To be or not to be: The story behind Newsweek/Daily Beast’s top rabbis list

Pardon the delay; I should have blogged this weeks ago when the Jewish Journal ran a cover story on the Newsweek/Daily Beast top rabbis list but at the time I was traveling and doing my darndest not to blog while on vacation. After that it was Passover and it seemed fine to let it pass altogether but then the radio host and Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager wrote about the list and it quickly became one of the most popular stories on our Website. So now I have an excuse to post for posterity's sake.

Without overstating its significance, I want to say two things about this story:

First, I wouldn't have written it if I didn't think it raised some important questions — specifically, about the intersection of secular and religious values in American Jewish life and the way we perceive our spiritual leaders as well as our expectations for the rabbinate — but I don't think I quite realized how sensitive a topic it would prove to be, both to the people related to the list and to the broader community that consumes it.

Moreover, irrespective of my opinion of the list or the fact that it exists, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for many of the rabbis who appear on it and I consider it a privilege and an honor that through this work I've had the opportunity to get to know many of them. 

Here it is:

One night some years ago, two powerful Jewish men in media, one from New York and one from Los Angeles, were walking together through the streets of Jerusalem when they hatched a little idea. 

Michael Lynton, then CEO and co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and his longtime friend Gary Ginsberg, who served as a lawyer in the Clinton White House before becoming a vice president of News Corp. (and, consequently, a close personal adviser to Rupert Murdoch), were strolling around outside the King David Hotel when they noticed all “these little plaques” on the various buildings identifying the institution inside. “I remember talking to Gary about the fact that in certain other religions — most notably the Roman Catholic Church — there’s a central authority that determines doctrine, theology and policy,” Lynton recalled. But Jewish religious authority in the United States, he realized, “It’s a little bit of a mystery. Who are the people who determine these things? And then we thought: Wouldn’t it be fun, and a little bit mischievous, to put together a list of who these people are and rank order them?”

Read the rest of the story here.