Culture, Global

Newsweek Names Top 50 Rabbis in US

I’ve always loved “top 50/100/whatever” lists.  I made an attempt in High School to watch all 100 of AFI’s top movies.  My senior English class spent time critiquing VH1’s top 100 rock songs.  I can’t say I expected to see, in Newsweek no less, a list of America’s top 50 most influential Rabbis.  This particular list provides a great deal of food for thought – what might it say about the current state of American Judaism?  What defines one as an American Rabbi?

Last fall, Sony Pictures CEO and Chairman Michael Lynton got together with his good friends and fellow power brokers Gary Ginsberg, of Newscorp., and Jay Sanderson, of JTN Productions and started working on a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America. They had a scoring system: Are the rabbis known nationally/internationally? (20 points.) Do they have a media presence? (10 points.) Are they leaders within their communities? (10 points.) Are they considered leaders in Judaism or their movements? (10 points.) Size of their constituency? (10 points.) Do they have political/social influence? (20 points.) Have they made an impact on Judaism in their career? (10 points.) Have they made a “greater” impact? (10 points.) This system, though helpful, is far from scientific; the men revised and rejiggered their list for months, and all three concede that the result is subjective.

So…. criticisms?  Your dream team?  Let the comment-fest begin!
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20 thoughts on “Newsweek Names Top 50 Rabbis in US

  1. Sigh. Very LA.
    To paraphrase Alvy Singer,
    “Awards! They do nothing out here but give out awards! I can’t believe it. Greatest . . . greatest fascist dictator, Adolf Hitler!”

  2. Kushner was pivotal in the idea of creating synagogue-based havurot. this had a distinct profile from the “independent” havurot. The original chair of the NHC was Michael Strassfeld (who was later ordained). He along with his then wife Sharon, and Richard Siegel wrote the Jewish Catalog series, which perhaps more than anything else launched the movement more broadly. Art Green was the driving force behind Havurat Shalom (originally Yeshivat Shalom) in Boston. The NHC ran out of the Reconstructionist Movement’s office, which back then was called the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (between iterations of FRCH). R. David Teutsch was the head of FRCH and helped broker the relationship and keep NHC afloat. A few other folks on the rabbi list were also invovled in the begining or continuation of the havurah movement including: Zalman (22), Cowan (32), Waskow (35), Paley (49), and i am sure others. John Ruskay, was an early leader in the New York Havurah, and now runs UJA-Fed NY. He isn’t a rabbi though, so i suppose is not a candidate. Barry Holtz is another one who was an early havurah dude who isn’t a candidate as a result of not having smicha.
    on the havurah front, a few snubs include:
    Art Green, Michael Strassfeld, and David Teutsch.
    It seems on of the reasons might be the enormous overabundance of Orthodox Rabbis. A staggering 34% of the list is made up of orthodox or ultra orthodox rabbis. This is in contrast to the orthodox and ultra-orthodox population makes up about 8% of US Jews.
    I was also surprised to see very little representation from the Hillel movement which seems to have a broad impact on Jewish life in America.

  3. Can I repeat: Yehuda Berg? Orthodox?
    Not so impressed with this list – I suppose if you mean influential without recourse to whether the influence is good or not, then fine – some have good, some, er, not so much (Berg?). I suppose what the list needs is an analysis associated with it or something…

  4. It’s also interesting to look at how the numbers broke down.
    18 Reform
    15 Orthodox
    10 Conservative
    3 Reconstructionist
    2 Renewal
    1 Lubavitch
    1 Hasidim
    This is interesting to me vis-a-vis the number of American Jews who affiliate with each of those movements. Which is to say, in my mind, most noticeably, Orthodox are overly represented in comparison to the American Jews who consider themselves as such, Conservative under-represented. Not that either of these facts are surprising. Just interesting to note.
    However, I’m not too surprised about the under-representation of women. Women have been in the rabbinate for a much shorter time than men. Most of these men (who I recognize) became rabbis before women could be recognized as such. And it takes time, in all professions, to rise to prominence.
    And yes, Yehuda Berg is influential. Maybe not as an Orthodox rabbi, but… reality’s reality.

  5. i can’t seem to find the exact breakout data from the NJPS but from my recollection here is a follow up on the number crunching:
    18 Reform (about right, reform yidden makeup about 40%, so they are represented at -2)
    15 Orthodox (if you subtract ultra-ortho communities, ortho is looking at about 6 or 7%, so they are at +12)
    10 Conservative (they makeup ~35-36% so they are at -8
    3 Reconstructionist (they are at +2)
    2 Renewal (they make up less than 1% so they are at +2)
    1 Lubavitch (i think this is about right)
    1 Hasidim (this is a weird designation, not sure how to code it)

  6. the system is way off. If you read the article these guys, with clearly too much time on their hands, created a “point system” that makes as much sense as the BCS. If we really take a look there are people missing from the list and people way below their true power level according the system. It seems like those who made the list made a list of the 50 most powerful rabbis in their world, not the Jewish world.

  7. Where’s Marc Angel, Sephardic rabbi and once head of the OU? And Joel Roth? Surely an influential Conservative posek who is in the center of the C-gay issue should be worth some mention on the list. Particularly when the future of queers in the C movement stands in his (not quite gay-friendly) fingers.

  8. I love how the women who get picked get picked BECAUSE they’re women. Like, congratulations, you’re female, here’s a prize. Bite me.

  9. It should also be noted that Jay Sanderson has had — and continues to have — a business relationship with CLAL and with its principals Irwin Kula and Brad Hirschfield, influentials numbers eight and thirtyseven respectively. Yes, a highly subjective ranking indeed!

  10. We have covered that the biggest snub is Green and the biggest joke is Burg. Though I am not a supporter I was surprised that Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein from the fellowship of Christians and Jews (is that what it is called) did not make it.
    Regarding Green, his reach extends way beyond just the havurah movement and its development. You can’t have the dean of RRC on the list without the man who made RRC. Another surprise was the absence of Brad Artson. And how the fuck did Mordechai Finley get on there? Finally, Is there any legitimacy to proposing David Hartman? He may not be in America, but the Machon is in the German Colony. I have also been told by several reform and conservative rabbis that he and his institute are more influential on the American religious scene than anything else around.
    Regarding the rubric created by these elders of zion (I mean they are powerbrokers arent they?), prominence and political clout is %40 of the score while impact on Judaism is only %10. Is this how the normal Jew thinks? What a shame.

  11. Yeah — these guys are CEOs and captains of industry; no wonder their list is weighted heavily toward the big money-makers. Also, their perception seems to be that you get Jew Points just for being Orthodox. Sadly, I think that’s a notion a lot of us in the liberal movements must combat not only with our gentile friends (I’ve actually had a co-worker explain to me the difference between “The Jews” and me), and even within our synagogues (and our own families).
    And I love Shmuley, even if he’s overexposed.
    Oh yeah — and ditto on the “Yehuda Berg: WTF?”.

  12. I think some of the denominational affiliations are mislabeled. E.g. Michael Lerner (labeled as Reform) has semicha from Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Renewal), and I think Michael Paley (labeled as Conservative) has Orthodox semicha.
    Also, “Krinsky has truly built a shul on every corner and brought the Chabad movement mainstream prominence.”? Didn’t Schneerson do most of that? It seems that Krinsky is getting #2 just by virtue of being at the head of a large organization. Likewise, the rabbis of Emanuel, Central Synagogue, etc., have no particular claims to fame other than being rabbis of really big congregations.
    Meanwhile, some of the rabbis (Ellenson, Greenberg, Saperstein, etc.) certainly deserve to be on there.

  13. Well, it’s an educational list. It seems biased toward West Coast and Reform pulpit rabbis… but perhaps I’m just biased toward the East Coast and educators.
    Berg certainly deserves to be on the list; I was just at a Scholastic book fair at a local Reform congregation, and two Berg titles were among the Judaica. Not bad for an Orthodox rabbi and a charlatan.
    It would be educational to set up a list of the next 50 rabbis….

  14. Haha, i love that smhuley boteach is there. and i love the ‘orthodox jews are overrepresented!’. Its almost like more orthodox jews go to shul regularly as a percentage and therefore need more rabbis to support them or something… haha, sometimes, liberals can be… there really is no better word than stupid. overrepresentation?! are you kidding me? do you really think representation has anything to do with this? we’re talking about RABBIS! this has, shockingly enough, to do with actual regular judaic observance. i’m taking a break from this site for a while (again).

  15. BfI – In my experience, Orthodox Jews who go shul more regularly are actually *less likely* to have their prayer services led by rabbis as opposed to regular laypeople. Just sayin’…
    And about that Conservative under-representation… In my mind that’s representative of the Conservative movement as a whole. Yeah, they’ve got the numbers, but they don’t have the innovation, influence, or creativity that could give them ten or so more names on the list of influential US rabbis. Conservative rabbis simply aren’t as ‘influential.’ They may shepherd a large number of followers, but not in headline-breaking sort of ways. I’m not saying the Conservative movement is dying (though I’m sure a number of y’all would say that for me) but it’s certainly stagnating. That seems to expressed pretty clearly in the breakdown of the list.

  16. I agree that many important Rabbis were left off of the list but that is a nature of a 50 person list.
    There is a generational bias, but that is the nature of fame and influence (especially when judged by a group of power brokers).
    I agree with many posters that the people left off of the list and the demographics of the list are interesting. Few of the Orthodox have any connection to YU beyond Smicha. Most are involved with alternative forms of Orthodoxy such as Chovevei Torah, JOFA, etc.
    Krinsky was (and is) the organizational mastermind of Chabad.
    Also, Rabbis known primarily for their scholarship (as apposed to popular works and cultural influence) are absent.

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