America’s Top Fifty Rabbis

If you ever wondered how to judge the success of a rabbi, you know how complex the matter can be. What are the criteria, the measuring rods, by which a rabbi is judged?

But fret no longer: Newsweek magazine on April 2 solved the problem by publishing its annual list of “America’s top 50 rabbis.” What yardstick was used is not made clear. Was it Torah learning? Apparently that was not a factor, since among the jurors there seems to be no one who could measure Torah learning. Was it the ability to uplift and inspire a community to return to Torah learning and living? That, too, was evidently not an issue, since among the jurors there was no one who could appreciate that quality.

The magazine’s press release does mention “impact” as a criterion, but it is not clear how “impact” was weighed. Was it the size of the rabbi’s institution, or the amount of publicity he received? Or was it the rabbi’s popularity, which was gained by never taking a stand on anything not previously approved by the NY Times editorial pages? Rabbinic popularity, after all, is not difficult to attain: never push congregants to live more Jewish lives, to perform more mitzvos, to refrain from gossip or desecration of the Name of Gd, to devote more time to Torah study, to give more generously to tzedakah.


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