Rabbi, already jailed for fraud, questioned over suspected murder

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Rabbi, already jailed for fraud, questioned over suspected murder

Eliezer Berland, 83, led a cult that drew the devoted following of many hundreds of people. He claimed to have healing powers

Michael Daventry is Jewish News’s foreign and broadcast editor

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing  at the Jerusalem District court on in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2020 (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem District court on in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2020 (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Charedi rabbi already imprisoned in Israel for fraud is facing fresh suspicion in connection to the disappearance and suspected murder of two men in the late 1980s.

Police want to speak to Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 83, who began a sentence last week for swindling terminally ill people out of money with the promise they will be healed.

Israeli media reported he was arrested on Monday morning and that his wife Tehillah Berland had also been detained by police for questioning in Jerusalem.

Investigative journalists have discovered in recent years that the kidnap and presumed murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit and of Jerusalem resident Avraham Edri, 41, may have been orchestrated by members of his sect, Shuvu Banim.

Shitrit was a Charedi youth who disappeared in 1986. His body was never found. Edri was killed and discovered beaten in Ramot Forest to the north of Jerusalem in 1990.

Ten other suspects have been held by police in connection to the two cases.

Shuvu Banim members are believed to have been involved in both cases, Haaretz reported, at a time when Berland was a heavily influential leader. Many members viewed him as a partly-divine being.

Berland was given an 18-month prison sentence after it emerged he had convinced families to pay thousands of shekels to him in exchange for blessings, promises to heal them and a guarantee they would live beyond 100 years.

The rabbi is not expected to serve the full sentence because of ill-health. An earlier prison sentence – for sexual assault and indecent acts – was also cut short because he has cancer.

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