Rabbi Convicted Of Sex Offense

District Judge Finds Max, 85, Guilty Of Fondling Funeral Home Employee's Breasts

Lawyer Plans Circuit Court Appeal

April 15, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

An 85-year-old rabbi well-known in the Baltimore area's Jewish community has been found guilty of sexually molesting a woman.

Rabbi Jacob Aaron Max, who turned 85 Tuesday, is rabbi emeritus and founder of Pikesville's Liberty Jewish Center, also known as the Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation. He had pleaded not guilty in Baltimore County District Court to the two counts on which he was convicted, a fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault.

The rabbi fondled the 44-year-old woman's breasts on two occasions minutes apart and murmured that he was "being bad" and was a "bad rabbi" for doing so, according to court documents. At the time of the Dec. 4 incident, the woman worked in the Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home in Reisterstown, and Max performed funerals there.

Judge Nancy Purpura, who supervised Monday's bench trial, sentenced Max to a one-year prison term, which she then suspended, and one year of unsupervised probation.

The rabbi's lawyer, David B. Irwin, said Tuesday that he would appeal the conviction to the Baltimore County Circuit Court and that there would be "a different result" in a jury trial. He said he would show that the woman was "very friendly" with the rabbi and sometimes "threw her arms around him."

"We consider her the aggressor," said Irwin, who predicted that the woman would file a civil lawsuit against the rabbi and the funeral home. "We believe her motive is monetary."

A police account of the incident said the woman was "physically shaking and crying uncontrollably" as she described to a police officer what had happened. She said she was in the funeral home's kitchen preparing a refreshment when Max approached her from behind "and proceeded to press his body up against the victim's body," pinning her against the counter, the investigator's report said.

The rabbi then "grabbed" the woman's hips and, a moment later, placed his hands outside her brassiere, the report said. She "immediately protested" and Max stepped away. The woman told the officer that she was "in complete shock because her relationship with the defendant has been strictly professional."

Less than a minute later, she said, Max returned to the kitchen and repeated the behavior. The woman yelled "No!" and pushed his hands away, she said. Max then left for the day.

Several days after the incident, a police investigator interviewed several of the woman's colleagues, one of whom said Max sometimes gave massages to the woman. Several of the employees described the woman as upset and crying on the day of the incident, although none said they had seen what occurred.

Max was rabbi of the Montefiore congregation for 50 years before retiring seven years ago, said Robert Meyerson, president of the congregation, which comprises about 250 families. Max's conviction - even the fact that he had been accused of a crime - took Meyerson "completely by surprise."

"We haven't been in touch that much," Meyerson said, "and we didn't know a thing about this case until Monday night," when he read about it on the Web site of the Baltimore Jewish Times. "It was shocking, out of the blue. We were all speechless, dismayed. All we can do is let the appeal take its course."

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