America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2012 According to Newsweek

Here are some names and details of the Newsweek List of America’s Top 50 Rabbis:

1) David Wolpe (Conservative): “When you think ‘America’ and ‘rabbi,’ you think Wolpe,” said one longtime Jewish journalist, echoing the view of many others. “He’s steering the course for the decade.” In addition to inspiring over-the-top devotion at Sinai Temple in Beverly Hills—the largest Conservative temple west of the Mississippi—Wolpe has created something of an online mega-church, more than doubling his Facebook followers since our last list: 25,000 have joined his page as “fans” who receive his daily sermonic posts, and he actually takes the time to answer many of the comments personally.”

2) Yehuda Krinsky (Orthdox): “No. 1 the last two years, Krinsky is still at the top of his game, running the sprawling and influential Chabad movement, though not without a few hiccups this past year.”

3) Peter Rubinstein (Reform):  “Rubinstein is senior rabbi of New York’s historic Central Synagogue, which the The Wall Street Journal said last fall has seen an “explosion in popularity” that has “earned it an affectionate reputation as the city’s first ‘Megashul.’” The New York Times reported that Rubinstein played a key behind-the-scenes role in mediating the resolution of Occupy Wall Street between Mayor Bloomberg’s office and the protesters, and he’s known to have a close, candid relationship with newly minted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who consults him on issues in the Jewish community.”

11) Avi Weiss (Modern Orthodox): “Senior rabbi at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Weiss is considered the father of a brand of Orthodoxy he calls “Open Orthodoxy,” which maintains strict observance while also expanding its definition. He founded Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), whose graduates continue to earn impressive placements in shuls, schools, and organizations, though some face resistance from the old guard who challenge YCT’s Orthodox credentials.”

12) Hershel Shachter (Orthodox0: “Considered one of the few living sages for his sweeping expertise in Talmud and a beloved teacher by many, Schachter is widely thought to have pushed Yeshiva University to the right religiously, socially, and politically. He is against various forms of modernity in the name of preserving rigorous Halacha (Jewish law), opposing organ donation for brain death, not recognizing female prayer groups, and resisting the initiatives of his fellow YU alum Avi Weiss (#11) to foster women as spiritual leaders.”

16) Shmuel Goldin (Orthodox): “This year Goldin became head of Modern Orthodoxy’s largest rabbinic association, the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), whose membership has clashed recently over whether women can be considered clergy and whether only a select list of Orthodox rabbis can perform authentic conversions.”

18) Sharon Kleinbaum (Reconstructionist): “This leader of the world’s largest gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in Manhattan, Kleinbaum, an openly lesbian rabbi, has changed the landscape for gay Jews. The only rabbi to make Newsweek’s list of “150 Women Who Shake the World” this year, Kleinbaum is a frequent speaker and panelist at feminist and gay-rights conferences and has testified before Congress. This past year she was in the news for holding up a pro-gay-marriage sign in Albany amid a sea of Orthodox protestors. (She put her arm around one of the Orthodox men there, and he recoiled and spat on the ground, declaring she was not a Jew.) When the New York gay-marriage law took effect, she performed 10 marriages in one day.”

21) Shmuel Kamenetsky (Haredi): The vice president of the Haredi umbrella organization, Agudath Israel of America’s Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages, Kamenetsky has enormous sway when it comes to the official Haredi position on social and political issues or halachic questions. Last fall he urged the rabbinate to sign a “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality,” which advocates “reparative therapy,” and last July, while the tragic disappearance of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was in its second day in Brooklyn, he said that sexual abuse should be reported not to the police but to a rabbi, who would then decide whether to call the cops. (After an uproar, he softened this position.) The dean of the Talmudical Yeshiva in Philadelphia, Kamenetsky is one of the most esteemed gedolim—arbiters of Jewish law in the ultra-Orthodox world.

24) Asher Lopatin (Modern Orthodox): “The rabbi at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago known especially for its famous member Rahm Emanuel, Lopatin plans to make aliyah (emigrate permanently to Israel) this summer to “build a pluralistic and diverse community in the Negev.”

30) Shumley Boteach (Orthodox): Known for his bestselling books on parenting and sex, Boteach “threw his yarmulke in the ring” to run for a congressional seat in New Jersey to “bring Jewish values into the political discourse” and won the Republican nomination. He has said he’ll consider legislation “to re-create an American Sabbath so parents have an incentive to take their kids to a park rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in the impulse purchase.” There is ample Boteach bashing among fellow clergy because of what’s perceived as his unremitting self-promotion, and his political candidacy has not been helped by a report in The Forward that said an “examination of public records reveals that the charity Boteach heads spends a significant portion of its revenues on payments to Boteach and his family.” (2011: #11)

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