On-the-run rabbi faces extradition over sex charges


Rabbi Eliezer Berland, leader of one of the largest groups of Breslov Chassidim, is facing extradition from South Africa to Israel following a three-year odyssey in which he has evaded charges of sexual assault.

The 78-year-old founder and leader of the Shuvu Banim sect fled Israel in 2013 as the police opened a criminal investigation over accusations by a number of former group members that he had coerced women in their Jerusalem community to have sex with him.

Over the past three years he has travelled through the United States, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco - where he tried to rebuild his community until local Jewish leaders urged the government to deport him - Zimbabwe, Holland - where he was arrested and then absconded - and now South Africa.

Subject to an Interpol arrest warrant, Rabbi Berland was arrested again in April and the two governments are close to agreeing on his extradition. Rabbi Berland had agreed to return to Israel but then changed his mind and retracted his signature on the extradition papers.

The rabbi still commands the loyalty of hundreds of followers, many of them formerly secular Israelis who joined the Shuvu Banim yeshivas. For years they would follow him around Israel as he visited various graves and shrines.

Despite police complaints of hundreds of traffic violations by Chassidim driving over the speed limit to reach him, he refused to change his practices. Many of them continue to travel regularly to wherever he is in the world to pray with him on festivals.

Former members who have given testimony of the rabbi's alleged sexual assaults have complained of receiving threats from his followers.

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