America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2013 (PHOTOS)

Gabrielle Birkner surveys the country for the most influential rabbis in America.

1. Sharon Brous (Conservative)

With so many synagogues facing disaffected, declining membership, the top slot this year goes to a rabbi who is energizing worship and community: Sharon Brous. Ikar, the come-as-you-are spiritual community that Brous, 39, founded nearly a decade ago, has become a magnet for L.A.’s young, unaffiliated Jews. And Brous shows that reaching this coveted cohort doesn’t mean skimping on substance. A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, she adheres to liturgy and tradition and expects a high degree of congregant participation. Today the community, which got its start in an L.A. living room and has met for years in a rented auditorium, is planning to buy a building of its own. Currently Ikar, Hebrew for “essence,” counts more than 500 affiliated households. But its reach goes well beyond those individuals and families. Jewish prayer communities across the country are attempting to replicate, sometimes with Brous’s help, the Ikar model: equal parts warmth, spirituality, intellectual rigor, and call to action. This year Brous found herself the object of hate mail when her old friend Rabbi Daniel Gordis accused her of “betrayal” for a web posting in which she called Palestinian suffering “real and undeniable.” (She also wrote that Israel had a right to defend itself against rocket attacks.) Brous responded with an impassioned defense: affirming our “essential humanity” in trying times, she wrote, is a “powerful expression of loyalty to Israel, a state built on the promise of freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets.” In January Brous was invited to offer a public blessing at the inaugural prayer service. (2012: No. 5) 

2. David Saperstein (Reform)

He’s been called “Obama’s rabbi” and since 2009 has served as a de facto liaison between the White House and the American Jewish community. The director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism—the lobbying arm of American Jewry’s largest denomination—David Saperstein, 65, consults regularly with top administration officials and has facilitated conference calls between the president and rabbis from across the denominational spectrum. In 2009 and again this year, President Obama invited him to participate in a private prayer service on Inauguration Day. Saperstein is a powerful progressive voice on a range of legislative issues—gun control, labor relations, curbing carbon emissions, and gay marriage among them. In the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Saperstein (named to the National Rifle Association’s so-called enemies list) joined faith leaders at Washington’s National Cathedral to push for tighter gun restrictions. “The indiscriminate distribution of guns,” he said, “is an offense to God and humanity.” (2012: No. 4)

Henry Gold

3. David Wolpe (Conservative)

The spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, the West Coast’s largest Conservative congregation, David Wolpe, 54, posts daily missives on his Facebook page (which has more than 42,000 “likes”) and opines in speeches and in print on everything from the dangers of a nuclear Iran to a way forward for Women of the Wall. Wolpe was invited to give a benediction at the 2012 Democratic National Convention; he took heat from critics who saw his presence as a tacit endorsement of the president—even though the rabbi never declared any political leanings. Courting further controversy, he took a stand at the convention against the Democratic Party’s since-reversed decision to strip the reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; in his benediction, he pointedly called Jerusalem the “golden and capital city.” Wolpe is currently on sabbatical, completing his eighth book, a biography of King David. He also recently signed on to write a Time magazine column about the intersection of faith and current events. (2012: No. 1)

4. Yehuda Krinsky (Orthodox)

A member of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s inner circle, Yehuda Krinsky, 79, now leads the movement that Schneerson transformed into a brand built on boundless outreach: Chabad-Lubavitch sends its emissaries, or schluchim, to Columbia, Congo, China, and thousands of points in between. This past year the organization opened centers in such unlikely locations as North Dakota and Malta. Of late, Chabad has been particularly active in setting up new early-childhood centers (it runs some 1,000 preschools around the world, about a third of them in America), and developing programming and infrastructure to serve American college students and young professionals. But Chabad remains embroiled in a dispute with the Russian government over the contents of the Schneerson’s library. Earlier this year, a U.S. district court judge ordered Russia to pay $50,000 a day that it refuses to return the rebbe’s books and manuscripts. The U.S. Department of Justice has said that such sanctions run counter to American foreign-policy interests. And a Russia-based Chabad spokesman told The Jewish Daily Forward that the Chabad lawyers should consider a compromise proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. (2012: No. 2)

Max W. Orenstein/Central Synagogue

5. Peter Rubinstein (Reform)

After 22 years reinvigorating the historic Central Synagogue—a Manhattan congregation of more than 2,000 families with a 220-household waiting list—Peter Rubinstein, 69, has announced that this coming year will be his last. He is the founder and chair of the Rabbinic Vision Initiative, composed of Reform rabbis from the movement’s largest congregations and aimed at holding Reform Judaism’s national institutions accountable to its affiliated synagogues and their membership. Touted for his oratory and pastoral gifts, Rubinstein has focused recently upon making worship relevant to a rising generation of Jews. He speaks often about redefining synagogue “membership”—especially since so many “join” Central services via live stream on Friday nights and during the High Holy Days. (Over 20,000 tuned in last fall.) In December Rubinstein conducted a lively and unusually candid interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who spoke about how faith shaped his approach to politics. The rabbi is also known to have a close relationship with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. (2012: No. 3)

Clark Jones

6. Rick Jacobs (Reform)

Rick Jacobs, once a prominent critic of the Union for Reform Judaism, became president of that very organization in June, succeeding the venerable Rabbi Eric Yoffie to lead the movement’s congregational arm. In November Jacobs, 57, served as scholar in residence at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. In that role, he decried the ever-narrower definition of “pro-Israel” in American Jewish circles and challenged federation leaders to take on Orthodox hegemony in Israel. “So long as Israel remains the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams, the Zionist dream ... cannot be fully realized,” he said. Jacobs, a former modern dancer who until recently served as senior rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in New York, was one of three rabbis invited to participate in the inaugural prayer service that followed President Obama’s swearing-in. (2012: No. 7)

7. Robert Wexler (Conservative)

Under the leadership of president Robert Wexler, 61, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles recently completed construction on two new libraries at the cost of $12 million, opened its rare-books center, developed a summer program for young adults returning from one of Birthright’s free 10-day trips to Israel, and expanded its programming for interfaith families, starting a support group for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. Meanwhile, its Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies, which has ordained some 150 rabbis since it was founded in the mid-1990s, is opening its first international campus, near Berlin. “The intention is that this school serve all of Europe and not just Germany,” said Wexler of the rabbinical school. Wexler’s vision has helped transform American Jewish University into a major center of Jewish scholarship and one that competes with the Jewish Theological Seminary for Conservative-affiliated rabbinic students. (2012: No. 6)

8. David Ellenson (Reform)

After more than a decade leading the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s flagship seminary, president David Ellenson, 65, announced in January that he would step down next year. Ellenson—who teaches Jewish thought and whose reputation was that of a Jewish scholar back when he took the seminary’s top job—proved to be a highly effective executive, raising some $250 million during his tenure and tripling the seminary’s endowment. He also nurtured an environment that attracted intellectually minded students. “He showed that a Reform rabbi could be a scholar of the highest caliber,” said one prominent Reform rabbi. Another said that Ellenson continues to be Reform Judaism’s “moral and intellectual leader.” His yet-to-be-named successor will likely be faced with the thorny question of whether HUC-JIR should close at least one of its three American campuses. Ellenson is married to Women’s Rabbinic Network director Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (No. 47). (2012: No. 9)

9. Julie Schonfeld (Conservative)

The executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly—a 1,600-member umbrella group of Conservative rabbis—Julie Schonfeld, 47, took part in the inaugural prayer service that followed President Obama’s swearing-in. Before a crowd that included the president and first lady, Schonfeld recited Psalm 116; she amended the reading from “The Lord watches over the innocent” to “The Lord watches over the innocent and calls upon us to watch over the innocent,” in light of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, one month prior. Schonfeld also helped craft the statement on gun violence put out by members of the White House’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, of which she is one. Earlier this year, Schonfeld published a road map for managing the conflict over women’s group prayer at Israel’s Western Wall. She suggested a schedule that “would put egalitarian and nonegalitarian worshipers at the Kotel at entirely different times.” (2012: No. 22)

10. Avi Weiss (Orthodox)

This year marks several major milestones for Avi Weiss, 68, the maverick rabbi behind the Open Orthodoxy movement. In June his Yeshivat Maharat will graduate its first class of Orthodox women trained, essentially, as rabbis, but called “maharats” to signify the distinction (and perhaps to placate the critics who believe women cannot be Orthodox rabbis). This year marks his 40th as the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Bronx, N.Y., synagogue known for its activism. He has mentored more than two dozen rabbis who have assisted him on the bimah, and through his rabbinic seminary, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Weiss has trained more than 80 rabbinic leaders committed to a more pluralistic, progressive brand of Orthodoxy. Weiss will step down as president of YCT later this year—a move, he said, that will prove that the movement he fathered transcends his leadership. (2012: No. 11)

11. Hershel Schachter (Orthodox)

Revered as a Talmud scholar, his Jewish law rulings are closely followed by centrist and Modern Orthodox Jews. Hershel Schachter, 71, heads Yeshiva University’s rabbinic seminary, where his leadership is widely thought to have pushed the university—and a large segment of the American Orthodox community—to the right. (He rejects ordaining women as Orthodox rabbis and questions organ donation in the case of brain death.) Speaking at a recent rabbinic conference, he said that Jewish law does not prohibit going to the police in cases of alleged sex abuse; in that speech, in which he used a derogatory Yiddish word for a black person, Schachter said that hadn’t reported to authorities allegations of child sex abuse at Yeshiva University’s high school for boys—allegations exposed recently in The Jewish Daily Forward—because he couldn’t ascertain whether the student was telling the truth. Last summer he suggested that Israeli rabbis’ dialogue with Catholic Church officials was tantamount to idolatry, and his statement drew sharp criticism from interfaith groups. Schachter has advocated on behalf of women seeking a Jewish divorce decree and has broken with more right-leaning rabbis in opposing the controversial oral suctioning technique during the circumcision ritual. (2012: No. 12)

12. Steven Z. Leder (Reform)

It’s been more than 80 years since studio machers, such as the Warner Brothers and Louis B. Mayer, funded the construction of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. But the 2,500-family synagogue remains the most Hollywood of all the Los Angeles–area synagogues, boasting many boldface names among its congregants. At its helm is Steven Leder, 52, who harnessed the power of the show-business-heavy congregation to raise the funds—including a recent $30 million gift—needed to complete the massive renovation of its domed synagogue. When complete, the building will feature work by some of the best-known contemporary artists, including Lita Albuquerque and Jenny Holzer. And Leder has expanded the congregation’s mission beyond its walls and into its heavily Asian and Latino neighborhood. Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s $150 million capital campaign—$126 million of which has already been pledged—will also create a nearby Tikkun Olam Center, providing social, medical, and legal services to the wider community. (2012: No. 10)

13. Mark Dratch (Orthodox)

Despite opposition from its more right-leaning clergy, the Rabbinical Council of America—led by president Shmuel Goldin (a 2012 Newsweek pick)—named a moderate, Mark Dratch, 54, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union’s 1,000-member rabbinic arm. Dratch’s role as is a longtime champion of domestic and child-abuse victims is significant at a time when high-profile cases of sex abuse in the Orthodox community are coming to light. Dratch is the founder of the Jewish abuse-awareness organization JSafe and the former chairman of the council’s Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties. At the council, he faces the challenge of leading an organization representing a wide spectrum of non-Haredi Orthodox leadership and one that is perceived to have moved to the right in recent years. Among his priorities for the year ahead: educating council membership on abuse prevention and response and strengthening the group’s profile in Israel. Dratch is a son-in-law of Yeshiva University chancellor Norman Lamm. (Reinstated; 2010: No. 50)

Mike Lovett

14. Hebrew College Leaders: Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (Reconstructionist), Arthur Green (Renewal), and Daniel Lehmann (Post-denominational)

Until recently Hebrew College had mulled the sale of its Newton, Massachusetts, campus to pay its mortgage debt. But this past year, President Daniel Lehmann, 50, was able to restructure and reduce Hebrew College’s debt. That will enable the school to stay put and has put it on its firmest financial footing in a decade. Under the leadership of Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, 52, Hebrew College’s rabbinical school is attracting an ever-stronger applicant pool, strengthening its pastoral caregiving training, and has launched a certificate program in organizational leadership geared toward rabbis and rabbinical students. Hebrew College Professor Arthur Green, 72, remains one of the foremost experts on Jewish mysticism. Together with several of his students, Green recently completed a forthcoming two-volume anthology of early Hasidic teachings. He said that the project, called “Speaking Torah,” is intended to be “a bridge between the classical Hasidic sources and a contemporary spiritual quest.” The trend toward post-denominational Judaism, which eschews traditional movement labels, is consistent with Hebrew College’s mission as a pluralistic college and rabbinic seminary. (2012: Green: No. 14; Cohen Anisfeld: No. 43; Lehmann: New)

15. Sharon Kleinbaum (Reconstructionist)

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—New York’s largest LGBT synagogue — turns 40 this year and is in the process of building an $18 million synagogue center. The congregation’s longevity and growth is due, in no small part, to Sharon Kleinbaum, who has served as its senior rabbi for more than two decades. During that time Kleinbaum, 53, has pushed the Jewish community to open its institutions and leadership circles to LGBT Jews and to put gay civil rights on its agenda. Kleinbaum recently joined forces with the Rev. Al Sharpton, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and others in protesting the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics believe unfairly targets minority groups. She has also voiced her support for a City Council proposal that would guarantee paid sick leave. (2012: No. 18)

16. Sara Hurwitz (Orthodox)

Yeshivat Maharat, a four-year program training Orthodox women as spiritual leaders, will graduate its first class in June, a milestone bound to intensify the debate over women’s roles in Modern and centrist Orthodoxy. Sara Hurwitz, 36, a protegé of Rabbi Avi Weiss, is the school’s dean. Ordained in 2009 and ultimately bestowed the title “rabba,” Hurwitz serves as a full member of the clergy at Weiss’s Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and is in demand as a public speaker. The spotlight on Hurwitz has been harsh at times, but “no matter the darts thrown at her, she’s able to persevere and move forward,” Weiss said. (2012: No. 32)

17. Irwin Kula (Conservative)

Irwin Kula’s mission: make Jewish practice more “useful and meaningful” to American Jews, regardless of where they live or how they affiliate. He is co-president of the pluralistic Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders provides educational and fellowship opportunities to rabbis and rabbinical students committed to making Judaism more accessible. Kula, 55, was tapped by the head of the National September 11 Memorial Museum to weigh in on the fraught questions about the museum’s role and what should be exhibited within its walls. This spring Kula will launch a website, The Wisdom Daily, where he and others will comment on current events through the lens of Jewish wisdom. His book on the role technology will play in the future of religion will be published next year. (2012: No. 19)

18. J. Rolando Matalon (Conservative)

For nearly three decades, J. Rolando Matalon, 56, has led B’nai Jeshurun, the social-justice-oriented Upper West Side congregation famous for its energetic musical Kabbalat services. (Dancing in the aisles is encouraged.) This year, B’nai Jeshurun’s rabbinic leadership issued a high-profile apology for an email to his congregation that called the controversial U.N. vote upgrading Palestine’s status to observer-state “a great moment for us as citizens of the world.” Amid an uproar (in the media, the Jewish world, and his own congregation), Matalon and his two fellow rabbis explained that the email was due to a “series of unfortunate internal errors” and conceded its tone “did not reflect the complexities and uncertainties of the moment.” Last fall, B.J. opened a Department of Israel Engagement to teach congregants about the Jewish state, promote social-justice work there, and strengthen ties with Israeli communities and organizations. In addition to his pulpit work, Matalon is co-founder of the Piyut North America, dedicated to infusing Jewish spiritual practice with sacred Hebrew poetry and musical traditions from around the world. He also plays oud in New York’s Arabic Orchestra. (2012: No. 13)

Bart Bartholomew/Simon Wiesenthal Center

19. Wiesenthal’s Deans: Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper (Orthodox)

Through their work at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Marvin Hier, 74, the organization’s founder and dean, and Abraham Cooper, 62, the associate dean, are dedicated to naming and fighting anti-Semitism around the world. The center made headlines this year with its list of the top 10 anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slurs; in addition to calling out the Iranian and Egyptian regimes, the Wiesenthal Center named a prominent German journalist, Jakob Augstein—the son of Der Spiegel’s founder—to the list for a column criticizing Israel policy and America’s “Jewish lobby.” The result, according to a column in Der Spiegel, a passionate debate “over what constitutes justifiable criticism of Israeli policies, and what exactly defines anti-Semitism.” Also this past year, Hier arranged a meeting between Israeli President Shimon Peres and a group of Hollywood studio chiefs. In addition, the Wiesenthal Center recently commenced construction on its massive $100 million Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem; that project has proved controversial because of its location atop a former Muslim cemetery, though portions of the site have for decades been used as a parking lot. (2012: No. 8)

20. Shmuel Kamenetsky (Orthodox)

Shmuel Kamenetsky, 88, is one of ultra-Orthodoxy’s most esteemed rabbis, and his opinions on Jewish law and practice are widely sought out and closely followed by other Orthodox rabbinic authorities. He sits on the Council of Torah Sages, the group that advises the Haredi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America, and he leads the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. In recent years, he has opined that homosexuals should undergo “reparative therapy” and that allegations of sexual abuse should be reported first to a rabbi, who can determine whether to call the police. Agudath Israel, whose most public face is its executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, is currently fighting in court the New York City health department’s attempt to regulate the controversial oral suctioning technique during the circumcision ritual.  In August Kamenetsky was a featured speaker at a celebration marking an end to the seven-and-a-half-year Talmud study cycle. The event drew some 90,000 Jews to the stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, that is home to the New York Giants. (2012: No. 21)

21. David Stern (Reform)

The senior rabbi at 2,500-family Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, David Stern has developed and nurtured close ties to the Christian community deep in the heart of Texas. He is a contributor to Jewish Lights Press’s series on High Holy Day liturgy; his writing will be included in a forthcoming volume on the Jewish memorial service, Yizkor. Stern, 51, serves as a vice president of the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, overseeing its relationships with other Reform groups. He will be the rabbinic scholar in residence on the American Jewish World Service’s upcoming mission to Nicaragua. (2012: No. 20)


22. Asher Lopatin (Orthodox)

Asher Lopatin is widely considered to be the next leader of “Open Orthodoxy.” After 18 years at the helm of one of Chicago’s largest Orthodox congregations, Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel, Lopatin, 48, is leaving the Windy City to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss (No. 10) as the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in Bronx, N.Y. In his new role, Lopatin has vowed to graduate rabbis who can relate to all Jews, regardless of affiliation, and to take on some of the thorniest issues facing Orthodoxy, such as women’s leadership roles. (2012: No. 24)

23. Jonah Pesner (Reform)

Mulling a run for John Kerry’s vacated U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Jonah Pesner, 44, invoked the Jewish obligation to “pursue justice.” But he ultimately decided against entering politics—at least for now. That means he will continue on at the Union for Reform Judaism, where he is the senior vice president. A top adviser to URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs (No. 6) — he was the runner-up for Jacobs’ job — Pesner oversees the movement’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, which focuses on retaining teenagers in the years following their bar or bat mitzvah. Pesner has deep roots in community organizing. He served previously as founding director of Just Congregations, which organizes Reform congregations around such issues as immigration reform, affordable housing, and health-care access. (2012: No. 25)

24. Angela Buchdahl (Reform)

Central Synagogue’s Senior Cantor Angela Buchdahl is a key part of the congregation’s vibrancy in the last six years. Hundreds show up each week for Friday-night services, and more than 20,000 people tuned in via live stream for High Holy Day services last fall. Now that the congregation’s senior rabbi, Peter Rubinstein (No. 5), has announced his plans to retire next year, there are already rumblings that Buchdahl will be among the top candidates for the job. Having simultaneously earned rabbinical and cantorial degrees from HUC-JIR, Buchdahl, 40, seamlessly weaves together sermon and song. Last May she gave a highly touted keynote address at HUC-JIR’s ordination of rabbis and cantors—a ceremony where for the first time Reform cantors were ordained as full clergy. She spearheads community organizing at Central Synagogue and last year was honored as a partner in justice by AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. Buchdahl is also something of a trailblazer: born to a Korean Buddhist mother and a Jewish American father, she was the first Asian-American to become a rabbi. (2012: No. 29)

25. Burton Visotzky (Conservative)

Burton Visotzky, 61, is among American Jewry’s leading proponents and facilitators of Muslim-Jewish engagement. During the past year, Visotzky—a legendary Jewish Theological Seminary midrash professor and the director of the school’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue—met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during an interfaith leaders forum coinciding with the U.N. General Assembly. He also hosted seven Saudi Arabian educators at JTS and was a consultant on ABC News’s four-part special on the Bible, Back to the Beginning. Visotzky served as National Co-Chair of Rabbis for Obama—a group of 650 rabbis backing the president’s reelection bid—and he was one of the chosen clergy invited to the inaugural prayer service in January. (2012: No. 17)

26. Joy Levitt (Reconstructionist)

Joy Levitt’s quest to make Hebrew school more practical, flexible, and inspiring came to fruition this past year with the launch of her Jewish Journey Project. The initiative empowers children in grades 3 to 7 to shape their own supplementary Jewish education; they can choose from classes like Jewish architecture, Hebrew immersion, and holiday baking and from a wide range of volunteer opportunities. In its inaugural year, more than 200 New York families have taken part in the program, and Levitt, 59, the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, said there is widespread interest in adapting the model elsewhere. Under Levitt’s leadership, the JCC has become a force in Jewish educational and cultural programming and community service. Its Upper West Side building became a makeshift supply distribution center in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (2012: No. 28)

27. Andy Bachman (Reform)

The outspoken, tech-savvy Andy Bachman has helped redefine what synagogue affiliation looks like for today’s young families—thanks to his support of emerging minyanim and popular-cultural programming, like its author series, “Brooklyn by the Book.” Congregation Beth Elohim—the brownstone Brooklyn synagogue where Bachman, 50, serves as senior rabbi—has a congregation of more than 1,000 member families from across the liberal denominational spectrum. The Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs (No. 6) chose to hold his installation ceremony at Beth Elohim, citing the synagogue’s success under Bachman’s leadership. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the congregation fed tens of thousands of people affected by the storm, and it is now in the process of creating a year-round hunger-relief program. Beth Elohim last year won an online contest and was awarded a $250,000 American Express Partners in Preservation grant. The congregation will use the money to repair the stained-glass windows in its historic building. (2012: No. 41)

28. Naomi Levy (Conservative)

Naomi Levy, 50, is the founder of Nashuva, a spiritual community that marches to the beat of its own drum—literally: It boasts the nation’s largest Jewish drum circle. Its monthly Shabbat services are musical and meditative and bring together hundreds of unaffiliated Jews. Live webcasts of the services have drawn tens of thousands of viewers. Levy was one of the first women rabbis ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary and went on to write three books, including the national bestseller To Begin Again. Levy’s prayer for healing was read at the Newtown, Connecticut, Havdalah service, following the Sandy Hook massacre. (2012: No. 23)

29. Elliot Cosgrove (Conservative)

Elliot Cosgrove, 40, now in his fifth year at the 1,500-family (and growing) Park Avenue Synagogue, is both spiritual leader and scholar. (He has a doctorate from University of Chicago’s divinity school.) He recently made headlines when questioning in a sermon the Conservative movement policy of refusing to officiate at interfaith weddings—saying he wasn’t sure it was viable long-term. “The idea of refusing to be present for the wedding and then expecting the couple to feel warmly embraced by the Jewish people strikes me as a policy constructed by someone who doesn’t know the mind of a young couple,” he said. Cosgrove has been prioritizing teen engagement, hosting young people’s Torah study sessions at his home on Shabbat. The Anti-Defamation League’s rabbinic liaison on interfaith affairs, Cosgrove traveled last year to the Vatican to witness New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s elevation to cardinal. (2012: No. 36)

30. Arthur Schneier (Orthodox)

A Jewish statesman of sorts, Arthur Schneier travels the world to promote a range of humanitarian causes. For more than a half century, he has led both Park East Synagogue—an Orthodox congregation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side—and the human- and religious-rights organization he founded, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. A Holocaust survivor, Schneier, 83, was the only person that family members allowed to speak at the July burial, in Srebrenica, Bosnia, of 520 Muslim victims of a genocidal Bosnia War massacre. “Here on this sacred day, we say, ‘Never again!’ And we mean never again!” Schneier said, invoking in his speech the Syrian government’s ongoing use of brutal force against its own citizens. Schneier has been a member of UNESCO’s High Panel on Peace and Dialogue Among Cultures. He sits on the Council of Foreign Relations and on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience. Schneier is the father of Rabbi Marc Schneier. (2012: No. 27)

31. Marc Schneier (Orthodox)

Marc Schnieier, whom the New York tabloids have dubbed the “rabbi to the stars,” serves as spiritual leader of Hampton Synagogue, a congregation near where many rich and famous New Yorkers have vacation homes. He is also the founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, dedicated to strengthening Muslim-Jewish and other cross-cultural relations; the foundation is chaired by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Schneier, 54, co-wrote the upcoming book Sons of Abraham with Imam Shamsi Ali; in it, they discuss their unlikely friendship and provide a sacred text-based blueprint for Muslim-Jewish cooperation. He is the son of Rabbi Arthur Schneier (No. 30). (2012: No. 35)

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

The trio of dynamic rabbis behind Mechon Hadar, Shai Held, 41, Elie Kaunfer, 39, and Ethan Tucker, 37, have transformed the landscape of Jewish learning in New York City and beyond. Mechon Hadar runs North America’s first full-time egalitarian yeshiva and provides consulting services to many independent minyanim, or prayer communities. This past year, Mechon Hadar—already popular with 20- and 30-somethings—broadened its reach to include programming directed at other segments of the Jewish community. Mechon Hadar launched new intensive study opportunities, targeted at groups such as preteens, high school and college students, and Baby Boomers. And it received “next stage” funding from the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Meanwhile Kaunfer has been on the lecture circuit discussing the importance of Torah-centric communal engagement, and Tucker has been developing Hadar partnerships with day schools and college campuses, producing Web-based, Jewish-themed content. Held’s book on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel will be published this fall. (2012: No. 33)

33. Dan Ehrenkrantz (Reconstructionist)

As president of a Reconstructionist seminary in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, Dan Ehrenkrantz, 51, leads a Jewish movement that has always embraced changing times and norms. In February he announced that he would be stepping down, though is staying on while the search for a successor gets underway. News of Ehrenkrantz’s resignation came on the heels of some major changes in Reconstructionist Judaism. The movement dissolved its congregational arm, bringing that portfolio under the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and giving congregations the option to pick their level of financial support. “Jewish organizations that let people choose how to participate and that leverage their members’ diversity for creative results will be the leaders in this environment,” he wrote in a recent eJewish Philanthropy op-ed. “So why not shape a denominational structure on the same principle?” (2012: No. 17)

34. Jill Jacobs (Conservative)

At the forefront of the Jewish-social justice movement, Jill Jacobs, 37, became the executive director of the North American arm of Rabbis for Human Rights in 2011. In early 2013 the organization cut ties with its Israeli counterpart, rebranded itself as T’ruah, and reavowed its commitment to human rights in the U.S., Canada, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Last fall the group countered a right-wing group’s inflammatory subway ads portraying Muslims as “savages” with an ad campaign of its own. “In the choice between love and hate, choose love,” the posters read. “Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.” (2012: No. 45)

35. Joseph Telushkin (Orthodox)

No one has digested the entire Jewish canon and translated it into such accessible, informative literature quite the way that Joseph Telushkin has. More than two decades after the publication of his encyclopedic “Jewish Literacy,” the book remains a foundation text for Jews, non-Jews, and prospective converts alike. An Orthodox rabbi by training, he is a spiritual leader of Los Angeles’ Synagogue for the Performing Arts, which turns 40 this year. In December he addressed the U.N. High Commission on Refugees in Geneva about the need to establish a code of conduct for clergy about how they speak about members of other faiths. Telushkin, 64, is at work on a biography of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Scheneerson, which is slated to be published next year. (Reinstated; 2011: No. 1

Dave Kotinsky/Getty

36. Shmuley Boteach (Orthodox)

The country’s best-known rabbinic brand spent the better part of the past year running for a New Jersey congressional seat. “I wanted to bring something of the joy of Jewish values to supplant some of the austerity of the Christian social sexual values which have come to dominate our social discourse and divide our nation,” Shmuley Boteach, 46, wrote on The Huffington Post of his decision to pursue politics. When Election Day rolled around, Boteach, running as a Republican, was trounced by an incumbent Democrat. But it wasn’t long before the rabbi, author, and media star was back in the public eye—speaking, writing opinion pieces (biblical insights on the Petraeus sex scandal, questioning God in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy), and promoting his books including The Fed-Up Man of Faith, published in January. (2012: No. 30)

37. Michael Broyde (Orthodox)

Yeshiva University’s chancellor called Michael Broyde “the finest mind of his generation.” This year he was a frontrunner to become the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, a position that ultimately went to the London-based Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. But Broyde, 48, has plenty on his plate stateside: He is a law professor at Emory University, where he is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. He is a member of America’s largest Jewish law court, the Beth Din of America. Broyde speaks, writes, and is quoted widely on topics ranging from military ethics in religious law to traditional Jewish hair coverings; his work is published regularly in Jewish, secular, and academic publications. In a recent investigative piece published in The Jewish Daily Forward, a former Yeshiva University high school student alleged that Broyde was told about accusations of sexual misconduct against a teacher at the school, but advised against reporting it to the Beth Din; Broyde denies that he knew the student or about the allegations, and has stated that when child sexual or physical abuse is alleged, law enforcement—not rabbis—must be notified. (New)

38. Elliot Dorff (Conservative)

Elliot Dorff is one of the Conservative movement’s most well-regarded authorities on Jewish law. He serves as rector at Los Angeles’s American Jewish University, where he is a philosophy professor; he is also a visiting professor of Jewish law at UCLA School of Law. Dorff, 71, chairs Conservative Judaism’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, and it was his rabbinic ruling several years back that helped pry open the movement’s seminaries to gays and lesbians. He was among a trio of Conservative leaders to devise guidelines for gay weddings and gay divorces. A veteran of three federal task forces, Dorff is on the California state commission that sets ethical guidelines for stem-cell research. (Reinstated; 2010: No. 43) 


39. B. Elka Abrahamson (Reform)

B. Elka Abrahamson, 57, is a sought-after mentor to a rising generation of Jewish professional and lay leaders. She presides over the Wexner Foundation, known for its prestigious fellowships for Jewish clergy-in-training and other would-be Jewish communal professionals. Under Abrahamson’s leadership, the foundation recently launched programs for mid-career professionals and for volunteer leaders in the Russian-speaking Jewish community. (2012: No. 36)

40. Shmuly Yanklowitz (Orthodox)

At 31, Shmuly Yanklowitz is Orthodoxy’s most prominent voice on social justice and has a résumé longer than many rabbinic leaders twice his age. He is the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, an organization “guided by Torah values and dedicated to combating suffering and oppression.” The group recently launched campaigns on prison reform and business ethics. He also leads Kehilath Israel, a 500-family synagogue in Overland Park, Kansas; serves as CEO of the Jewish animal welfare organization Shamayim V’Aretz, which he started with actress Mayim Bialik and hip-hop artist Matisyahu; and is a rabbinic representative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Yanklowitz somehow found time this past year to earn his doctorate in “moral development and epistemology” at Columbia University and to complete his second book, The Soul of Jewish Social Justice. (2012: No. 40)

41. Matisyahu Salomon (Orthodox)

Matisyahu Salomon—the spiritual guide of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), the massive Haredi yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey, and a member of a new anti-Internet group called the Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp—is highly influential in shaping ultra-Orthodox rabbinic positions on technology. In May some 40,000 ultra-Orthodox men packed CitiField, home of the New York Mets, for an anti-Internet rally. The purpose of the event, Salomon told the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia at the time, “is for people to realize how terrible the Internet is and, of course, the best thing for every [good Jew] is not to allow it in his home at all.” Salomon was among the key rabbinic leaders responsible for the rally’s turnout; he closed BMG for the day so thousands of his students could attend the gathering, where he was a featured speaker. (New)

Rebecca Zenefski

42. Marcia Zimmerman (Reform)

The senior rabbi at Temple Israel, a 2,000-household congregation in Minneapolis, Marcia Zimmerman, 53, is vocal on policy issues impacting Minnesota and the nation. This past year she spoke before the House of Representatives in favor of continued subsidies for school lunches, hosted a forum on gun violence with Rep. Keith Ellison, and worked to defeat a proposed state law that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Zimmerman, who chairs the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, takes seriously the words above Temple Israel’s entrance: “Our house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” She is dedicated to ensuring that Temple Israel’s programming and religious school are inclusive of interfaith families and those with special needs. (2012: No. 34)

43. Peter Berg (Reform)

The senior rabbi of Atlanta’s oldest and largest synagogue, The Temple—whose high-profile members include Home Depot founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank and whose former members included Driving Miss Daisy playwright Alfred Uhry and lynching victim Leo Frank—Peter Berg, 41, is gaining visibility within the Reform movement. Now in his fifth year at the helm of the 1,500-family congregation, he started the Open Jewish Project, focused on connecting unaffiliated young adult Jews in Atlanta. Berg was the youngest original member of the Rabbinic Vision Initiative, a group dedicated to holding Reform organizations accountable to synagogues and their members, and the only pulpit rabbi in the country to serve on the search committee for the new URJ president. In the past year Berg organized city, state, and Jewish leadership to join forces in combatting the trafficking of minors. (New

Larry Cameola

44. Mychal Springer (Conservative)

Supporting and engaging those facing hardship—such as a serious illness or a loss of a loved one—are a big part of what congregational rabbis are called upon to do. Helping clergy-in-training prepare for that challenge is at the core of Mychal Springer’s work. The director of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Center for Pastoral Education, Springer transformed the way the school prepares its students: JTS newly requires all of its rabbinic students to complete 400 hours of clinical pastoral education—in nursing facilities, hospices, or various social-services agencies. This past year, Springer, 47, brought together Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy for a year-long multi-faith pastoral care training for religious leaders; and, in collaboration with UJA-Federation of New York, ran various pastoral education programs — working with rabbinical students from across the Jewish denominational spectrum, as well as with Catholic and Protestant divinity students. (New)

45. Micah Greenstein (Reform)

Advancing civil rights and promoting racial and religious reconciliation are at the heart of Greenstein’s rabbinate. The charismatic senior rabbi at Memphis’s Reform Temple Israel, Micah Greenstein, 50, recently led a group of mega-church leaders on a trip to Israel and joined forces with Memphis Christian and Muslim groups to create Friendship Park, situated between a local mosque and a church. Greenstein works closely with an NGO dedicated to empowering women in Cambodia and has spoken out publicly against the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay Scouts and troop leaders. Temple Israel draws congregants from throughout the Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri bootheel. (2012: No. 46)

46. David Ingber (Renewal)

Romemu has been called the “next B’nai Jeshurun” (see No. 18) and the “non-Chabad Chabad” (see No. 4) because of its musical, meditative services and its focus on Jewish mysticism. David Ingber, 43, a student of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shlomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, started the Upper West Side congregation four years ago; today the number of member households tops 400, and Romemu draws a few thousand worshipers on the High Holy Days. The congregation recently received a UJA-Federation grant, which will fund further outreach to 20- and 30-somethings, many of whom already attend the congregation’s standing-room-only Kabbalat Shabbat services. (2012: No. 50)

47. Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (Reform)

Women rabbis have no advocate more steadfast than Jacqueline Koch Ellenson. As the director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, Ellenson, 56, works to address gender inequities and to promote women’s advancement in the Reform rabbinate. One particular area of focus: making the Jewish workforce more hospitable to rabbis seeking flexibility and work-life balance. Amid opposition from ultra-Orthodox groups—and arrests, including 10 last month, of female worshipers for the “crime” of wearing a prayer shawl while praying at the Western Wall—Koch Ellenson has galvanized large segments of the American Jewish community behind women’s right to participate in group worship at Judaism’s holiest site. She is working with the group Women of the Wall to develop programming in honor of that organization’s 25th anniversary later this year. Koch Ellenson is married to HUC-JIR president David Ellenson. (2012: No. 49)

48. Rachel Cowan (Reform)

There’s been plenty of Jewish innovation devoted to engaging 20- and 30-somethings, but less attention has been paid to meeting the needs of the 20 percent of American Jews over 60. Enter Rachel Cowan, 71, who started Wise Aging—a new project of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality dedicated developing programming geared toward Jewish older adults. She is currently working to develop a “Wise Aging” resource guide to be distributed to rabbis, educators, and lay leaders. This year the Slingshot guide named Wise Aging one of the most innovative new Jewish programs in the country. Cowan’s journey to the rabbinate is notable because she was born Unitarian, ultimately converting to Judaism 16 years into her marriage to a Jewish man, the late writer Paul Cowan. Since becoming a rabbi more than 20 years ago, Cowan has held many high-profile positions in the Jewish world, serving as director of the Jewish Life and Values Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation and later as executive director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, where she is currently a consultant. (2012: 48)

49. Menachem Creditor (Conservative)

Menachem Creditor has been singled out as one of the most outspoken, activist rabbis, speaking and organizing on behalf of a range of progressive causes—gay rights, women’s leadership, and gun-violence prevention, among them. The anthology Peace in Our Cities: Rabbis Against Gun Violence, which Creditor, 37, edited and to which he contributed a chapter, was published in February. Earlier this year he traveled with a rabbinic delegation to Washington to push for tighter gun restrictions, meeting with members of Vice President Joe Biden’s policy team. The spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, Creditor is a member of the Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the author of the recently published transliterated prayer book “Siddur Tov Lehodot.” (New)

50. Shaul Praver (Conservative)

Nothing in his 10 years as the spiritual leader of Congregation Adath Israel in the sleepy exurban community of Newtown, Connecticut, could have prepared Shaul Praver for December 14, 2012. That’s the day a gunman killed 20 youngsters and six educators at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Among the dead was one of his congregants, 6-year-old Noah Pozner—and Praver, 52, was a source of comfort to Noah’s mother, Veronique Pozner, to the wider Newtown community, and indeed to the entire traumatized nation. “She found a lot of consolation in the idea that death doesn’t really exist—it’s just a transformation because we all come from God and everything in the world is from God,” Praver told The New York Times of Veronique Pozner. “Noah wasn’t lost.” The rabbi joined interfaith clergy at a December 16 memorial service attended by President Obama; there, he sang a haunting rendition of “El Maleh Rachamim,” a Hebrew memorial prayer. (New)