The arrival of Rabbi Eliezer Berland in Johannesburg late last week has ignited a debate in South Africa over the proper approach to the fugitive Israeli and his followers. Berland, a Breslov hassid, is on the lam from Israeli authorities over allegations of sexually abusing and raping several female followers, including minors. He was exiled from Zimbabwe last week over violations of immigration laws.
Following Berland’s arrival, South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein sent a letter to colleagues asking them to request that their congregants provide no quarter to the fugitive or any of the disciples who have followed him into exile.
“Berland must return to Israel to face the criminal justice system,” Goldstein noted in an email obtained by the Post.
However, not every South African rabbi accepted the warning.
In a scathing rebuke, Rabbi Yitzhak Vaknin called on South African Jews to support Berland and his coterie, and castigated Goldstein for forbidding assistance to Jews before Passover.
Vaknin, according to the haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat, termed Goldstein a member of the “eruv rav,” an insult connoting the mixed multitude of gentiles that the Bible recounts as having accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt during the exodus.
According to the website, South Africa’s ultra-Orthodox community has turned to its top Torah scholars in Israel, known collectively as gedolei yisrael, to provide guidance regarding Berland.