Americans love lists. There are lists of the best colleges, cars, and toasters. But few lists generate as much debate as the annual Newsweek/The Daily Beast list of America’s Top 50 Rabbis. The 2012 edition was released Monday and, as usual, is likely to raise some eyebrows. The team that compiled the list acknowledges that “its creators never intended it to be taken as seriously as it is.” Nevertheless, plenty of American Jews will hotly debate the rundown as they gather around their seder tables at the end of week.
The top five:
1. Rabbi David Wolpe (Conservative) of Beverly Hills. Wolpe was runner-up in 2011, but thanks to his legion of 25,000 Facebook followers and leadership of the largest Conservative synagogue west of the Mississippi, he earns this year’s top spot.
2. Yehuda Krinsky (Lubavitch) of Crown Heights, New York. Krinsky has been #1 on this list for the past two years and remains one of the most influential clergymen in the Jewish community. He oversees the vast, sprawling Chabad-Lubavitch movement around the world.
3. Peter Rubinstein (Reform) of New York’s historic Central Synagogue. As head of what the Wall Street Journal called the city’s first “magashul,” Rubinstein played a key behind-the-scenes role this year in easing tensions between Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and Occupy Wall Street protestors.
4. David Saperstein (Reform). The longtime leader of the Religious Action Center (RAC) is one of America’s preeminent voices on behalf of social justice.
5. Sharon Brous (Conservative) of Los Angeles. Brous made it into the top five — she was tenth last year — in large measure because her organization, IKAR, is the gold standard for captivating young, unaffiliated American Jews.
Gary Ginsberg and Michael Lynton originated the first list five years ago and currently create the rankings with Abigail Pogrebin. Lynton is CEO of the Sony Corporation of America, Ginsberg is executive VP of Time Warner, Inc., and Pogrebin is an author and former producer of CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
In a series of disclaimers, they seek to head off the standard criticism engendered by such lists. They acknowledge that there are more than 50 worthy rabbis in the US and explain that most of the rabbis they recognized reside on the two coasts because that’s where the major Jewish seminaries and communities are located. They also stress that, although there are far fewer women than men on the list, their 28 percent female rate is ahead of the rabbinate itself.