Sunday, February 16, 2020

Give Him a Mentos

Eliezer Berland arriving for a court hearing on February 13, 2020 (Times of Israel)
I am not surprised that charlatans exist in the Orthodox Jewish world. Nor am I surprised that there are sex offenders. But it is rare to find a man like 82 year old Eliezer Berland. He has the distinction of being both a charlatan and a sex offender.  

Berland is an amazing fellow. He managed to create a cult around himself consisting of hundreds of devoted followers - if not more. People that are still devoted to him as their spiritual guide. Despite his conviction as a sex offender in a plea bargain that landed him in jail. After first running from the law for three years.

I suppose looking the part helps. Not knowing anything about Berland –  when you see him you think you are looking at an elderly Gadol - a holy man. Seeing a man with white flowing Peyos, a beard, a giant black velvet Kipa on his head; and wearing a Talis all the time in public - can make can instant believer out of a lot of people.  

Looks can be deceiving. None are more deceiving than the looks of this guy. The fact that he got away with all of those sex crimes for many years enabled him to get a great reputation among legitimate rabbinic leaders. A reputation of successful outreach to non observant Jews -  convincing many of them to become observant with him as their charismatic religious leader. Basically making them a cult. His followers actually believe he is a miracle worker.

I can’t think of too many things more despicable than a man using his ‘talents’ to get his jollies from female cult members. And enriching himself by taking ‘cash for miracles’ from sick and dying people desperate for a cure for their disease.  Believing that they were donating money to ‘holy’ man who had a special connection to God.  All they had to do is - along with his blessing take a sweet tasting wafer that he dispensed. A wafer otherwise known as Mentos - a popular candy in Israel that can be purchased anywhere!

I can understand his cult members protesting his innocence. These true believers publicly decry the way a sick elderly holy man is being treated by the authorities. I can understand why they would listen to his call to ‘break the bones’ of potential witnesses too. ‘How dare they besmirch a such a holy man with their lying accusations?!’ ‘Of course they deserve to have their bones broken!’

Well, they are right about one thing. He is a sick man. But not only in the sense they mean it. He may have the illness they think he has. But that is not where his true sickness lies. It is in his depraved level of psychopathy! That a man can sexually abuse people the way he did  and sell his blessing and candy to terminally ill patients as though it can cure them is so beneath contempt – I don’t think there is a place in hell low enough for people like that.

And yet his cult following maintains his complete innocence in all matters. Despite his own guilty plea on sex abuse charges and prison time. And the hundreds of complaints from the people he took money form in exchange for those Mentos. To the tune millions of Shekels lining his pockets!

I suppose his cult members can be forgiven in protesting his innocence - having been brainwashed into believing in the infallibility of their charismatic leader - even as he admits guilt on sex abuse charges on the one hand - and against multitude of allegations made by the people he duped. They explain it all away as lies.

But where are the rabbinic leaders? To the best of my knowledge I don’t think there is one of any recognizable stature that has condemned this man. By their silence they seem to be siding with his followers. I’m not exactly sure why either.  

Why the silence?

Perhaps they don’t want to undo the good this guy did.  The organization he founded has supposedly brought a lot of people to observance. It is often the case that psychopaths that do heinous things provide cover for themselves by doing a lot of legitimately good deeds publicly. They build up a reputation of legitimacy by spending a great deal of time and energy doing the kinds of things that get attention. Thereby making it difficult if not impossible for many to believe any allegations of impropriety, no matter what they are, how severe, who made them, or how many people made them.

And if it’s someone that looks like Berland… well then  of course you can’t believe those allegations. How dare anyone say those kinds of things about a saintly man who has done so much for Judaism?! Such allegations are nothing more than being Motzi Shem Ra - the sin of saying terrible lies about an innocent man and ruining his reputation. We are not allowed to believes such things. Especially about someone like this. It’s the accusers that need to be condemned. Not the saintly Berland. He deserves instead to be shown public support! Which apparently he was, recently!

I cannot understand that mentality. I don’t understand how one can dismiss an admission of sexual abuse by the perpetrator himself - and dismiss the hundreds of people that have come forward to expose his ‘miracles for cash’ scam. How in heaven’s name can any same person, let alone a person recognized as a Gadol - justify a rabbi selling a terminally ill patient his blessing and a piece of candy – to cure their disease? What kind of monster does that?! And how can anyone not at least question it, let alone show such a person honor?

Even if one wants to salvage whatever good he has done by not publicly condemning him - one has to weigh that supposed good against all the bad. In this case the bad is so terrible that overwhelms any good he has supposedly done.  

It is sad that his followers don’t see the obvious. And even sadder that rabbinic leaders seem to be in the same boat. That an evil man is sick and elderly is no justification for mercy. What about his illness? Should he be given any special treatment because of it?  I agree with the judge. ‘Give him a Mentos’.