Rabbi convicted of sex offenses to light Lag Ba’Omer bonfire, drawing ire

Hassidic leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland was convicted in a November 2016 plea bargain of two counts of indecent assault for sexual attacks.

Eliezer Berland. (photo credit: JTA)
Eliezer Berland.
(photo credit: JTA)
Hassidic leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who was convicted for sexual assault, was to light a central bonfire for Lag Ba’Omer on Wednesday night outside of Meron.
The decision drew the ire of MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union), who sent a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit requesting he intervene.
Berland, the head of the Shuvu Banim community of the Breslov Hassidic sect, was convicted in a November 2016 plea bargain of two counts of indecent assault for sexual attacks on two women, as well as instructing one of his followers to assault the husband of one of the women he sexually assaulted. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail but was released under house arrest following an urgent operation in February.
Nahmias-Verbin posted the letter on Twitter, adding in a post that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) members of Knesset have told her privately they oppose the decision to allow Berland to light a bonfire. “It is difficult to understand how it is possible that a convicted person, who holds the title of rabbi and holds responsibility towards the public, will take part in a significant and widely-attended event funded by the state,” she wrote in the letter. “I call on you to intervene and act immediately against this, and prevent further severe harm to women who have been harmed, and to protect the public against an authorized offender.”
The Shuvu Banim bonfire will take place at midnight, according to haredi news site B’Hadrei Haredim.
A viral video made to look like a Channel 2 news broadcast called for Jews around the world to join in prayer on Thursday in the merits of the holiday.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.