Newsweek’s Top Rabbis


So Newsweek has published not one, but two different lists of Rabbis–one 50 names long for most “influential” Rabbis in America, and curiously, one 25 names long of the top “pulpit” rabbis in America. Now, I think we can all agree that while lists are a fun parlor game, there is a problem with ranking our spiritual leaders in the same way one would rank the best album ever (which is the Pixies Doolittle, disagree with me and we will come to blows).

That said, let us kvell a minute at the number of DC-area Rabbis on both lists: Rabbi Jack Moline from Agudas Achim, Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of Adas Israel, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center and M. Bruce Lustig from Washington Hebrew.

Now that we’re done with that, this is perhaps the dumbest list ever. Tell me why Rabbi Lustig was #10 on the most influential list last year  #24 on the list this year and appears nowhere on the list of top pulpit Rabbis? Is he influential, just not from his pulpit? Did he not order the commerative Top Rabbi Embossed Certificate and Travel Mug for $39.99?

Rabbi Wohlberg appears on both lists, as the #19 most influential and #13 on the pulpit list. This one is a headscratcher because it is well know that Rabbi Wohlberg is retiring from the pulpit and assuming the presidency of the Rabbinical Assembly of America.

And by the way, where is Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel? Rabbi Freundel has been very influential in composing the Orthodox movement’s response to modernity. Rabbinic chops aside, just a few years ago he was lauded as Joe Lieberman’s rabbi–now where’s the love?

Of course, the whole point of lists like this is to get people to discuss what they got right and what they got wrong (and of course, buy the magazine). But my only point would be that they got the whole thing wrong. To say there aren’t enough women on the list (there aren’t) is to entirely miss the point that the list is meaningless. The presence of more women or a member of the GLBTQ community like Rabbi Steve Greenberg wouldn’t make it a better list. It would just make it a more representative bad list.

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