Court allows Rabbi Berland’s trip to sex offender to Uman despite suspended release order

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The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday allowed convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland to travel to Ukraine’s Uman for Rosh Hashanah, despite a stay on his exit order and stern government warnings against all travel to the torn country. by war.

The court ordered Berland, 84, to post a bond of NIS 650,000 ($190,000), of which NIS 200,000 must be cash. Hundreds of his followers from the Shuvu Bonim cult are expected to join him on this trip.

Berland has previously served separate prison sentences for sex offenses and fraud, and last year was implicated but not charged in the murder of a decades-old teenager. He also spent years on the run from Israeli authorities. The suspension of the release order has been in place since 2017. He was recently released from prison in December.

Berland filed a petition with the court on Sunday to approve a two-week trip to Uman and offered a guarantee of NIS 150,000. Berland had already purchased tickets to fly Sept. 18 before the hearing. He should fly to Vienna and from there to Poland, then go overland to Ukraine.

Berland’s victims objected to granting him permission to leave the country, telling the court that he had received “endless indulgences” during the criminal proceedings against him due to his advanced age and state of health. assumed health.

“This same sex offender is asking for a long trip with intermediate stops in a war zone for which the Israeli government (and even the Ukrainian government) has issued a clear and stern warning to avoid traveling to Ukraine, and in particular to Uman,” said the victims wrote in their brief to the court asking it to dismiss Berland’s claim.

Screen capture from video of Rabbi Eliezer Berland urging his followers to go to Uman, August 2022. (Via YouTube, used pursuant to Copyright Act Clause 27a)

In 2018 and 2019 Berland was also allowed to travel for Rosh Hashanah, although in 2020 and 2021 he did not because he was in prison and due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19.

Berland encouraged his supporters to also travel to Uman, despite warnings from Israeli, Ukrainian and US authorities not to travel to Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia in February.

In a speech apparently filmed on August 30 and uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, Berland demanded that his supporters go to Uman, saying “no one should dare to stay here [in Israel] for Rosh Hashanah.

Every year, tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims, mostly Hasidim, travel to Uman from all over the world to visit Rabbi Nachman’s tomb for Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – celebrated this year from September 25-27.

Ukraine on Tuesday urged Jewish pilgrims not to make the trip. The U.S. Embassy in Israel issued a similar plea on Wednesday under the title: “Do not travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.”

Last week, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued its own warning, imploring pilgrims not to make the journey due to “a real and immediate risk to lives”.

Despite the war, the faithful have already begun to arrive in Uman. Local authorities expect more than 10,000 pilgrims, according to the governor.

The city, in central Ukraine, is relatively far from the front line, but it has been repeatedly hit by Russian strikes, according to regional governor Igor Taburets, quoted by Interfax-Ukraine.

Jewish men on the street near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) was the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement that settled in Uman in the early 1800s. He is one of the main figures of Hasidic Judaism, a mystical movement that emerged in 18th century and flourished in places like Poland and Ukraine. Pilgrims often quote a religious text from the rabbi, who promised he would “save [worshipers] hell” if they came to visit his grave on Rosh Hashanah.

Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he sexually assaulted several followers. After evading arrest for three years and traveling through various countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 for two counts of indecent acts and one count of assault, in connection with a plea deal that included seven months in jail. time served. He was released five months later, partly due to health issues.

He was arrested again, this time for fraud, in February 2020 after hundreds of people filed complaints with the police saying he had sold prayers and pills to desperate members of his community, promised to families of people with disabilities that their loved ones could walk. , and told the families of convicted felons that their loved ones would be released from prison.

Berland was convicted last year in a plea bargain and given an 18-month sentence, but was released in December.

In November 2021, police investigating the murder of a teenager in the 1980s told a court that Berland had ordered the killing.

Police said Berland allegedly dispatched the suspects who abducted and killed 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit, but was not present at the time of the murder. Berland is linked to three suspects arrested for their involvement in the crime, which remained unsolved for 35 years.

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