The Israel Prison Parole Board gave its approval for a convicted sex offender rabbi, who is under house arrest, to make a pilgrimage to Uman in Ukraine in the coming days, Hebrew media reported Sunday.
Eliezer Berland, 80, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in November 2016 after being convicted on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault.
The rabbi was authorized to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Each year tens of thousands of Jews converge on the Ukrainian city, which is the final resting place of the Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, an 18th-century luminary who founded the Bratslav Hasidic sect
He was released earlier this year after serving five months behind bars, in part due to suffering from cancer. He was given permission to move to a hotel next to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus, where he was to be under constant surveillance until October, when his sentence will end.
Long considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav sect, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.
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 engage in sexual acts with women, including minors, according to the charges against him.
He was on the run from authorities until 2016, 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.
Following a plea bargain the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court convicted and sentenced him in November 2016, though some seven months that he spent in jails in South Africa and the US were counted as time served.
In April, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was criticized for visiting Berland in the hotel. Litzman explained after the visit that it was part of his “ethical duty” to care for all sick people, regardless of their backgrounds.