Infamous Israeli cult leader jailed for sexually assaulting his followers is linked to two horrific unsolved murders

  • Eliezer Berland, 83, was arrested over the murders of Nissim Shitrit and Avi Edri 
  • Ex-Rabbi was in charge of the ultra-Orthdodox Shuvu Banim cult for 30 years
  • The violent religious group  is accused of the murders in the 1980s and 1990s

A convicted sex offender has been accused of being at the centre of two gruesome cult murders in Israel.

Eliezer Berland, 83, was arrested in connection with the murders of Nissim Shitrit and Avi Edri in 1986 and 1990 on Monday.

He is currently serving 18 months for fraud, exploitation, attempted intimidation, tax offences and money laundering.

The notoriously slippery defrocked Rabbi secured a reduced sentence, despite serving 18 months in 2016 for sexual offences — again on a reduced term.

Seven of his Hasidic cult followers were arrested in recent weeks for the murders that occurred more than 30 years ago. 

Convicted sex offender Eliezer Berland (pictured at court in Haarlem, Israel, in 2014 before being convicted for sexual offences), 83, has been accused of being at the centre of gruesome cult murders in Israel more than 30 years ago


Nissim Shitrit (left) went missing in 1986 days after he filed a police report claiming to have been abducted and beaten up by Berland’s Shuvu Banim cult’s ‘modesty squads’ in Jerusalem. Avi Edri (right) was found dead in a forest north of the city in 1990 after being pummelled to death

Eliezer Berland is a defrocked rabbi and convicted sex offender who led the violent Shuvu Banim cult in Israel for 30 years.

The cult terrorised Jerusalem in the 1960s to 1990s, using violence and intimidation to enforce Haridi standards.

They are accused of abduction, assault and now murder, targeting those who do not follow the strict Orthodox principles. 

Berland, now 83, fled the country in 2013 after being accused of sexual offences against female members of the cult and violence towards their husbands.

He travelled around the US, Italy, Switzerland and Morocco, where he was exiled by King Mohammed XI.

The former Rabbi — who still broadcasts prayers on his website from prison — then hopped from Egypt, to Zimbabwe, then on to South Africa and finally the Netherlands.

Berland returned to Israel in 2016, confessing to rape charges.

He secured a reduced sentence of 18 months for two counts of ‘indecent acts’ and one assault.

Israeli authorities arrested him again in 2020 and he was convicted of  fraud, exploitation, attempted intimidation, tax offences and money laundering.

Berland is still serving the 18 months he was charged with for those crimes.

Now he has been implicated in the murders of of Nissim Shitrit and Avi Edri in 1986 and 1990.

He is under questioning and a judge said there is ‘reasonable suspicion that he committed offences’.

Judge Elad Lang said: ‘He implicated himself and provided a detailed version of events.’ 

Ultra-Orthodox Jew Shitrit, 17, disappeared days after filing a police report claiming to have been abducted and attacked by Berland’s Shuvu Banim cult’s ‘modesty squads’ in Jerusalem.  

The vigilante groups set up by Berland were infamous for using violence and intimidation to police Haredi standards in public.

They terrorised orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem for more than 30 years.

Shuvu Banim members were arrested at the time of the abduction but police did not have enough evidence to convict them.

Shitrit said he was accused by the cult of having relationships with multiple girls while a student.

His body was never found but a former Berland-follower said he was dismembered and buried in a forest outside the city, according to Israeli broadcaster Kann News. 

Berland’s son-in-law Zvi Zucker, a capo of one of the ‘modesty squads’, allegedly admitted that he knew about the murder.

Meanwhile, Edri, 41, an ultra-Orthodox taxi driver, was pummelled to death four years later, with his body found in Ramot Forest north of Jerusalem. 

Shuvu Banim is thought to have suspected him of multiple relationships with married Haredi women. 

A documentary in 2020 suggested the group was behind both murders, sparking a fresh police investigation.

Two men — one of whom is accused of being the main kidnapper and murderer — and a woman in their 60s who were former cult members were arrested on October 17.

The woman confessed to being used as ‘honey trap’ in Edri’s murder and potentially Shitrit’s as well, according to Israel Hayom.

She said she ‘enticed’ Shitrit to an apartment in Jerusalem where Berland-followers were waiting.

Three more suspects were arrested two days later, followed by two more after another two days. 

Police searched for Shitrit’s remains on Wednesday after new evidence came to light following the spate of recent arrests.

His brother Meir told radio network Moreshet that forensics were attempting to find traces of his DNA in ‘lumps of earth’ in a forrest in Beit Shemesh, 23 miles from Jerusalem. 

And an arrested member of the cult — also now in their 60s — reportedly implicated Berland this week.

During questioning, Berland further buried himself, admitting details of both of the cases, according to the Times of Israel.

Judge Elad Lang said: ‘There [is] reasonable suspicion that he committed offences. He implicated himself and provided a detailed version of events.’ 

Vigilante group Shivu Banim was set up by Berland and was infamous for using violence and intimidation to police Haredi standards in public. They terrorised orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem for more than 30 years

Berland returned to Israel in 2016, confessing to rape charges. He fled in 2013 after female members of the cult accused him of sexual offences

Berland fled Israel in 2013 after being accused of sexual offences against female members of the cult and violence towards their husbands.

He travelled around the US, Italy, Switzerland and Morocco, where he was exiled by King Mohammed XI.

The former Rabbi — who still broadcasts prayers on his website from prison — then hopped from Egypt, to Zimbabwe, then on to South Africa and finally the Netherlands.

Berland returned to Israel in 2016, confessing to rape charges.

He secured a reduced sentence of 18 months for two counts of ‘indecent acts’ and one assault.

Israeli authorities arrested him again in 2020 and he was convicted of  fraud, exploitation, attempted intimidation, tax offences and money laundering.

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