Monday, March 26, 2007

Top 50 Rabbis

I am tremendously thankful that other folks in the blogosphere keep up with newsweek and various other periodicals in which i hold very little interest. That way, when interesting things are run therein, I get a hat tip and can ignore them the rest of the time.
H/T to brother Drew for drawing our attention to Newsweek's list of the top-50 rabbis. It is an odd choice for a top 50 list. Top 50 lists often are oreinted toward identity groups (top 50 African-Americans, most powerful 50 women, etc). Other times the lists are framed around a profession (50 most influential professors, most inane 3 presidential candidates) or a cluster of professions (top 50 athletes).

Unlike the other more common categories this list is based on holding a specific professional degree. Rabbis, like JDs, are employed in a very wide variety of professions. Some lead religious congregations, others are army chaplains, some teach in universities, others run cultural non-profits. Some Rabbis work on behalf of the denominations, some work outside of that framework, some are political activists, others are art critics. One might have a list of top-50 lawyers, but can you imagine having a list of the top-50 JD recipients?

Many important jewish leaders were left off of the list as they don't have rabbinic ordination, other rabbis were included even though they aren't in the top 50 leaders because they did. A better list would be to compare a more narrow category so as to avoid comparing a congregational rabbi in St. Louis, with a inclusionary zoning advocate in DC. It is just a silly endevour.

With all these caveats in mind, a few thoughts:

  • The Havurah Movement is among the most important innovations in American Judaism in the last half century, it's most important leaders are mostly not on the list. Many are not rabbis, like John Ruskay (current director of UJA-Federation NY), so they weren't candidates for inclusion. Several other folks got snubbed though; Art Green, Michael Strassfeld, and David Teutsch, among others.
  • Hillel has had an enormous impact on changing the American Jewish community in the past few decades and its leaders are also suspiciously absent. That said, the most natural candidate for inclusion, Richard Joel, isn't a rabbi.
  • There seems to be a very strong and odd bias towards orthod and ultra-orthodox rabbis. Though the orthodox community (including ultra-o) makes up aroun 8% of the US jewish population orthodox rabbis make up 35% of the list. Some over-representation is probably called for since so many liberal jews look to the orthodox world for authenticity.
  • The Recon and Renewal movements are also over-represented. [Unclear why Sharon Kleinbaum would be listed as Reform even though she went to RRC and is a member of the RRA, if she were listed as recon she'd exacerbate this over-representation]. This is probably right as these movements tend to influence change in the Conservative and Reform movements. The old [and needlessly mean] joke is that the best way to figure out what the conservative movement will do is to check what the Recons did 20 years ago.
  • The Conservative movement is quite under-represented. Is that cause they just aren't that influential relative to their size or is it the first example of anti-Conservative media bias? For years the media has been screwing conservatives, now Conservatives, go figure.
In short, an odd goal, a weird methodology, but an intersting product. Lots of my personal favorites missed the list, and lots of good rabbis were left off. Perhaps we can someday consider whether Rabbis are actually good at being Rabbis rather than good at getting media attention.


At 3/27/2007 , Blogger Aharon said...

ZT, I'd love to read a who's who in progressive/innovative/liberal Jewish leaders across the denominations -- something to help orient Jews in the wilderness (like me) who are only now discovering a trans-denominational movement advancing eco-conscious and humane values within and outside Jewish communities. Are there blogs already focused on doing this?

At 3/27/2007 , Blogger Sarah said...

a thought about orthodox over-representation: they give smicha to a lot more students each year, than conservo, reform and recon do, so there's more rabbis to choose from.

At 3/28/2007 , Blogger Eli said...

Max Ticktin does in fact have the rabbi-degree, from JTS. I doubt he mentions it often given that his career is partly in academia. BTW, I remember him once making fun of the "Rabbinical Assembly" as a fancy name for the "alumni association."

Did I just admit to reading a blog post about Jews? Woops.

At 3/29/2007 , Blogger ZT said...

thanks for the correction Eli! My erroneous comment has been removed.

At 3/29/2007 , Blogger Matt said...

Harold M. Schulweis, who is thirteenteh on the list was instrumental in the foundation of the Havurah movement and is often referred to as the father or the havurah movement.

Notice how Rabbis who are executives and fund-raisers are at the top of the list? What type of people made the list? Exactly.

At 3/29/2007 , Blogger BZ said...

Part of the confusion may be that we're referring to two mostly unrelated phenomena as "the havurah movement". One is havurot within synagogues, associated with people such as Schulweis and Kushner. Another is independent havurot/minyanim/communities, associated with organizations such as the National Havurah Committee. The definition of a "havurah" is very different between the two.


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