Fugitive Rabbi and followers in S.A.- how to react?

How should we react when a Chassidic Rebbe accused of sex crimes in Israel arrives with 300 of his followers in our community before Pesach after being expelled from Morocco and now Zimbabwe?

on the one hand, there is a prohibition against helping sinners (mesayin yedei ovrei aveira) and the Chilul Hashem involved here is unsurpassed.

On the other hand, some of the more naive members of a cult like this might well be “tinokos shenishbe’u” and victims of their own upbringing and environment- would the normal Mitzva of kiruv and hachnasas orchim, and tzedoko not apply to those of them who have nowhere to go for Yom Tov?

the Chief Rabbis of S.A. and Israel seem to think “yes”, on condition that they agree to go back to Israel after Pesach- is this not wishful thinking though, and kind of like offering a drug-addict help on condition he gives up drugs in a week?

Is this not really a far deeper problem that needs far more expert help- they are, after all, fellow Jews who are either willing accessories to horrendous things or unwilling victims of a terrible cult?

is this not perhaps an opportunity for us a community to do far more- or is it more than we can possibly handle, and wise to follow the Chief’s advise and get out as fast as possible?

The Chief Rabbi’s letter is posted below

Dear Rabbonim שליט”א


As per the previous e-mail, R. Eliezer Berland and his followers have wrongfully descended on our community, and in doing so have exacerbated the terrible chillul Hashem of the situation.


However, it appears that some of these families are now destitute without food or shelter before Pesach. Given the dire circumstances, those who are able to help these destitute people over the course of Pesach should do so on the following condition, that after Pesach the entire group of these followers must agree to return to Israel immediately.


R. Eliezer Berland himself must return to Israel immediately to face the criminal justice system. It is untenable and unconscionable for anybody to support or shelter a fugitive from justice.


His followers must return home immediately after Pesach and we as a community must insist they do so.


The direction provided in this letter is based on discussions with and represents the consensus of my opinion and that of Rabbi Kurtstag and the Johannesburg Beth Din, as well as Chief Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel.


חג כשר ושמח.



Yours sincerely


Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

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