Police have opened an investigation into convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland following an investigative report alleging he told a cancer patient not to accept medical treatment and instead pay him money so that she will live.
After her daughter died as a result of that advice, Nurit Ben Moshe filed a police complaint on Thursday, with her lawyer arguing that Berland’s conduct constituted manslaughter.
“I’m here so no mother will suffer like I suffered and in order that [Berland] will pay for what he did,” Ben Moshe was quoted saying by Channel 13 news as saying outside the police station.
The investigation will focus on trying to get inside information from Berland’s supporters, a tough task since they are a closed circle and tend to be extremely devoted to their leader. Many of them have taken violent action and threatened those who speak against Berland.
The report on Channel 13’s “HaMakor” program last month detailed how Berland instructed Ben Moshe’s daughter to forgo cancer treatment and instead pay him thousands of shekels to pray for her to be cured.
Among his instructions were for her to eat a simple diet including soups made only from orange vegetables, something the report said had a significant negative impact on her health.
After intensive efforts by Ben Moshe, Berland eventually gave the go ahead for her daughter to seek medical help, but by then the cancer was already too advanced to save her.
The investigative report featured extensive hidden camera footage, including of Ben Moshe giving Berland thousands of shekels to pray for her daughter.
Berland has long been known to take “pidyonim” — contributions in exchange for blessings. In late-night visits, and surrounded by dozens of followers, Berland frequently shows up at Israeli hospitals across the country, unattended by staff, to bless the sick, according to footage uploaded by his followers.
In one instance, journalists made up the case of a woman declared brain-dead, with Berland promising to revive her for a NIS 20,000 ($5,700) fee.
Activists who have spoken to The Times of Israel in the past have cited several cases of followers who, they say, have sold their houses or have been plunged into debt for these benedictions, in what they argue is tantamount to extortion by a leader with undue influence over his followers.
The donations — provided by ostensibly consenting adults for a religious service — are not illegal under Israeli law.
Long considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers, 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, 81, 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 ill health.
Since then, he has resumed his activities as the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community, an offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect that has been disavowed by the broader Bratslav dynasty.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.