Supporters of fugitive Israeli rabbi threaten life of S. African chief rabbi

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February 1, 2016 18:52

The Breslov Hassidic sect threatened the life of the South African chief rabbi after police raided the group in search for their spiritual leader, Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

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Rabbi Eliezer Berland

Rabbi Eliezer Berland. (photo credit: TWITTER)

The South African Jewish community is up in arms after a fugitive rabbi wanted in Israel on charges of child molestation issued a death threat against the country’s Chief Rabbi, who had previously banned his constituents from aiding the escapee and his entourage.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 78, the leader of an offshoot of the Breslov Hassidic sect, fled Israel in 2012 after the first accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, and has since travelled through Miami, Zurich, Morocco and Zimbabwe with a coterie of devoted followers.

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Despite being arrested in Amsterdam last year, Berland escaped before he could be extradited and made his way to south Africa. This is not the first time that he had taken refuge in the country, having also stayed there after being expelled from Zimbabwe in 2014.

Following a police raid on a hotel in which the rabbi and his group had been staying earlier this month, the rabbi’s supporters posted on their website that Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein had the halachic status of a “rodef,” someone who pursues with intent to kill. Under Talmudic law, someone with such a designation may be killed with impunity as a self-defense measure.

The South African Jewish community is up in arms after followers of a fugitive rabbi wanted in Israel on charges of child molestation issued a death threat against the country’s chief rabbi, who had previously banned his constituents from aiding the escapee and his entourage.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 78, the leader of an offshoot of the Breslov hassidic sect, fled Israel in 2012 after the first accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, and has since traveled through Miami, Zurich, Morocco, and Zimbabwe with a coterie of devoted followers.

Despite being arrested in Amsterdam last year, Berland escaped before he could be extradited and made his way to South Africa. This is not the first time that he has taken refuge in the country, having also stayed there after being expelled from Zimbabwe in 2014.

Following a police raid on a hotel in which the rabbi and his group had been staying earlier this month, the rabbi’s supporters posted on their website that Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein had the halachic status of a “rodef,” someone who pursues with intent to kill. Under Talmudic law, someone with such a designation may be killed with impunity as a self-defense measure.

“Though I am not certain who sent the police, police were sent in an attempt to arrest Rabbi Berland on Shabbos night, this is a very serious crime,” his supporters posted, quoting a news report on a haredi website attributing the statement to Johannesburg congregational Rabbi Yitzchak Chakak.

Jewish legal literature “speaks extensively on the halachic status of a rodef, a person who goes and tries to imprison his fellow in the hands of non-jews, there is a mitzva to stop him at all costs before he can carry out his plot. And the Halacha is referring to a simple Jew, the lowest of the low, all the more so in our case when we are dealing with a great rabbi who there is no one who can stand up to his level, a great Torah sage who has done such extensive communal work, has brought so many Jews back to repentance,” Chakak was reported as saying.

“This thing is sevenfold more severe than the basic din rodef. This is a very severe offense, especially when they are trying to hand him over to the kind of people who can easily shed blood. This is severe, there is nothing like it, it doesn’t matter what kind of great person is standing behind this act.”

During Berland’s previous sojourn in South Africa, Goldstein sent an email to his colleagues throughout the country informing them that Berland and a number of his followers had arrived in Johannesburg.

“Our community [must] not be involved with sheltering or supporting Berland and his followers,” Goldstein warned.

Any congregants likely to be “drawn into supporting or sheltering Berland and his followers” should be spoken with, he added, declaring that Berland must return to Israel to stand trial.

Following the recent threats against Goldstein, his office – in conjunction with several South African Jewish organizations, including the Board of Deputies, Zionist Federation and Union of Orthodox Synagogues – issued a joint statement calling on Berland to return to Israel “immediately face the serious criminal charges laid against him and for which there is an international warrant of arrest against him.

“We further condemn the baseless malicious lies and incitement to violence aimed at the chief rabbi, including the libelous accusation that the chief rabbi was responsible for, or had any involvement whatsoever in, the alleged police raid on Berland’s compound this past Shabbat,” the organizations wrote.

“Rabbi Berland is a fugitive from justice and the only solution to the current situation is for him to return to Israel and for the criminal justice system to take its due course.”


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