A rabbi who was extradited back to Israel from South Africa was indicted on several counts of sexual assaults, including of a teenage girl.
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 79, was arrested in April in Johannesburg and extradited to Israel earlier this month prior to his indictment at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Friday, Army Radio reported.
Berland, who has denied the allegations against him, is accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Prosecutors said he abused his status within the girl’s community. He is also accused of trying to engage in sexual acts with four women who came to him seeking his advice and help, the radio station reported.
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, the indictment says.
Berland is also accused of instructing two of his disciples to hurt anyone who tried to expose his actions.
According to the first charge, the 16-year-old arrived in Berland’s home in Jerusalem accompanied by her father, due to a spiritual crisis. The rabbi allegedly received her privately in his chambers where he covered her with a tallit (prayer shawl) and touched her over her clothes. Berland allegedly asked the girl to return the next day and repeated his deeds.
Another charge describes a meeting said to have taken place in 2011. The complainant, then 20 years old, visited Berland in his home in Beitar Illit. He allegedly held her close to him and touched her, before reportedly offering to buy her a car so she could visit him every day.
A 45-year-old woman complained that when she came to consult Berland in Tiberias on the matter of matchmaking and marriage, he told her that he would be like a husband to her and then kissed her on her face and hands, according to the indictment.
A fourth charge in the indictment alleges that Berland hugged, touched and kissed an 18-year-old girl who had come to see him with her husband and had met with him when said husband was not present.
A fifth charge was filed by a man who left Berland’s community after his wife accused him of sexually abusing her. The man says he began spreading the word of Berland’s actions and the rabbi, in retaliation, instructed his disciples to physically assault the man twice; on one occasion, he sustained a head injury.
Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, fled to South Africa for a year before he was extradited to Israel earlier this month. He was arrested in April in Johannesburg.
He fled Israel in 2013 to Morocco when reports of actions attributed to him were first published in the Israeli media, fleeing from there to South Africa, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe.
Earlier this month, media in Israel reported about a recording, allegedly of Berland admitting to rape. Berland’s attorney has denied in interviews with the Israeli media that the voice on the recording is Berland’s, saying his enemies are trying to hurt him.
Berland is considered a flight risk and will be held in custody throughout his trial, justice ministry officials told Army Radio.
Last summer, prior to his move to South Africa, he had 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.