Mazel Tov

America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2012

How did we come up with this year’s list? That’s not one of the Four Questions! But Abigail Pogrebin, Gary Ginsberg, and Michael Lynton will tell you anyway.

1. David Wolpe (Conservative)

“When you think ‘America’ and ‘rabbi,’ you think Wolpe,” said one longtime Jewish journalist, echoing the view of many others. “He’s steering the course for the decade.” In addition to inspiring over-the-top devotion at Sinai Temple in Beverly Hills—the largest Conservative temple west of the Mississippi—Wolpe has created something of an online mega-church, more than doubling his Facebook followers since our last list: 25,000 have joined his page as “fans” who receive his daily sermonic posts, and he actually takes the time to answer many of the comments personally. (Some fault the occasionally too-pat epistles, but huge numbers find insight.) A seasoned defender of faith (Christopher Hitchens was a frequent challenger), Wolpe spent last year defending God in venues from Mexico to Great Britain. His rousing Friday night service, Friday Night Live—known by insiders as FNL—which Wolpe created with troubadour Craig Taubman and has been emulated, recently celebrated its 13th anniversary. (2011: #2)

2. Yehuda Krinsky (Orthodox)

No. 1 the last two years, Krinsky is still at the top of his game, running the sprawling and influential Chabad movement, though not without a few hiccups this past year. Dogged by pesky lawsuits and still embroiled in a decades-long litigation to reclaim the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson’s collection of books and manuscripts from a Russian government that has refused to return them for 70 years (the lawsuit took a particularly nasty turn this year when the Russians retaliated with an art embargo of the U.S.), Krinsky nonetheless remains among the most influential clergy spreading a brand of Judaism to the furthest reaches of the globe. Chabad opened a new center in Portugal this past year, the 78th country it can now boast a presence in among the thousands of centers it has opened in the past few decades.” They even have outposts in such unlikely places as Harlem, the Bowery, and Phnom Penh. One hundred twenty new educational institutions were established in 2011, and Chabad's conference for female shluchot (emissaries sent out to spread the message) drew more than 3,000 women in February. (2011: #1)

3. Peter J. Rubinstein (Reform)

Rubinstein is senior rabbi of New York’s historic Central Synagogue, which the The Wall Street Journal said last fall has seen an “explosion in popularity” that has “earned it an affectionate reputation as the city's first ‘Megashul.’” The New York Times reported that Rubinstein played a key behind-the-scenes role in mediating the resolution of Occupy Wall Street between Mayor Bloomberg’s office and the protesters, and he’s known to have a close, candid relationship with newly minted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who consults him on issues in the Jewish community. The engine behind the Rabbinic Vision Initiative (RVI)—a group of leading rabbis whose platform helped set the agenda for this year’s Reform Movement Biennial (6,000 attended)—Rubinstein walks the line between agitator and cheerleader of the Reform leadership. (2011: #4)

4. David Saperstein (Reform)

At the 50th anniversary of the Religious Action Center (RAC), which is headed by Saperstein and prioritizes social justice in the Reform Movement, President Obama offered this tribute: “You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half century. Without these efforts, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today ... You have brought to life your faith and your values. The world is a better place for it.” When Obama wanted to address rabbis from all religious streams before the High Holidays, he asked RAC to arrange the conference call. (Nearly 900 rabbis participated.) RAC’s social-justice seminars on high-school and college campuses now bring in nearly 2,000 young Jews annually. The RAC was out front protesting the controversial decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to defund Planned Parenthood (quickly reversed). (2011: #3)

Kim Silverstein

5. Sharon Brous (Conservative)

Brous breaks into the top five this year (the first woman to do so) not because she has the largest congregation—she doesn’t—but because year after year, the community she leads, IKAR, is singled out as the country’s preeminent model for how to captivate young, unaffiliated Jews. Based in L.A., IKAR continues to energize members and elicit full participation in its social-justice projects. In great demand as a national speaker around the country, Brous talks forcefully about ways to reconsider and reimagine the Jewish future. Leading Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen, who lectures regularly on the highlights of Jewish innovation in America, frequently cites IKAR as one organization that has figured out what keeps Jews interested and connected. (2011: #10)

6. Robert Wexler (Conservative)

The president of American Jewish University in L.A., Wexler is not a major media presence, and he prefers it that way: he often says his greatest claim to fame is having assembled such a talented staff. His record suggests he could be a little less modest: last year, AJU raised $12 million for two new libraries and a small Israel museum, expanded its "Introduction to Judaism Program" for potential converts, and partnered with Birthright Israel Next to beef up the Jewish engagement group's West Coast programming. Wexler has the unique combination of academic acuity and managerial excellence: before joining AJU he taught at Princeton (his Ph.D. is from UCLA), he learned 10 languages, and he has written entries for the Encyclopedia Judaica. (2011: #6)

Ben Fink Shapiro

7. Richard Jacobs (Reform)

As of January, the new head of the Reform Movement’s enormous umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, Jacobs is carrying the hopes of those members who favor a more focused, innovative approach to the Reform future.  So far URJ has begun an ambitious effort, the Campaign for Youth Engagement, to connect young people in their post–bar and bat mitzvah years, precisely when the Reform Movement loses its youth. A charismatic speaker who was beloved at his former congregation of Westchester Reform Temple and trusted as a staunch defender of Israel, he’s nevertheless been attacked by the Zionist Organization of America for being insufficiently pro-Israel. But last year, The Forward's longtime columnist J.J. Goldberg defended Jacobs: “If Rick Jacobs is anything, he’s a peacemaker. Israel will need him.” (2011: #7)

8. Marvin Hier & Abraham Cooper (Orthodox)

We’ve grouped Hier and Cooper because these rabbis represent the same L.A.-based Jewish human-rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a crucial watchdog of anti-Semitism throughout the world. Founder and dean Hier, who is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and produces films on Jewish subjects, recently called upon the Obama administration to investigate the display of the SS flag by American Marine snipers. (The Marines maintained the soldiers didn’t realize the significance of the double-S symbol.) Abraham Cooper, who meets regularly with international leaders, recently trained the spotlight on Holocaust denial. Hier and Cooper issued a statement about Iran in February saying, “This is the first time since the Nazis’ Final Solution that such explicit plans for a genocide against the Jewish people is being promoted.” (2011: #5, #28)

9. David Ellenson (Reform)

Widely respected for his command of Jewish texts and challenging instruction, the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion —the main seminary for Reform rabbis—is a fellow and lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and this year coauthored a book (his fifth) on conversion law called Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policy-Making in 19th- and 20th-Century Orthodox Responsa. Written with Ellenson’s old friend, Conservative Rabbi Daniel Gordis, president of Jerusalem’s nondenominational Shalem Foundation, the book lays out centuries of rabbinic wisdom on conversion and underscores the fact that intermarriage has, for centuries, been a prickly source of debate. The Wall Street Journal’s book review said Ellenson and Gordis “are both scholars of the first order and have written an important book about conversion law and its ramifications for the Jewish community.” (2011: #9)

10. Steven Leder (Reform)

Having played a decisive role in shaking up the Reform movement (he threatened to resign from the URJ last year), Leder has fearlessly lambasted what he’s called the “terrible failures” of its national organizations. Meanwhile, as senior rabbi at the legendary Wilshire Boulevard Temple in a heavily Hispanic and Korean neighborhood, he is expanding the meaning of a “synagogue” to encompass a Jewish village: his $155 million capital campaign includes a full city block of real estate, a renovated sanctuary and elementary school, and a new “Tikkun Olam” social-service center, which will help feed, clothe, and provide basic medical and legal services to people in need. The legendary “Warner murals,” a visual chronicle of the Jewish story commissioned by the Warner Brothers in 1929, are currently being restored to their original splendor. (2011: #8)

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11. Avi Weiss (Modern Orthodox)

Senior rabbi at Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Weiss is considered the father of a brand of Orthodoxy he calls “Open Orthodoxy,” which maintains strict observance while also expanding its definition. He founded Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), whose graduates continue to earn impressive placements in shuls, schools, and organizations, though some face resistance from the old guard who challenge YCT’s Orthodox credentials. He will soon face the controversial question of what to call the women graduating from Yeshiva Maharat—the second seminary he’s founded and the first for Orthodox women spiritual leaders. Known for his decades of brash activism, Weiss was arrested last fall in front of the U.N. while protesting the Palestinian statehood bid. (2011: #12)

12. Hershel Schachter (Orthodox)

Considered one of the few living sages for his sweeping expertise in Talmud and a beloved teacher by many, Schachter is widely thought to have pushed Yeshiva University to the right religiously, socially, and politically. He is against various forms of modernity in the name of preserving rigorous Halacha (Jewish law), opposing organ donation for brain death, not recognizing female prayer groups, and resisting the initiatives of his fellow YU alum Avi Weiss (#11) to foster women as spiritual leaders. Schachter is a dominant, intimidating force behind the RCA (see Goldin, #16), but his sense of humor was glimpsed this year when he made a brief cameo appearance in one of the hip Maccabeats’ viral music videos. (2011: #14)

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13. Rolando Matalon (Conservative)

Matalon just celebrated 25 years as spiritual leader of B'nai Jeshurun (BJ), a New York Conservative synagogue known for its exuberant, musical prayer services, and boldfaced names (Jerry Seinfeld, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and mega-donor Michael Steinhardt). Born in Argentina, the soft-spoken but charismatic Matalon plays the oud in the New York Arabic Orchestra and recently cofounded Piyut North America—a national project that aims to revitalize Jewish spiritual practice, culture, and peoplehood through the global Jewish music of piyut, sacred Hebrew poetry. BJ is also conducting a series of presentations and lectures throughout the year called “The Soul of Israel: What’s at Stake?” as well as a parallel series, “The Soul of America: What’s at Stake?” (2011: #13)

14. Arthur Green (Jewish Renewal)

Green is considered one of the most important modern Jewish thinkers and an expert on Jewish mysticism. The Rector of Hebrew College Rabbinical School, where he is also professor of philosophy and religion, Green launched an aggressive attack on the Kabbalah Center last fall with his article in The Huffington Post: “As a student and teacher of Kabbalah and Hasidism for more than 50 years, I have been watching this travesty unfold ... The truth is that the Kabbalah Centres are a bizarre combination of well-intentioned religious outreach and sheer hucksterism.” (2011: #17)

15. Dan Ehrenkrantz (Reconstructionist)

The president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Ehrenkrantz carries the torch for a self-critical, nuanced Judaism; his favorite book on faith is The Plague, a novel by French existentialist Albert Camus. In 2011 Ehrenkrantz challenged traditional Israel-Diaspora thinking when he wrote that as Jewish consensus on Israel crumbles, “we must find additional and tangible ways to live our connections to Judaism and to other Jews, wherever we find ourselves.” But, nuance aside, he’s engaged in some pretty straightforward institution building, recently raising $50 million in the RRC’s largest campaign ever. (2011: #16)

16. Shmuel Goldin (Orthodox)

This year Goldin became head of Modern Orthodoxy’s largest rabbinic association, the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), whose membership has clashed recently over whether women can be considered clergy and whether only a select list of Orthodox rabbis can perform authentic conversions. Known has a conciliator amidst extremists in the RCA (and expected to use his new position to staunch the right-wing drift), Goldin has, for 28 years, served Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J. He also teaches at Yeshiva University, a feeder to the RCA, which has turned its back on Avi Weiss’s graduates from YCT (see #11) who are refused membership. (NEW)

17. Burton Visotzky (Conservative)

His 10th book, Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud, offered a spirited walk through often-daunting rabbinic commentary. A veteran professor of midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), Visotzky is also that institution’s director of the newly formed Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue. At the forefront of Muslim-Jewish engagement, Visotzky last month was awarded the prestigious Goldziher Prize for Jewish-Muslim dialogue and was made a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. One of just three Jews invited to Obama’s Iftar meal last summer during Ramadan, he was seated at the president’s table, where he had Obama’s ear on Judaism and Islam. (2011: #23)

18. Sharon Kleinbaum (Reconstructionist)

This leader of the world’s largest gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in Manhattan, Kleinbaum, an openly lesbian rabbi, has changed the landscape for gay Jews. The only rabbi to make Newsweek’s list of “150 Women Who Shake the World” this year, Kleinbaum is a frequent speaker and panelist at feminist and gay-rights conferences and has testified before Congress. This past year she was in the news for holding up a pro-gay-marriage sign in Albany amid a sea of Orthodox protestors. (She put her arm around one of the Orthodox men there, and he recoiled and spat on the ground, declaring she was not a Jew.) When the New York gay-marriage law took effect, she performed 10 marriages in one day. (2011: #24)

19. Irwin Kula (Conservative)

Constantly looking for new ways to communicate Jewish wisdom, Kula may be the only rabbi who has headed a shul, been president of a national organization, hosted his own TV special, appeared in a documentary that was screened at major film festivals, written a book that won “best spiritual book” by Spirituality & Health, and authored a play that premiered in Minneapolis last year: The Gospel According to Jerry. Kula is co-writing a new book, Disruptive Spiritual Innovation, with Tribeca Film Festival founder Craig Hatkoff and continues in his longtime role of president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where he focuses especially on its program Rabbis Without Borders. (2011: #20)

20. David Stern (Reform)

Considered one of the leading lights of the Reform movement, Stern, of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, has been helping Rick Jacobs (#7) on the URJ transition team and continues to work on the RVI with Peter Rubinstein (#3). An active proponent of Christian-Jewish dialogue, this year he took a Congregational delegation to Israel along with members of a Baptist church. His community-organizing efforts have focused on providing medical equipment to needy neighborhoods and establishing a community garden to stock a food pantry. He is also an outspoken advocate for women’s reproductive rights and the work of Planned Parenthood amidst the often-hostile Texas political climate. (2011: #22)

21. Shmuel Kamenetsky (Haredi)

The vice president of the Haredi umbrella organization, Agudath Israel of America's Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages, Kamenetsky has enormous sway when it comes to the official Haredi position on social and political issues or halachic questions. Last fall he urged the rabbinate to sign a “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality,” which advocates “reparative therapy,” and last July, while the tragic disappearance of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was in its second day in Brooklyn, he said that sexual abuse should be reported not to the police but to a rabbi, who would then decide whether to call the cops. (After an uproar, he softened this position.) The dean of the Talmudical Yeshiva in Philadelphia, Kamenetsky is one of the most esteemed gedolim—arbiters of Jewish law in the ultra-Orthodox world. (NEW)

22. Julie Schonfeld (Conservative)

The first woman to head the Rabbinical Assembly—the membership organization for 1,600 Conservative rabbis around the world—Schonfeld was among a small group of Jewish leaders to meet with Vice President Joe Biden last fall to discuss issues of importance to the Jewish community. Last month at the AIPAC Policy Conference, she introduced Ambassador Susan Rice to more than 400 rabbis and cantors. Rice countered, “Technically, I’m not sure I’m allowed to have a rabbi, but if I am, it’s she.” Last December Schonfeld was honored by Jewish Women International as a “Woman to Watch.” (2011: #29)

23. Naomi Levy (Conservative)

One of the first female rabbis ordained at JTS, Levy charts her own definition of congregational rabbi. Her member-less L.A. community Nashuva engages disaffiliated young Jews; its drum circle at Venice beach draws thousands. Nashuva attendees dress casually but wear white for Shabbat: the service meets in a church and features an eight-person band. Their webcast of Yom Kippur services was viewed live by 20,000; something in this unorthodox formula seems to be working. (2011: #19)

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24. Asher Lopatin (Modern Orthodox)

The rabbi at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago known especially for its famous member Rahm Emanuel, Lopatin plans to make aliyah (emigrate permanently to Israel) this summer to “build a pluralistic and diverse community in the Negev.” (Thirty families from his congregation have already made the move at his urging, but Lopatin was delayed because his 9-year-old daughter faced a life-threatening illness best treated in the U.S..) Lopatin has always been a bit of an amalgam: he mixes his Yeshiva University education with his M.Phil. in medieval Arabic thought from Oxford University, earned while on a Rhodes fellowship. He also writes about hot-button issues such as feminism, conversion, and the Arab Spring for Morethodoxy, a liberal Orthodox blog on which male rabbis write alongside Sara Hurwitz (#32). Recently he blogged a whirlwind interfaith tour from Jakarta, through Dubai and Amman, to Jerusalem. (2011: #21)

Union for Reform Judaism

25. Jonah Pesner (Reform)

One of two finalists for the URJ presidency (Rick Jacobs—#7—got the job,) Pesner has managed the transition from Eric Yoffie to Jacobs and now serves the organization as senior vice president. Founder of Just Congregations, which has trained over 160 synagogues in community organizing, Pesner sowed his oats in social justice at the RAC with David Saperstein (see #4). Pesner is launching a major effort to engage Jewish youth post–bar and bat mitzvah—called the Campaign for Youth Engagement—which he introduced in a fervent address (some felt a little overheated) at the URJ Biennial Plenary last December. He is unquestionably a visionary and is expected to play a key, visible role in the next chapter of Reform Judaism. (2011: #25)

26. Haskel Lookstein (Orthodox)

The rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump, Lookstein has pledged to rebuild his historic synagogue, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, after a devastating fire last summer. Known for his irreverence when it comes to towing the Orthodox party line, this longtime principal of Manhattan’s Ramaz School, recently came down hard on the ultra-Orthodox in Israel who terrorized 8-year-old Naama Margolese on her way to school. He called it a “tragedy in the form of the increasing demonization of women by extremists in the Haredi community and, unfortunately, in a broader segment of religious society.” He turned the mirror back on his own community, and many consider him a rare combination of modern thinking and unimpeachable scholarship. (2011: #30)

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27. Arthur Schneier (Orthodox)

Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, just celebrated 50 years at the helm of New York’s Orthodox Park East Synagogue. (New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced a legislative resolution to honor him.) Though many grumble about Schneier’s self-importance, there’s no denying that his reach and recognition are global: in 2011 he participated in the fourth annual forum on development in Doha, Qatar, as an ambassador of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, he took a humanitarian mission to Cuba to seek the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, and he received the French Legion of Honor medal and an Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for helping develop Polish-Jewish dialogue. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Schneier is also the father of Hamptons Rabbi Marc Schneier (#35) who, years ago, was being groomed as Park East’s heir apparent, but who clearly preferred to carve his own path. (2011: #26)

28. Joy Levitt (Reconstructionist)

The chief of the JCC in Manhattan is launching the Jewish Journey Project—a new paradigm for Hebrew schools, which Levitt believes strongly have generally been inadequate and uninspiring. Her alternative would recruit synagogues, summer camps, JCCs, museums, and those organizations that focus on bringing Torah to life to offer families a more personalized and flexible religious education for one umbrella fee. If her vision takes hold (she’s already gathered participants and funding), it could have a revolutionary effect on how Jewish students learn for generations to come. Levitt told The Jewish Week that instead of the old concept of having to enroll in a shul to “pass Go” as a Jew, “the notion is it takes a village to create a Jewish adult.” (2011: #27)

29. Angela Buchdahl (Reform)

While most American synagogues lament sparse attendance, the senior cantor of Central Synagogue, Angela Buchdahl, has clearly cracked the code, with 600 attending regularly on Friday nights. Widely viewed as having a voice and approach that transforms worship, Buchdahl is often asked to teach ritual to other congregations and seminaries. Noticed in part because she’s not the typical face of Judaism (the first Asian-American to be ordained in Jewish history and the first woman to become both a cantor and a rabbi) Buchdahl was chosen this year—along with Pastor Rick Warren, Barbara Walters, and Robert Downey Jr.—to be interviewed by Henry Louis Gates for his PBS series, Finding Your Roots, which airs this month. She officiated at the high-profile wedding of George Bush’s granddaughter, activist Lauren Bush, to Ralph Lauren’s son and colleague, David. (2011: #38)

30. Shmuley Boteach (Orthodox)

Known for his bestselling books on parenting and sex, Boteach “threw his yarmulke in the ring” to run for a congressional seat in New Jersey to “bring Jewish values into the political discourse” and won the Republican nomination. He has said he’ll consider legislation “to re-create an American Sabbath so parents have an incentive to take their kids to a park rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in the impulse purchase.” There is ample Boteach bashing among fellow clergy because of what’s perceived as his unremitting self-promotion, and his political candidacy has not been helped by a report in The Forward that said an “examination of public records reveals that the charity Boteach heads spends a significant portion of its revenues on payments to Boteach and his family.” (2011: #11)

Michael Fromm, the Chairman of Rabbi Shmuley's organization This World: The Values Network, strongly disputed the Forward report, calling it highly biased, and said that Rabbi Shmuley's salary last year of $150,000 is below industry standards for a Rabbi of his organizational responsibility, reputation, and productivity.

The Forward stands by its story and says that the charge of bias is unfounded and that neither Rabbi Boteach nor Mr. Fromm have disputed any facts in the piece.

31. Kerry Olitzky (Reform)

In the liberal Jewish world, Olitzky is on the front lines of inclusion, “welcoming all newcomers.” He directs the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), which invites intermarried families and the unaffiliated to define connection more expansively; JOI has influenced more than 500 local and national organizations through its Big Tent Judaism coalition. Its interfaith-specific programs include The Mothers Circle, for women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children, which is now in more than 100 communities, and its broader “Public Space Judaism” outreach programs, such as Passover in the Matzah Aisles, which operates in over 60 communities. (2011: #33)

32. Sara Hurwitz (Modern Orthodox)

Considered a full member of the clergy by her Modern Orthodox congregation, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (her title is “Rabba” not “Rabbi”), Hurwitz continues to be outspoken on the value and legitimacy of women in Orthodox spiritual leadership. She recently joined the debate about modesty and gender segregation in Israel and America, writing, “Halakha [Jewish Law] should not be manipulated into a smokescreen shielding men and sidelining women who have the potential to enhance our community.” She is the dean of the first seminary created expressly to train Orthodox women for leadership, Yeshivat Maharat. It remains to be seen what title will be given to women in the first graduating class when they go job hunting next year. (2011: #32)

33. Hadar Stars: Shai Held, Ethan Tucker, Elie Kaunfer (Independent)

With their lively approach to Jewish learning, these three founders of Mechon Hadar, an independent seminary on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, continue to energize their full-time and drop-in students. This past year, Held won the prestigious Covenant Award, which recognizes leadership in Jewish education. HUC president David Ellenson (#9) said: “Together with his colleagues, Shai has created a center for Jewish learning that is in many ways unprecedented in Jewish life.” Last fall Kaunfer sparked national discussion in his keynote address at the Federation’s General Assembly when he said Jews should be focusing on Torah learning, not just continuity. “We often have trouble articulating why Judaism matters, and we start casting about for the ‘next big idea.’ Torah always has been the big idea. Let’s bring it back to its place of glory.” Tucker interviewed his stepfather, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, in January about Lieberman’s recent book on the Sabbath, A Gift of Rest. A Ph.D., in Talmud and Rabbinics from JTS, Tucker has a reputation for being one of the city’s more vigorous, exciting teachers and making complex text accessible. (2011: #40)

34. Marcia Zimmerman (Reform)

The rabbi of the 10th-largest Reform congregation in the country, Temple Israel in Minneapolis, Zimmerman is the first female rabbi to lead a Jewish congregation of more than 2000 families. She is one of the 16 original members of the Rabbinic Vision Initiative, conceived by Peter Rubinstein (#3), which addresses perceived problems in the Reform movement. Zimmerman has welcomed intermarried families, Jews-by-choice, and those with physical and emotional challenges and reaches out to churches, cathedrals, and mosques in her area. As part of her mission to build interfaith bridges, she had the audacity to bring a Muslim cleric to speak to her congregation on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. (NEW)

Richard A. Lobell Photography

35. Marc Schneier (Orthodox)

Though many would prefer he spent less time in the tabloids, this rabbi of the popular Hampton Synagogue on Long Island (and son of Arthur #27) has done consistently bold work on Jewish-Muslim coexistence. In partnership with Imam Shamsi Ali, a Muslim scholar who leads New York’s largest mosque, and through his Foundation For Ethnic Understanding, which is chaired by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons (Schneier and Simmons enjoyed a private audience with Israeli president Shimon Peres last month), Schneier charts unorthodox waters for an Orthodox rabbi. This past year, he worked behind the scenes to get a group of American imams to write a letter to Hamas making the Koranic case for releasing Gilad Shalit. (REINSTATED FROM PRE-2011 LISTS)

36. Elliot Cosgrove (Conservative)

In just three years as senior rabbi of Manhattan’s historic Park Avenue Synagogue (PAS), Cosgrove has become one of the young rabbis to watch, captivating his 1,500-family membership by managing to combine erudition and approachability. In January he was tapped by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to serve as its rabbinical adviser on interfaith affairs and co-chair of ADL’s National Outreach and Interfaith Committee. His synagogue has published three collections of his sermons, and he is the editor of Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations and Future of Jewish Belief. His high-profile congregants include Ralph Lauren’s family, and he married candy guru Dylan Lauren in June. (NEW)

37. Elka Abrahamson (Reform)

Abrahamson is in her first year as president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, which awards prestigious scholarships to just 20 out of hundreds of applicants who aspire to careers in the Rabbinate, the Cantorate, Jewish Education, and Jewish Professional Leadership. Wexner also trains lay leaders in America and Israel. Under Abrahamson’s new stewardship, Wexner has made special efforts to reach out to Russian Jews in New York City, welcoming them into its cadre of elite volunteers. She is on the advisory board of Mechon Hadar (see #32) and has also been involved in the Women’s Rabbinic Network (see #49). An animated speaker, she’s taught and lectured widely, including a brief stint in Muchucuxcah, Mexico, for American Jewish World Service. (2011: #36)

Karol DuClos

38. Steve Gutow (Reconstructionist)

A Reconstructionist rabbi by training, Gutow is the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. There he has spearheaded highly visible campaigns against poverty and on behalf of Israeli POW Gilad Shalit. Gutow’s progressive politics have garnered allies among liberal Christians and African-Americans; he’s been influential in smoothing tensions between Jews and Presbyterians over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. His commitment to eat within the $31.50-per-week budget imposed on welfare recipients as part of the Food Stamp Challenge landed Gutow in The Washington Post. He wrote of his experiences in The Huffington Post, “When you cannot purchase a bag of potato chips or a bottle of orange juice, you are suddenly and frighteningly aware that severe limits are upon you.” (REINSTATED FROM PRE-2011 LISTS)

39. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Renewal)

Reb Zalman, as his devotees call him, is an eminence grise in the world of Jewish Renewal, the Eastern-inspired movement he helped found. One of two original emissaries sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to college campuses (the other was the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach), Zalman believes that the problem for contemporary Jews is that they aren’t moved by Judaism in most of its current forms and are seeking a religion with more feeling; not that there is a lack of God or indifference to religion, but that there is too much intellect and too many uninspired institutions. A renowned spiritual teacher, Reb Zalman yearns to create a transdenominational neo-Hasidic spirituality. (2011: #39)

40. Shmuly Yanklowitz (Modern Orthodox)

The energetic Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, an influential Orthodox social Justice group, Yanklowitz was described by one observer of the Jewish world as “the face of the future, because he works round the clock and creates a new organization every week.”  (His latest is a center for Jewish vegans, cofounded with musician Matisyahu.) The author of Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century, he trained at Avi Weiss’s YCT (#11) and is probably the first Orthodox rabbi to quote Foucault to advocate for prison reform. (NEW)

Len Small

41. Andy Bachman (Reform)

Leader of Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim, Bachman has shepherded his congregation through economic crises and a collapsed roof. Recently he blasted a campaign to boycott Israel at the Park Slope Food Coop, a bastion of Brooklyn liberalism, as “simply untenable and unjust,” and he called out Occupy Wall Street, saying, “They have no leaders, they have no agenda, they have no platform.” Bachman challenges the justification for denominational boundaries and in a 2011 blog post, he celebrated a world in which “Orthodox Jews are working for fair wages; the Conservative movement is ordaining gays and lesbians; and Reform Jews are putting on tefilin.” (2011: #41)

42. Dov Linzer (Modern Orthodox)

The dean of the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), (founded by Avi Weiss, #11) Linzer stirred the Orthodox waters in January with his provocative New York Times op-ed claiming that Haredim “objectify and hyper-sexualize women” against the letter and spirit of the Torah and Talmud. Over the past 10 years, 80 of his graduates have been placed in—or have created—significant synagogues, schools, and national organizations, including Shmuly Yanklowitz (see #40) and New Orleans’s Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who lost his temple in Hurricane Katrina and will be rededicating a new one this coming summer. (2011: #44)

43. Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (Reconstructionist)

A gifted, serene teacher, Anisfeld is dean of Hebrew College in Boston, a transdenominational rabbinical school that, after prolonged financial woes, last year finally made it into the black. She hit the headlines in June 2011, defending her students from charges (by Daniel Gordis and others) of anti-Zionism and Israel bashing. “Conversations about Israel in the North American Jewish community,” she wrote, “have become increasingly strident and politicized ... [and] less hospitable to those who would wrestle open-heartedly with the nature and meaning of their relationship to the Jewish state.” One of her fourth-year students, George “Getzel” Davis, earned kudos for delivering a moving Kol Nidre sermon in front of hundreds at the Occupy Wall Street site in New York. (2011: #42)

44. Steven Greenberg (Modern Orthodox)

A senior teaching fellow at CLAL and a founder and co-director of the new group, Eshel, which aims to expand the welcome for GLBT Jews in Orthodox communities, Greenberg is considered the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi and is often asked to talk about his landmark book, Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. Last fall Greenberg performed what was considered the first gay marriage by an openly gay Orthodox rabbi in Washington, D.C. “I did not conduct a ‘gay Orthodox wedding,’” he wrote in The Jewish Week. “I officiated at a ceremony that celebrated the decision of two men to commit to each other in love and to do so in binding fashion.” (2011: #50)

45. Jill Jacobs (Conservative)

Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights–North America, which has been organizing rabbis to get better working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. (One of her members recently suggested adding a tomato to the seder plate this week—as a symbol of contemporary slavery.) One of the few rabbis out there with a master’s in urban affairs, Jacobs’s second book was published last June: Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community. In 2011 her controversial Forward article about Jewish slumlords earned a Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. (2011: #45)

46. Micah Greenstein (Reform)

The only rabbi we’ve included from the American South, Greenstein is a star in Memphis, the senior rabbi of Reform Temple Israel, which has become a Jewish hub that draws also from Mississippi, Arkansas, and the Missouri bootheel. Greenstein is extolled for his magnetic energy and warmth, though even his diehard fans wish he would sometimes streamline his spirited-but-meandering sermons. He has taken a public stand for gay rights, works on behalf of women’s empowerment in Cambodia, and is popular in the Christian community, where he has done substantial interfaith work. According to Memphis’s largest newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, the telegenic Greenstein “sparks crushes.” (NEW)

Bill Aron

47. Laura Geller (Reform)

The third woman in the Reform movement to become a rabbi, Geller heads Temple Emanuel (one of the largest synagogues in California), spearheads a fellowship program with a local mosque, and has worked closely with the Institute of Jewish Spirituality to incorporate mindfulness into prayer. This past year she launched an effort to target baby boomers, who often get short shrift compared to the 20s-and-30s generation, the holy grail for Jewish engagement. Her program “Jewish Perspectives on the Choices and Challenges Facing the Boomer Generation" acknowledges the need to create new rituals, for instance one that allows the spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient to start a new intimate relationship. (2011: #47)

48. Rachel Cowan (Reform)

While many rabbis wring their hands about the proliferation of intermarriage, Cowan is unique on this list for having actually been intermarried ... to a Jew. Before she converted to Judaism, she and her late husband, Paul, co-wrote Mixed Blessings: Untangling The Knots In an Interfaith Marriage. Ordained by HUC in 1989, she directed the Jewish Life and Values Program at the well-respected New York based Nathan Cummings Foundation. For the past eight years, she ran Institute for Jewish Spirituality, which trains clergy in techniques of mindfulness and meditation, and in 2008 she was awarded the President's Medallion at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem. (NEW)

49. Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (Reform)

The director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), Ellenson advocates forcefully on behalf of women rabbis, with particular attention to what she considers the gender-based inequities affecting women in the rabbinate on issues of maternity and family leave and the disparities in salary, benefits, and advancement. Ellenson, married to HUC president David Ellenson (#9), remains a mentor to women in the Reform Rabbinate and this past year, started teaching courses on psalms as part of a spirituality initiative begun by Richard Jacobs (#7), called Shabbat Vayinafash, which includes text study and yoga. (2011: #49)

Michael Meysarosh

50. David Ingber (Jewish Renewal)

En route to the rabbinate, Ingber started as a bodybuilder in a Modern Orthodox high school, studied at Ultra-Orthodox yeshivot, and learned yoga, shiatsu, kung fu, and the Chen school tai chi until he finally was ordained by his mentor Reb Zalman (#39). The founder and rabbi of Romemu, a three-year-old renewal congregation in Manhattan that draws more than a thousand people on the high holy days and is often called “the non-Chabad Chabad,” Ingber is touted for his inspiring sermons, creative instruction, and mystical prayer. As Reb Zalman ages as the grand Rebbe of Renewal, Ingber is frequently mentioned as the natural to inherit his mantle. (NEW)