The tale of two rabbis lists: Daily Beast/Newsweek and the Forward


With Passover just around the corner, The Daily Beast/Newsweek and the Forward have each come out with best-of-the-rabbis lists.

Now an annual tradition, the DB/Newsweek’s Top 50 Rabbis list is about which rabbis wield the most influence — in the Jewish community and the wider world. This year’s addition was produced by former Forward online editor Gabrielle Birkner, with guidance from two of the guys who started the list back in 2007 –Gary Ginsberg, Time Warner’s executive vice president, corporate marketing and communications, and Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment — and author and former 60 Minutes producer Abigail Pogrebin, who wrote the list in 2011 and 2012.

The winner is… [[READMORE]]  Rabbi Sharon Brous (right), founder of the Ikar community in Los Angeles and an activist on many fronts. 

A few weeks back, Danielle Berrin of the L.A. Jewish Journal spent way too many words on what’s wrong with the DB/Newsweek list. I’ll give you the short version — the list is subjective, and it puts too much emphasis on a rabbi’s ability to generate headlines and not enough on his or her ability to comfort and inspire. Plus, the list is dominated by the same rabbis every year, and what the heck makes a rabbi’s ranking go up or down in a given year?

All valid points.  But… I think we’re losing sight of the bigger picture — Tina Brown publishes an annual top rabbis list. How cool is that? (If Berrin had thought of it, the L.A. Jewish Journal would be doing it every year!)

One last point about the DB/Newsweek list — as journalism, the product improved light years once Pogrebin started putting the thing together, and, judging from a quick first read, Birkner is maintaining the standard.

Now to the Forward — which has put together a list of 36 Most Inspiring Rabbis, focused on pulpit rabbis and pastoral heroics often performed behind the scenes. The rabbis are listed in alphabetical order. Abigail Jones, who coordinated the Forward’s efforts, has a post up explaining why she’s not surprised that so far the most read entry was the one on Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, the 34-year-old head rabbi of Saarey Tphiloh in Portland, Maine. [CORRECTION: The initial version of this post mistakenly stated that rabbis were ranked and Herzfeld had finished first. Sorry, folks, I misread Jones’ post.]

Unlike the DB/Newsweek list which relies on the omnipotent third-person journalistic voice, the Forward relies on nomination letters sent in by readers. For example, Herzfeld, an Orthodox rabbi, was nominated by Rabbbi Alice Goldfinger, who used to lead the Reform synagogue in town before sustaining a traumatic brain injury.

Two rabbis made both lists: Asher Lopatin (DB/Newsweek and Forward), the outgoing leader of  Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel in Chicago and the incoming president of the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Andy Bachman (DB/Newsweek and Forward), the head rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn.

UPDATE: Click here to read Forward Editor Jane Eisner’s take on the difference between the two lists.

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