04.16.11

America's 50 Most Influential Rabbis

As Passover commences, The Daily Beast and Newsweek teamed up with a squad of Judaism mavens to determine, for the fifth year in a row, the top leaders of America’s Jewish clergy.

As millions of Jews prepare to dine together for Passover, who sits at the head of the proverbial table? For the second year in a row, Yehuda Krinsky ranks as the most powerful authority in the national Jewish community. Only the second rabbi to repeat at the top of this list (preceded by Marvin Hier in 2007 and 2008), Krinsky leads the fastest-growing denomination in Judaism, The Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

As in previous years at Newsweek, we have assembled this roster to offer an important snapshot of those at the forefront of American Jewish leadership—rabbis who are reimagining ritual, reinventing institutions, mobilizing social activism and energizing scholarship. The obvious danger in ranking rabbis is that the recognition can encourage clergy to focus on publicity or ubiquity, qualities antithetical to the job description. But ideally, the rabbis on this list personify the most important roles in Jewish leaders—as selfless listeners, teachers, connectors, and galvanizers, not self-promoting grandstanders or media strategizers.

Gallery: 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America

As in past years, this list remains subjective, unscientific, and somewhat mischievous in its conception. We’re interested in sparking discussion as well as showcasing, for the uninitiated, both the machers and the up-and-coming trailblazers on the Jewish landscape. The criteria remain the same:

- Are they leaders—innovatively and/or spiritually—within their communities?
- Are they considered leaders in Judaism or their denominations?
- How large are their constituencies?
- Have they made an impact on Judaism in their career?
- Have they made an impact beyond the Jewish community?
- Are they known nationally/internationally?
- Do they have political/social influence?
- Do they have a media presence?

In this fifth installment of what has become known in the Jewish world as “The Newsweek List” (and now encompasses the muscle of The Daily Beast, as well) co-creators Michael Lynton —Sony Pictures chairman and CEO, and Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of Time Warner Inc.—brought in journalist Abigail Pogrebin, former 60 Minutes producer and author of Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, who has spent the last six years speaking to Jewish groups and studying Torah and Talmud with some of American Judaism’s most respected teachers. The list starts here.