November 4, 2021
JERUSALEM—A Jerusalem judge says that Eliezer Berland, one of Israel’s most infamous cult leaders, who repeatedly slipped through the hands of law enforcement by fleeing the country and securing reduced jail sentences through plea deals, has implicated himself in two gory unsolved murders dating back to 1986.
Following the arrests in recent weeks of seven of Berland’s followers, the defrocked rabbi, a convicted sex offender, was arrested on Monday at a prison in central Israel where he is serving an 18-month sentence for fraud.
Israeli police claim that Berland, 83, was involved in two notorious cold cases: The kidnapping and suspected murder of ultra-orthodox Jerusalem teenager Nissim Shitrit—who disappeared in 1986 days after filing a police complaint claiming to have been attacked by a gang of seminary students—and the unsolved killing of 41-year-old Avi Edri in 1990.
The new accusations against Berland have been placed under a gag order, but some details have emerged following the arrest of 10 suspects for their association with violent “modesty squads” operated by Berland’s personality-cult-cum-religious-sect, Shuvu Banim, that terrorized ultra-orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods 30 years ago.
One of the suspects, said to be men in their sixties and seventies, reportedly became a state’s witness and pointed a finger at the outlaw rabbi over the murders that shocked Jerusalem, leading to his arrest.
The sordid crimes are enough to turn bestselling mystery writer Dan Brown from the Vatican to the winding alleyways of Jerusalem’s ultra-religious courts in the lawless ’80s and ’90s.
Edri, an ultra-orthodox Jew, was found buried in a forest north of Jerusalem, pummeled to death, shortly after he disappeared. It is believed Berland’s private, mafia-like “religious police” targeted him after rumors swirled of his involvement with a woman.
Shitrit, only 17, last seen in January 1986, was allegedly thrashed to death by Berland’s goons after complaining of violence. In court hearings, police investigators acknowledged not having located Shitrit’s remains, but said they had “indications of homicide.”