Bad-ass bimah

Website on the prowl for hot rabbis

An online hub for Jewish sexuality is now taking nominations for the sexiest rabbis around; rabbis weigh in

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Hanniel Levenson (photo credit: courtesy)
Rabbi Hanniel Levenson (photo credit: courtesy)

Newsweek puts out an annual list of the most influential rabbis. The Forward compiles a list of the most inspiring ones. So, perhaps it was only a matter of time before we’d see the latest example of the trend: The Sexiest Rabbis List.

Jewrotica, an online hub for Jewish sexual expression, is putting out the call for nominations for this list. On October 17, Jewrotica’s 28-year-old founder and editor Ayo Oppenheimer announced the project. Four days, 20,000 hits, and 60 nominations later, “Sexiest Rabbis” has been changed to “Hottest Rabbis” in response to apparent widespread misunderstanding of the nomination criteria.

“We just put ‘sexy’ in the title, because that’s the vocabulary we use at Jewrotica. We’re being edgy, fun and youthful  — not disrespectful,” explained Oppenheimer. “If you read the nomination information, then you’ll see that we are looking for rabbis with smarts, who are involved in outreach or social justice activism, and who have that bad-ass factor.” By “bad ass factor,” she means unique, cool personality traits or skills, like playing jazz or riding a motorcycle.

“We’re not at all looking at physical looks. It has nothing to do with measurements or six-packs. There is so much more than that that makes someone attractive,” Oppenheimer continued.

Ayo Oppenheimer, founder and editor of Jewrotica claims the 'Sexiest Rabbis' list is tongue-in-cheek. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ayo Oppenheimer, founder and editor of Jewrotica claims the ‘Sexiest Rabbis’ list is tongue-in-cheek. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Jewrotica may have changed “sexy” to “hot,” but for some, it’s a difference without a distinction.

“I love to share my rabbinate with people, and I love my sexuality, but they don’t go together,” said Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, rabbi-in-residence at Be’chol Lashon in San Francisco.

“Most rabbis don’t see themselves this way,” she said about the “sexy” label. “And when they do, it lead to some serious problems.”

Along these lines, Oppenheimer shared that one rabbi did complain to her about a congregant’s using flirtatious language on the nomination form. “He didn’t want to open that door,” Oppenheimer said.

Rabbi Hanniel Levenson of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons reads the initiative as a way of reaching people who otherwise would not be engaged with thinking about rabbinical leadership. “It’s superficial, but it’s playful,” is how he characterized the list.

While he understands that the list is not about physical looks, he does believe that the “sexy” descriptive is actually appropriate.

“Being on the front line, doing the necessary work is sexy,” he said. “Reaching people spiritually and intellectually can be sexy or hot.”

‘A rabbi is no longer a hunched over figure with a long beard’

HUC rabbinical student Aaron Sataloff sees this new list as a natural extension of how young rabbis view themselves today. “The image of the rabbi has changed,” he explained. “A rabbi is no longer a hunched over figure with a long beard.” Sataloff himself works out and pays attention to his physical appearance. “Eye-catching factors reel people in.”

But looks are not the be-all-and-end-all. “You can be pretty to look at, but you have to be thought-provoking, as well,” he said. “People don’t necessarily want their rabbi to be sexy, but it’s an added bonus.”

This latest stab at listing and ranking rabbis doesn’t worry Levenson much. If anything, he’s grateful that it reminds people that rabbis are human beings just like everyone else.

Abusch-Magder can appreciate the sentiment, but still, “I wouldn’t want to end up on a list like this,” she said.

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