A rabbi who conned more hundreds of people, some terminally ill, with promises of a miracle cure, was charged on Sunday with aggravated fraud and extortion.
Eliezer Berland, 82, was detained three weeks ago along with his wife and five major fundraisers for his yeshiva. Berland has previously served a 10-month sentence for sexually abusing his female acolytes.
The indictment was filed at Jerusalem District Court by the city's prosecutor's office on numerous charges, including fraud and extortion.Dozens of his worshippers protested outside the Jerusalem court during Berland's remand - which was extended until Thursday - hearing earlier.
"I guess the noise outside has to do with you,” said the judge to the rabbi during the hearing. “I can't hold a hearing like that. As long as it’s up to you, make sure to take care of it. Otherwise we’ll have to stop and postpone the hearing.”
According to the 16-article indictment, Berland, who was the head of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva - which is affiliated with the Breslov Hasidic movement - exercised authority over thousands of his worshippers.
He presented himself as a rabbinic and spiritual authority to the yeshiva’s members, who all were asked to act in accordance with Berland’s instructions.
The indictment also says that from the year 2014 until 2020, Berland with the help of his aides, exploited his status in order to extort money from his followers who were all desperate for help.
According to the indictment, Berland managed to convince his worshippers he has supernatural abilities and can “redeem your soul” in exchange for thousands of shekels.
In one particular case, he demanded NIS 20,000 ($6,000) from a daughter of a woman who was sick with cancer. "If the amount is paid to him, the hospital will do an x-ray and everything will come back clear,” one of the rabbi’s assistants told the daughter.
Berland, as the indictment states, promised full recovery from serious and sometimes incurable illnesses, recovery from permanent medical conditions (such as disability) as well as redemption for peoplr whose loved one had gone missing or were imprisoned.
In one instance, somewhere between 2013 and 2016, he promised a man convicted of murder that his sentence would be reduced, and Police Commissioner would be jailed instead within 30 days if the inmate transfers tens of thousands of shekels to Berland’s daughter.
In addition, on one occasion he promised the parents of toddler who near drowned and was hospitalized in a serious condition, that in exchange for NIS 20,000 ($6,000) the child would "wake up" from his coma.