Eliezer Berland, the disgraced leader of the Shuvu Banim community, has contracted coronavirus and has been hospitalized at Hadassah Ein Keren hospital in Jerusalem on oxygen support. Berland is 83 years old.
In June of this year, after a long-drawn-out legal process, Berland was convicted of serious offences and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was later transferred to an undisclosed location, after his followers persisted in congregating outside the various places where he was being held and causing disturbances in the local community.
Berland was also fined the sum of NIS 2,415,000 ($743,250) and ordered to pay compensation to the victims of his crimes, which included fraud, attempted intimidation, tax offenses, and money laundering.
In her summing-up of the case, Justice Einat Avman-Muller ruled that, “There exists no doubt regarding the gravity of the acts for which the defendant has been convicted, acts which were committed systematically and out of greed, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the victims and their distress at their most difficult times.”
Berland and his entourage were known to roam the corridors of the country’s hospitals, in search of relatives of the seriously ill, promising them miraculous cures in return for huge sums of money. Berland made several documented assurances of recovery even from clinical death; failure to produce the promised miracle was not accompanied by the return of the “pidyon nefesh” money provided by the relatives of the deceased, often with great self-sacrifice.
Berland was already a convicted criminal at the time of his arrest for financial crimes, having admitted to sexual abuse and other related crimes against the wives of several of his followers. He continues to be revered by the Shuvu Banim community, which has distorted Hassidic teachings and claims that as the “tzaddik” (righteous leader), he is permitted to transgress the laws of the Torah.