With several abuse scandals plaguing the Jewish community over recent years, it is heartwarming to see how Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu took a public stand this week against convicted sexual predator 'Rabbi' Eliezer Berland.
Berland, who was sentenced to 18-months in prison for sexual assault, is still considered a hero by some Breslov hassidim. A recent article in Haaretz even claimed that some followers literally consider him God-like and excuse his many sexual indiscretions.
On Wednesday evening, Lag Ba'Omer, upon hearing that Berland was scheduled to make a grand entrance at the festivities held at Rashbi's Tomb in Meron while flanked by his followers, Rabbi Eliyahu tried everything possible to stop it from happening. Invoking an obscure bureaucratic rule that nominally put him in charge of the tomb due to his position of Tzfat Chief Rabbi, he banned Berland from the premises and said that his presence is an "abomination to the holy Rashbi."
"Mount Meron is a holy place and thousands of people from across Israel who come do not want to seek impurity on this day," Rabbi Eliyahu told Arutz Sheva. "Such a person who impersonates a hassidic rabbi is an abomination and he should be removed from Meron."
Berland, 81, is the founder of the Shuvu Banim yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and was a prominent figure in the Breslov community. After the allegations of sexual misconduct came to light in 2012, Rabbi Berland fled the country, traveling Europe and Africa while evading arrest and extradition.
Berland ended up illegally lighting a bonfire anyway, but the fact that the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat came out against him spoke volumes.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu exhibited similar integrity in 2015 when popular and charismatic Religious Zionist "Rabbi" Ezra Scheinberg (whose Orot Ha'ari Yeshiva is located in Tzfat) was found to be routinely adulterous with his students' wives. Despite Sheinberg's then enormous clout, Rabbi Eliyahu demanded that the yeshiva fire and denounce him.
Rabbi Eliyahu's influence was so strong that not only did Orot Ha'ari they throw Sheinberg out and bury his writings, but Sheinberg's former students demonstrated against the disgraced adulterer outside the courthouse when his case went to trial.
It's important to note that none of this won Rabbi Eliyahu any political points. Coming out publicly against known local figures has never made anyone popular. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu came out against these men because he thought that it was the right thing to do. With the tendency to avoid publicity in the Orthodox world when it comes to these issues, it's good to see this respected rabbi doing it right.