May 20, 2019

Rabbi David Wolpe tops Newsweek’s L.A.-heavy list of ‘most influential’ rabbis

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple is officially the top rabbi in America, according to Newsweek and the Daily Beast.

The sixth annual installment of the “Top 50 Rabbis” list, published on April 2, included rabbis who head religious movements, rabbis who lead political and community organizations, and rabbis known for their scholarship and teaching.

Wolpe, who is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Journal and was listed at No. 2 on Newsweek’s 2011 list, bumped Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky down to No. 2 from the top spot. Krinsky, the chairman of Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational and social services network, was No. 1 in 2011 and 2010.

While many Los Angeles-based rabbis have made it onto Newsweek’s list in past years — which might be due to the clustering of prominent rabbis, major seminaries, Jews and Jewish philanthropists in this city, but also could be attributed to the list’s creators residing here — five of this year’s top 10 spots are filled by rabbis based in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR was listed at No. 5 this year (No. 10 in 2011), becoming the first woman to crack the top five. Rabbi Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University, maintained his position as No. 6 on this year’s list, while Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who are dean and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, respectively, jointly occupied No. 8. (In 2011, Hier, was listed at No. 5, Cooper was listed at No. 28.) Rounding out the top 10 is Rabbi Steven Leder, senior rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who dropped two places from his 2011 No. 8 ranking.

Other Angelenos on the list are Rabbi Naomi Levy, founder and leader of Nashuva, at No. 23 (No. 19 in 2011); Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, No. 40, the founder and president of the Modern Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, who is new to the list; and, at No. 47 for the second year in a row, Rabbi Laura Geller, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

The list was created in 2006 by Time Warner Inc. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and Sony Corp. of America CEO Michael Lynton with help from Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President Jay Sanderson, who was then the CEO of Jewish Television Network. 

Even as the list commands a good deal of attention — it’s common to see a rabbi’s ranking on a synagogue’s Web site or a book’s author bio block — some are uneasy about (or downright dismissive of) the Newsweek/Daily Beast list.

“We weight the list toward what’s been newsworthy in the last year,” writes Abigail Pogrebin in one of eight disclaimers that serve as an introduction to the list, “because we want to let readers know what’s new in the world of Jewish clergy.”

The list’s creators also acknowledge that the list is subjective and not comprehensive, and that it skews male and bicoastal.