Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Eliezer Berland's supporters protest his incarceration outside the Jerusalem District court, May 24, 2020.

Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg, one of the leading dayanim in the Haredi world, ruled last week that Eliezer Berland, leader of the Shuvu Banim cult, who had been convicted of indecent acts, used to hug, kiss and touch women under their garments.

In a letter revealed by Walla (דיין חרדי בכיר: ברלנד נהג לנשק נשים, ולשלוח ידיו תחת בגדיהן), Rabbi Rosenberg wrote that Berland had committed even more serious offenses and, he said, he received one testimony “about violation of the prohibition on revealing the pubic area.”

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“There was no doubt that he used to hug and kiss women and virgins and put his hands under their clothes, and there was undeniable evidence regarding this,” the rabbi noted. Based on those testimonies, Rabbi Rosenberg stated, he could not “imagine that there is anyone who would consider such a person as holy and righteous and deserving to lead a Jewish community.”

Despite the conviction and Berland’s own confession, Rabbi Rosenberg’s assertion is of great significance to the Haredi sector in light of the distrust of extremist Haredim in the courts. The Rosenberg letter was sent as a personal response to Rabbi Nissim Ben Shimon, former head of the Tel Aviv rabbinical tribunal, after he had sought to find out the legal foundation for the judgement which had been signed by senior Haredi rabbis and dayanim against Berland.

The wording of Dayan Rosenberg’s letter is most extraordinary in the Haredi community, where spiritual leaders refrain from publicly addressing sex offenses or similar issues and in rare cases do so only vaguely, using hints and code words. The letter was, in fact, written to clarify the relatively vague language of the rabbinical verdict, which states that Berland had committed “unspeakable and most heinous acts,” and that “clearly, according to our sacred teachings, anyone who does not observe the three prohibitions (the three commandments one should rather die than violate, which include illicit sex) must be kept away from normal people, and action must be taken to this end.”

Well, this restrained text was apparently too vague for some of Berland’s dyed-in-the-wool disciples, and so Rabbi Rosenberg had to spell it out, no holds barred, so to speak.

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