I recently posted up about One in a Generation, the new biography about Rav Eliezer Berland in a public forum, and I got back a few comments that I thought should be addressed properly as FAQs (not least so I don't spend the next two weeks emailing the same things over and over again.)
If you have any additional comments you want me to try to address, drop me an email and if I can give you a bit more clarity, I'll do my best to answer, if I can.
Q: Are you part of Rav Berland’s community?
Before I started researching ‘One in a Generation’, all I knew about Rabbi Eliezer Berland is what I’d read in the media, same as everyone else.
But as a long-time investigative journalist who’s covered a lot of ‘fraudulent rabbi’ stories, there were a number of details about the investigation that just didn’t add up when I was reading the coverage.
So I started researching the story myself, and I came to the shocking conclusion that Rav Berland was actually the victim of a terrible campaign of slander and lies.
The more I researched, the more people I spoke to, the more interviews I conducted, the more I came to the conclusion that far from being the low-life that was portrayed in the media, Rav Eliezer Berland is actually a truly saintly individual.
Q: Why would anyone want to frame Rav Berland for a crime of this sort?
There are many answers to that question.
Some people within the old-school Breslov community always saw Rav Berland as an outsider, and felt threatened by the huge number of baal teshuvas (formerly secular Jews who return to religious observance) he was attracting into Breslov chassidut.
Over the years, the Rav also attracted a ‘lunatic fringe’ of people with severe mental and emotional problems who gravitated towards his unique brand of unconditional love and acceptance of the other.
These individuals frequently tried to ‘own’ the Rav - they’d try to enter into his apartment, jump into his car, follow him around to every event and gathering, and ultimately tried to force the Rav to do their bidding by all sorts of threats and violence. 4-5 of these individuals - all men - are behind the slanderous, false claims of abuse levelled at Rav Berland.
Then there’s also the ‘deep state’ aspect, where the Israeli Court system and police service is heavily influenced by a number of high-ranking individuals who have huge personal animus against anything they perceive to be connected to orthodox Judaism.
Q: There are a number of influential rabbis who have had no trouble at all with the police or Israeli authorities, so surely that argument doesn’t hold water?
If you look at the numbers of leading rabbis who have been hauled in for questioning for ‘racism’ and ‘incitement’ and ‘sedition’ over the last few years, you’ll find some impressive names there, including the late Rav Yitzhak Yosef, ztl, (Rav Ovadia Yosef’s son), the late Rav Yoram Abergel, ztl, the late Rav Uzi Meshulam, ztl, and Rav Y.Y. Pinto, amongst many, many others.
Rav Berland was high-up on the authorities list of ‘difficult characters’ for years, because of his continued visits to holy tombs in Palestinian-controlled areas that the Israeli government wanted to make off-limits after the failed Oslo accords.
While the authorities couldn’t get away with openly targeting every big rabbi, they have no qualms about pushing their 'anti-Torah' agenda whenever they are given even the smallest opening to do so.
There is a pronounced ‘anti-religious’ and ‘anti-chareidi’ vibe extant amongst Israel’s ruling elites, many of whom effectively control the country’s media, courts and bureaucratic functioning.
As the proceedings against Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu continue, more and more people within Israel itself are starting to wake up to the very corrupt practices found at every level of the Israeli media, police and courts.
Q: Why did Rav Berland plead guilty in court, if he was completely innocent of all charges?
The Rav was suffering from life-threatening cancer which the Israeli Prison Service was refusing to allow treatment for. The courts also refused to allow the Rav - who was almost 80 at the time this was occurring - to await trial under house arrest, as is the usual practice.
For month after month, the court kept postponing the trial that would categorically clear Rav Berland’s name, while his state of health steadily deteriorated.
Eventually, the Rav was told by his team of lawyers that it would be better to ‘confess’ to something small and arrange a plea bargain and reduced sentence - that would include being given permission to have his illness treated - than to die in prison.
Q: Is One in a Generation just part of a ‘white-wash’ attempt on behalf of the charedi community to hide more wrong-doing under the carpet?
No, absolutely not.
Twenty years ago, I lost my job on a Jewish newspaper for trying to write an expose on an orthodox ‘rabbi’ who was embezzling money from charitable funds, and doing a few other things besides.
Over the last two decades, I have consistently taken an uncompromising stance on tolerating any forms of abuse within the Jewish community, and have frequently written on these topics in a number of forums.
I don’t tolerate, or make excuses for any forms of abuse, full stop.
I wrote this book to get to the truth of the matter, and to try to publicize the terrible miscarriage of justice that has been perpetrated here. It’s the same principle and the same motivation that’s always underscored my investigative journalism.
And I’m also not ‘chareidi’ myself, so I have no personal reasons for trying to ‘white-wash’ anything within that particular community.
Q: Why is the book coming out in two volumes?
The first reason is that the sheer weight of material was becoming too much to actually print in one tome. Volume I is already 310 pages, and while it covers the first 75 years’ of Rav Eliezer Berland’s life, it’s still really only half the story.
Volume II will take an in-depth look at the people behind the slanderous campaign of lies that was waged against Rav Berland, and is much more explosive material, legally.
That book is being checked and double-checked by the lawyers before we can release it for publication, and that’s a very lengthy, involved process. We didn’t want to slow down the rest of the book in the meantime, so we decided to release the material in two volumes.
Q: When is Volume II due for release?
Hopefully sometime around the Summer. The story is still evolving - the people persecuting the Rav within the Breslov community are continuing to manufacture new lies and slanders all the time. But at some point soon, we’ll have to conclude the story at whatever point it’s reached.
I guess there could always be a Volume III, if necessary!
Q: Why isn’t the book available in Jewish bookstores?
The short answer is that it’s far too controversial for Jewish bookstores, especially at this stage when so many people are only going on the false accounts they’ve read about or seen in the media.
I hope that as more people start to know the true story, that will change by the time Volume II is ready, and we’ll have more distribution channels in the Jewish world. For now the book is available on Amazon, and it will also be available on the Book Depository site too, which has free shipping worldwide.
Again if you have a comment or question that you’d like me to address (that doesn’t involve an expletive…) please feel free to email me HERE. This is a very important topic, and I’d be very happy to try to answer your questions about it, if I can.