Tuesday, April 7, 2009

50 Influential Rabbis

Newsweek has published its annual list of the 50 most influential American rabbis (and Jeffrey Goldberg nitpicks it here). I can't nitpick it, but I can make some comments, snide or otherwise.

1. What an American idea! You've got Fortune lists of rich folks, halls of fame of the best baseball players, so why not have a list of top rabbis?

2. Only in America, of all diasporas Jews have ever lived in, have they been so at home and part of the surrounding society that it's even vaguely conceivable that a top general publication would think to include them in its remit to such an extent. And even that, only since the 1960s. Where else? Australia, perhaps? Canada? Surely nowhere else, and never before. If you wish, we can argue about this, but don't expect to convince me.

3. As Israelis go, I'm rather well informed about America in general and its Jews, too. At a stretch, I've heard of ten of these 50. I have the ability to string together two sentences about, at most, four. In a Jewish world with two centers, American and Israeli Jews are slowly but inexorably drifting apart; the rest are slowly orbiting around the one or the other.

4. Tho, now that I think of it, I bet 75% of America's Jews don't recognize ten of these 5o, either.

5. The list was put together
by Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman & CEO Michael Lynton, News Corporation Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and JTN Productions CEO Jay Sanderson
Huh?

6. The criteria used were
  • Are they known nationally/internationally?
  • Do they have political/social influence?
  • Do they have a media presence?
  • Are they leaders within their communities?
  • Are they considered leaders in Judaism or their movements?
  • Size of their constituency
  • Have they made an impact on Judaism in their career?
  • Have they made a "greater" impact?
Which is a telling list of criteria. It seems to me there are only one and a half criteria for the significance of a rabbi.
1. Has he made a lasting contribution to the Jewish discussion that has been going on for millennia? (A sub-set of this would be, is he an important Posek, articulator of Halacha)
2. Is he important to his community (but often this, too, is a subset of the previous one).

We're talking about rabbis, after all. Arguably, David Ben Gurion was the most important Jew of the 20th century, which demonstrates that Jews can be important to the Jewish world, at least the modern Jewish world, without being a rabbi. But that would be a different list.

PS. Don't jump down my throat for using the masculine. I actually expect women to get there, by and by, but that's a different subject.

1 comment:

Meryl Yourish said...

Honestly, nobody cares about this list. At least, no one with a lick of sense.

Exceptions, of course, would be publicity-seeking rabbis who think they belon on that list.

I looked through it. I've no idea who most of them are, either.