Eliezer Berland, a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi and convicted sex offender tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized Saturday in serious condition.
The 83-year-old has been hooked up to a ventilator at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports.
Berland is set to return to prison in October after being convicted of fraud in a plea deal in June which saw him sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Berland, the leader of the extremist Shuvu Banim sect, already spent a year in jail before being released to house arrest in February in a demonstration of leniency by the Supreme Court, which took into account his frail state.
Berland was arrested for fraud 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.” Initial laboratory checks revealed them to be over-the-counter pain medication and candy, including Mentos, officials said.
Berland has denied the charges, saying he only offered blessings and healing services when asked, and at sums far lower than those alleged by police.
Last May, he was further charged with tax evasion, violations of money laundering laws and other offenses for failing to report and concealing income generated through his activities with the Shuvu Bonim sect.
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 returned to Israel and 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 his ill health.
Despite his repeated run-ins with the law, Berland continues to command a cult-like following among the thousands of members of his group, an offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect.