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Granted early release, Berland leaves prison after a month and a half

Cult leader served sentence for swindling sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels; while he was in prison he was accused of involvement in 2 decades-old murder cases

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland, head of the controversial Shuvu Bonim sect, was granted early release from prison Wednesday after serving a tumultuous month and a half behind bard on a fraud conviction for swindling sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels.

While serving time at the Ayalon Prison in the central city of Ramle, Berland was arrested and then released from remand in connection with two cold case murders from the 1980s and 90s, which two members of his sect were subsequently charged for.

Berland started his term at the end of October after he was convicted of fraud in June, in a plea deal that saw him sentenced to 18 months. The sentence included time already served as Berland spent a year in jail before being released to house arrest in February of this year.

He was initially set to be released in February 2022 but was granted early release, in part due to poor health.

The rabbi was arrested 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.

In the arrest raid, dozens of boxes of powders and pills were found at Berland’s home that were given to supplicants as “wonder drugs.” Laboratory checks revealed them to be over-the-counter pain medication and candy, including Mentos.

The car of cult leader and convicted sex offender and fraudster Eliezer Berland is surrounded by his followers as he arrives at his home in Jerusalem, after he was released from prison, December 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the time of his sentencing, the judge ruled that Berland’s offenses were “committed systematically and out of greed, taking advantage of the complainants at their most difficult time during periods of crisis.”

While in prison, police made progress in the investigation into the murder of 41-year-old Avi Edri in 1990 and the kidnapping and suspected murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit in 1986, arresting several members of the Shuvu Bonim group.

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

Police accused Berland of sending his followers to kill Shitrit but eventually indicted only two of his followers.

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.

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