Rabbi Max "Lives" On

By Phil Jacobs (Washington Jewish Week)
August 12, 2011

Rabbi Jacob Max, 87, of Baltimore died on Tisha B'Av.

I find it so fitting that on our most difficult day of mourning, Rabbi Max passed away.

Rabbi Max was ordained in 1949 at the prestigious Ner Israel Rabbinical College. He also had degrees in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University and a master's in liberal arts also from Hopkins.

But in December 2008, Rabbi Max was accused of molestation by a female Sol Levinson Funeral Home employee. The following April, he was convicted in Baltimore County District Court of sexual offense in the fourth degree and second-degree assault. A month later, the rabbi decided not to appeal the sentence of one year of suspended incarceration and a year of unsupervised probation. The person who pressed the charge was not Jewish. Chances are if she were Jewish, it would have been another uncontested crime.

That June, the shul he founded, Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation's board of directors voted to discontinue the synagogue's longtime relationship with Rabbi Max.

He has passed on now. Yet, there are many of us who have such mixed feelings about this entire situation. Rabbi Max never publicly apologized for his transgressions even after he was found guilty.

So I note in the death notice that the family has requested donations to a local food pantry in lieu of flowers. Very nice. But there are plenty of people who donate money for food, and God bless them. May I suggest that one consider also donating funds to organizations who deal directly with the therapeutic care of molestation survivors.

May I also suggest that even though Rabbi Max has passed away, he is very much alive.

He's alive in the daily pain and suffering of the people he molested, some who still could be paying for therapy to give them at least a chance to sew their lives back together. He's alive in the inner space of molestation survivors who just couldn't get help.

Rabbi Max acted inappropriately in plain view. There were those who thought it was cute if when he was in his 50s, he'd "hit" on your 20 year-old daughter. Rabbis, teachers, his own shul members knew what was going on, yet never had him stop it. I have a friend who lives in New England who was 15 when her parents urged her to follow the rabbi into his office so that he could show her some artwork from Israel. She didn't want to. She told her parents that the girls at the shul considered the rabbi "creepy." She came out of the closed door office a changed young woman. He molested her. And now she is a practicing Catholic. Why? Because there was no where she could go, no rabbi who believed her story.

Rabbi Max also married my wife and I. And at my very wedding, he made a beeline towards my younger sister in law, who was some 30 years his junior.

So, he's deceased now. I know that there are some who are going to criticize me and this column for my comments about a dead man. I know, "he can't defend himself." Please.

Some of us know way too many people for which Rabbi Max was given license to kill their spirits, their hopes and in some cases their innocence.

Certainly now, there will probably be people who will feel safer about coming forward to receive help now that their molester has passed. Not 30 minutes after the notice of his death hit the Internet did I receive a phone call from a social worker living in California. A middle aged woman. She found me working now in Rockville, because she had a story to tell me. Now that Rabbi Max has gone, she said she can share it.

Rabbi Max, the late Rabbi Max, died on Tisha B'Av.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.