15:04 GMT20 February 2020
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    In 2016, Jerusalem-based Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who headed a Hasidic sect, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for two counts of indecent acts and assault. The conviction did not rob him of support as even after he was released on parole after serving less than a year in prison, he remained some kind of “superhuman” for some followers.

    Rabbi/sex offender Eliezer Berland has been arrested in Jerusalem on allegations of fraud, tax evasion and exploitation-related offences, along with five other suspects, Haaretz reports. His wife was also reportedly detained. The suspects are to appear in front of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court which is to decide on their detention. More arrests are said to follow.

    The Israel police state that they are suspected of "cynically and cruelly exploiting hundreds of people and their family members, who probably were in their darkest hour, while demanding them to pay the rabbi tens of thousands of shekels in exchange for his blessings", while the rabbi allegedly gave followers candy instead of medications.

    Police report that they've exposed "infrastructure for carrying out a variety of money laundering offences, tax evasion and other tax-related offences worth hundreds of millions of shekels".

    Abusing Position for Money

    There are said to be complaints against Berland from hundreds of people in addition to numerous testimonies. For example, some of his supporters were reportedly forced to borrow money to pay him. He also allegedly exploited some of his followers’ beliefs and promised that terminally ill patients would not die. Even after they passed away, he is thought to have milked their families for money in exchange for their resurrection, and when this did not happen, he demanded more, promising to ensure they are to rise first amid the resurrection of the dead.

    Additionally, as Channel 13 News reported last year, the rabbi demanded considerable sums of money from a cancer patient and forbade her from obtaining medical treatment, letting her turn to doctors only several months later after her situation had deteriorated. The woman eventually died. As journalists reported, her story was by no means unique.

    Followers Attack Police

    Sunday’s arrest, however, does not seem to have shattered his followers’ faith in Berland, as they reportedly confronted the police who came to arrest him as he was teaching in a synagogue in Jerusalem. Some reportedly threw stones and other things at officers and wounded two of them. The police were forced to use stun grenades in response. Additionally, the rabbi’s supporters tried to stop the police car that took him away, by lying on the road or chasing the vehicle.

    As Haaretz’s earlier reports suggested, Berland, who led the Shuvu Banim Hasidic community, is hailed by his most devoted supporters as God incarnate, endowed with “superhuman powers.” Their support has not been shaken by the criminal case against him, as he was convicted of two counts of sexual acts against women without consent and assault after several years on the run and extradition from South Africa.

    The original indictment accused him of abusing his position of trust within the community and committing offences against minors. However, a later indictment, drafted after his confession, dropped molestation charges as part of his plea bargain. After signing the plea deal, he was sentenced to 18 months behind bars in 2016. He was released less than a year later, however, on parole.

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    Tags:
    sex offenders, tax evasion, fraud, arrest, rabbi, Israel, Jerusalem
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