named as Tzvi Tzucker, Berland’s son-in-law who served as head of the ultra-Orthodox sect’s “religious police.” He left the sect a few years ago amid the allegations of sexual abuse against his father-in-law.

Tzucker has denied all involvement in the killings.

The second suspect was named as Baruch Sharvit, a member of Berland’s cult. According to Channel 13 news, Sharvit has admitted to investigators that he killed 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit and has implicated other suspects.

Earlier this month, Kan news reported that Sharvit met with Berland in the interrogation room, where the sect leader instructed his follower to provide information to the investigators.

According to the report, Sharvit then admitted to playing a role in the murder of Shitrit as well as the killing of 41-year-old Avi Edri. Sharvit was said to have additionally incriminated other suspects.

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.

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

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

According to reports, police told the court on Monday they also intend to charge the son of a former senior cabinet minister who was arrested earlier this month in connection with the investigation. His identity has not been cleared for publication.

Police say their investigations into the suspected murder of Shitrit and the murder of Edri are tied to the Shuvu Bonim sect, run by Berland.

Last week, police told the court that the current mayor of an ultra-Orthodox city was also present and played an active role in the murder of Edri. The mayor was 17 years old at the time.

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

The mayor’s attorney told reporters that his client “has nothing to do with the grave affair and has no idea how his name was insinuated into it.”

Police have previously said that some of those arrested were questioned over allegations of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Not all are suspected of direct involvement in the killings.

Berland, the head of the sect, currently in prison for fraud, was remanded earlier this month to allow his continued interrogation in connection to the murders. A police representative said that there was evidence showing Berland’s responsibility for, and involvement in, the killings.

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

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

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.

Berland was arrested for fraud in February 2020, after hundreds of people filed police complaints saying that he had sold prayers and pills to desperate members of his community, promised families of individuals with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk, and told families of convicted felons that their relatives would be freed from prison.

Berland entered prison last month after he was convicted of fraud in June, in a plea deal that saw him sentenced to 18 months.

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