A rabbi convicted of sexual assault was set to be released from prison on medical leave Thursday, having served only five months of an 18-month sentence.
Rabbi Eliezer Berland’s scheduled release from Nitzan Prison comes after the State Prosecutor’s Office dropped its decision to appeal the decision, which was recommended by the Prisons Service Parole Board on Monday.
According to Hebrew media reports, Berland is suffering from numerous cancerous growths. Under the parole board’s ruling, he will have to remain under house arrest at a Jerusalem hospital hotel until October.
Berland, 80, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November after being convicted of two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault as part of a plea deal.
His 2016 capture in South Africa followed years of authorities trying to bring him to justice after he fled Israel in 2013.
Berland’s lawyer, Ephraim Dimri, praised the parole board’s decision.
“The parole board was correct in its decision to release the rabbi for medical, personal and humanitarian reasons, in particular as we near the festival of freedom,” the Israel Hayom daily quoted him as saying, in reference to the start of the Passover holiday next week.
Under the conditions of his early release, Berland will remain under house arrest at a hotel adjacent to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center Mount Scopus and be under constant surveillance until October 2017, when his shortened sentence ends, the parole board decided.
He would also be required to fulfill all of the conditions agreed upon with the Parole Board and attend followup meetings as part of his release, as well as pay for the mandated constant security presence.
Berland will be forbidden to leave Israel until October 6, when the conditions for his release expire, Channel 10 reported.
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 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.
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 2016 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.
In the summer of 2015, 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.