November 18, 2018

Will L.A. top rabbis make ‘Top Rabbi’ list — again?

Click here for Newsweek’s list o’ rabbis

Last year, when Newsweek published its inaugural list of America’s 50 most influential rabbis, Jay Sanderson, one of the list’s creators, said he was surprised by how much buzz it generated.

“We had hoped it would be provocative and it would open up conversation about religious leaders in America today,” Sanderson said.

But he was shocked at how many newspapers and bloggers — more than 100 — picked up the story. Even the Aryan Nation Web site used the list to show how the Jews run Hollywood, he said.

Jews around the country — including many rabbis — were talking about who made the list, who didn’t make the list, who shouldn’t have made the list and what would be a better list.

So when Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Television Network and JTN Productions, along with last year’s same collaborators — Michael Lynton, chair and CEO of Sony, and Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of News Corp — sat down to compile this year’s list, they found they had more rabbis than they knew what to do with.

That is one of the reasons they have compiled two rabbi lists this year scheduled to be released before Passover in Newsweek’s April 15 issue.

The first list will name the 50 most influential rabbis in America, like last year’s list. Sanderson, Lynton and Ginsburg compiled it using specific criteria: Are they known nationally and internationally? Do they have media presence? Are they leaders in their community and their movements? How big are their communities. How far is their reach?”

For example, the No. 1 rabbi last year, Rabbi Marvin Hier, “can get any political leader on the phone today,” Sanderson said.

But that list of rabbis left something out — those who do a superlative job filling the traditional roles of a rabbi. Hence the new list: The Top 25 Best Pulpit Rabbis in America. The criteria for that list asked questions such as: What is their ability to inspire congregations through scholarship and oratory? What is their success in growing and expanding their congregation? What is their community leadership and innovation? What is their ability to meet the spiritual and personal needs of their congregation?

So, the envelope please…

Sanderson refused to reveal the top names, but we pried. The top rabbi on each list is from Los Angeles, he hinted. Four out of the top 10 influential rabbis and five out of the 25 pulpit rabbis are also from here.

Deduction left us with Hier again at the top of the “Influential” list, and Sinai Temple’s David Wolpe heading the “Pulpit” list. Sanderson wouldn’t confirm or deny.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley is on the Pulpit list, and Rabbis Harold Schulweis and Naomi Levy are again on the Influential list.

Two L.A. rabbis, Wolpe and IKAR’s Sharon Brous, made both lists.

“We got criticized for this [L.A. skewing] last year, but L.A. doesn’t get enough credit for a lot of the great things happening in the community,” Sanderson said.

People may disagree with the list — but that’s OK, Sanderson said, it’s not scientific.

“At the end of the day, this is about three guys who care about the future of the world, who care about rabbis,” he said. “Many people will say, ‘Who the heck are we, anyway?'”