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Stars of Rabbi-dom

The year they finally included more women

Marc Tracy
April 18, 2011
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, again in the number-one spot.(The Daily Beast)
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, again in the number-one spot.(The Daily Beast)

Newsweek‘s “50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” list comes, unlike last year’s, with The Daily Beast’s imprimatur (since it merged with Newsweek) and with the addition of Tablet Magazine contributing editor Abigail Pogrebin to the panelists. It’s openly un-authoritative (although I think Steven I. Weiss goes waaaay overboard in basically accusing it of being anti-Semitic, “Newsweek throwing pennies on the floor and ordering, ‘dance, Jews, dance’”). I think it’s good, largely harmless fun, personally.

Yehudah Krinsky, the Chabad-Lubavitch leader, remained at the top for the second year in a row. By far the biggest hit was taken by Eric Yoffie, who moved from number 2 to off the list—no doubt because of his lame-duck status (though I question this radical movement, given that he will head the Union for Reform Judaism through July 2012); his nominated replacement, Richard Jacobs, took number seven. David Wolpe, a Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles, went from 13 to the runner-up spot. The rest of the top ranks are no strangers there: Three, four, and five went to David Saperstein, of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Peter Rubenstein, arguably New York City’s most influential Reform pulpit rabbi; and Marvin Hier, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Oh, and congratulations to Joseph Telushkin, author of Nextbook Press’s Hillel, who secured 15th for the third year in a row.)

Women. Best thing about this year’s list? It has more women (13) than the past two years’ lists combined (six and six), which is likely a reflection both of actual trends and of the recognition that not enough have been included. Last year’s top-ranked woman, at 17, was Ellen Weinberg-Dreyfus of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis; this year, it’s Sharon Brous, at 10, a Conservative rabbi whose innovative, spiritual “IKAR” movement is all the rage in L.A., where such things tend to be all the rage. Other notables in this category include Naomi Levy, 19th, also a Conservative founder of a quirky, catchy, spiritual L.A. movement; Sharon Kleinbaum, 24th, head of Manhattan’s Beit Simchat Torah, the largest LGBT-focused congregation; and, of course, Sara Hurwitz, 32nd, controversially appointed Orthodox Judaism’s first “rabba” last year by Avi Weiss (#12). May there be 20 or 25 next year!

Down a Schneier. Last year’s father-son tandem, Arthur and Marc Schneier, ranked 34th and 41st, respectively. Arthur, of Manhattan’s Park East, continues to be a rising star, at 26, but his tastefully named son—who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons—dropped off the list.

Shmuley. New Jersey’s own dropped from sixth to 11th. Happens.

“Kabbalah.” The Kabbalah Centre’s Yehuda Berg fell from 14th to 37th. Given what the Kabbalah Centre is, things have upset me more.

The Scroll’s beachhead. Friend-of-The Scroll Andy Bachman reappears on the list, at 41, after a few years in the wilderness. As the list acknowledges, Bachman is actually a critic of the list, and thereby embodies the quintessential Jewish quandary of not wishing to belong to a club that has him as a member. My guess is, however, that this is secretly providing him necessary consolation following a weekend in which his Milwaukee Brewers were swept by the above-.500 Washington Nationals (ahem, below).

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.