Rav Eliezer Berland, a.k.a. ‘’The Sex Rabbi’’ is rosh yeshiva of the Hasidic Breslov movement. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the founding father of Hasidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov, founded the movement around the year 1800. Virtually all other Hasidic movements oppose the extreme ideas and methods of Breslov.
There have been quite some controversies surrounding Berland; in 2012 he was accused in Israel of sexually assaulting several of his female followers and pursued by the Israeli public prosecutor. Immediately after the police opened an investigation he fled the country to avoid persecution and possible conviction. Berland Is believed to have spent time in the United States, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe before being arrested at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on September the 11th of this year, at the request of Israeli authorities.
A week after his arrest he was released from custody and his passport was confiscated while awaiting the pending extradition decision. After his release he left for the Dutch Island of Texel; accompanied by some 300 of his followers, to spent the High Holy Days at the Dutch isle with a population of a little over 13 thousand. Berland and his followers have been misbehaving themselves quite severely on the island, inter alia by praying en masse in public locations such as supermarkets, wandering around in the middle of the highway, taking taxi rides and refusing to pay for it, begging in a aggressive manner and worst of all by using the streets as a public lavatory and leaving their faeces behind.
Once returned to mainland Berland was informed by Dutch authorities that he has an obligation to clock in daily at the police bureau, limiting his mobility rights. This resulted in the decision of the Berland clan to declare Amsterdam’s Buitenveldert neighbourhood, a suburb with a large Jewish population, their new home base. The movement is now vandalizing Buitenveldert in the same manner as they did to Texel. Its community, including most Jews, are now fed up with the Breslov practices and are demanding authorities to take action.
The entire affair is very sad and at the same time dangerous for three reasons.
First of all the Notorious R.A.V. has proved to lack the necessary leadership skills to serve as rosh of his kehila; in the first place because he forms a sexual threat to his female followers and second because he does not control his people and puts them at risk, which brings me to the second problem regarding this affair.
The longer this bizarre situation remains, as it is the more Anti-Semitism will start rising. Due to the fact that the affair is receiving quite some media coverage, the anti-Semitic slur and verbal violence starts to increase again. In a period where the Anti-Semitism level already is sky-high this is not a desirable development. You just have to open one of your social media accounts and read some comments, which are being posted under articles and videos of Dutch news outlets, regarding the issue, and you will see what I mean. My fear is that the verbal violence will turn into physical violence; this is of course by no means justifiable but can spring from a combination of frustration and anti-Semitic feelings.
When taking in account that the Berland clan consists of a large number of under-aged children foreseeing anti-Semitic violence becomes even more frightening. The parents choose to be part of this sect, not their children. By depriving these kids from normal living conditions and furthermore a normal life they are violating ethical, judicial and religious laws. Most people will agree that parents should do everything within their power to provide their children a carefree life and give them the opportunity to grow mentally and academically. Willingly depriving kids from these opportunities is wrong from an ethical point of view.
On a global scale however the Breslov parents are also breaking the law in 194 states; all these states have signed and ratified a certain human rights treaty, which sets out the civil, political, economical, social, health and cultural rights of children. This treaty is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, regulated by the UN. It is therefore not only morally wrong what these parents are putting their children through but in fact they are violating International Law in the process. The (mal)treatment of these children is lastly wrong from a religious stance; Judaism teaches us that g’d cares for all his children and his children need to follow his lead. Furthermore it teaches us that all g’d’s children are human beings and need to be protected by their parents. The last teaching of Judaism, which I would like to highlight here, is the idea that parents should set the right example for their children; I believe this needs no further explanation..
The last problem surrounding the Berland / Breslov affair is the fact that it endangers the Jewish community of the Netherlands. Ignorant non-Jewish Dutch could and most likely will, at some point, be under the impression that this sort of behaviour, that the Breslov community is portraying, is the general Jewish way. It gives Dutch Jews a bad name, pushes them in an even greater outcast position and worst of all it will expose them to even more Anti-Semitism.
The last thing to be said about it is that it forms an embarrassment for the Jewish faith, it creates the image that Judaism is an outdated religion that preaches extremism and that its followers should be considered outcast who do not fit in modern society. In the light of current developments and controversies surrounding religion and extremism it is not desired by Jews to be shamed by these kinds of misconceptions.
To conclude: the world does not need yet another religious controversy..
So please Rav Berland, make it stop!
From my point of view Berland should be forced to choose between one of the following two options:
1) Returning to Israel, turning himself in and dealing with the consequences.
2) Avoiding persecution and moving to some deserted island and taking his clan with him, the mature part of his followers that is. In this scenario the kids should be handed over to child protection so that they can be placed under custody of a caring foster family.
Either way let’s hope Berland & Co will do the right thing!