By a majority, the board of directors at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah (MMAE) Hebrew Congregation voted June 28 to discontinue, at least in the interim, the synagogue’s longtime relationship with its rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Jacob Aaron Max.
On April 13, Rabbi Max, 85, was convicted in Baltimore County District Court of sexual offense in the fourth degree and second-degree assault for the molestation of a former Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home employee last December. A month later, the rabbi decided not to appeal Judge Nancy Purpura’s sentence of one year of suspended incarceration and one year of unsupervised probation.
When contacted July 2 by the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES, Rabbi Max refused to comment on his case or the MMAE board’s decision.
Rabbi Max served as spiritual leader of MMAE, formerly known as Liberty Jewish Center, from the early 1950s until his retirement seven years ago. A Ner Israel Rabbinical College graduate, Rabbi Max resigned in May from the Baltimore Board of Rabbis a day before that organization was slated to discuss and vote on his expulsion from the group because of his conviction.
MMAE President Robert H. Meyerson told the JEWISH TIMES that Rabbi Max was personally informed of the synagogue board’s decision June 30, and a letter to congregants was sent out later that day. He said the letter was “based on the vote that took place at the board of directors meeting, which was based on an executive board recommendation.”
Mr. Meyerson would not discuss Rabbi Max’s reaction to the synagogue’s move to break away from him. “It’s a matter of confidence between us,” he said. “It’s not for public consumption.”
(MMAE’s Rabbi Elan Adler referred all questions on the Max case to Mr. Meyerson.)
In the letter, Mr. Meyerson wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I report to you the decision of the Board of Directors with regard to how we, as a congregation, are addressing the Rabbi Max situation. … As a spiritual institution, we cannot be seen as condoning or ignoring the serious breach of behavior that led to Rabbi Max’s conviction. Therefore, our Executive Committee has recommended and the Board of Directors approved that until further notice, Rabbi Max’s title of rabbi emeritus will be suspended, along with all the privileges attendant to that title.”
The letter states that MMAE would remove the polished stone marker designating “the Rabbi Jacob A. Max Torah Campus” at the entrance to the synagogue’s driveway, as well as a sign reserving a parking place for Rabbi Max. The congregation will also remove his name as rabbi emeritus from its stationery and Shabbat Bulletin.
In addition, Mr. Meyerson wrote that a letter was sent to Rabbi Max about the decision, “inviting his expressions of remorse and regret, and letting him know of our openness to forgiveness when sought.”
The letter concludes, “We pray for healing of all victims of sexual abuse, and for increased awareness throughout the Jewish community about this issue. The painting of Rabbi Max will remain in the vestibule leading to the main sanctuary, as we cannot in good conscience ignore his decades of distinguished service. A fitting portrait of Rabbi Adler will also be hung in the vestibule.”
Mr. Meyerson told the JEWISH TIMES that the board viewed the decision to continue displaying Rabbi Max’s portrait as different from the removal of the stone marker.
“It’s two different things,” he said. “I can’t erase history. He’s the history of Liberty Jewish Center. He founded the shul. I can’t erase the history of his being the spiritual leader here for so long. It’s like the [Richard] Nixon Library [& Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif.]. It’s still the Nixon Library.
“We just felt this was the right thing to do,” Mr. Meyerson said. “No mention of Rabbi Max? How can you do that?”
When asked about the phrase “suspended” in the letter, he said, “I don’t know what the future will bring. It could be reversed; all things are possible. It’s not permanent, just in the foreseeable future. We’ll see.”
Mr. Meyerson — who refused to discuss if the suspension affected Rabbi Max’s pension from the synagogue — said the board’s decision was a difficult one. “I’m still sick about it,” he said. “‘Hard’ is not the right word for it. There are no words to describe how difficult this process has been.”