Top Ten Reasons To Hate Newsweek's Annual Top Rabbis List
06/30/2010 - 14:14

Since 2007, Newsweek has been issuing an annual list of America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis. I am pleased to say that several rabbis who are welcoming of interfaith families, including Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of the Jewish Outreach Institute, are on this year’s list.

A hearty mazel tov to Rabbi Olitzky and many of the other people I know personally, like Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, who made the list.

However, the list itself irritates the hell out of me and I am hoping that, with the struggling news magazine now on the auction block, this year’s list will be the last. Here, in no particular order, are my reasons:

1- It seems inappropriate for Newsweek even to run such a list, when it publishes no similar lists of imams, priests, ministers etc.

2- It seems inappropriate to not also have a list of America’s 50 Most Influential Jewish Journalists (just kidding).

3- The two-sentence write-ups accompanying each rabbi, which basically just identify his/her (usually his) job title, are not especially informative or enlightening.

4- The shocking abundance of typos (Joesph Telushkin) and misspellings (Schmuley Boteach, Avi Weis, Congregation Gaudus Achim!).

5- The aforementioned abundance of typos/misspellings leads me to believe that Newsweek has fired all its copy editors, and as a former copy editor, I resent this.

6- Only six female rabbis, all but one in the bottom half of the list.

7-The folks who compiled the list (both men, of course) appear to have no expertise on this topic and aren’t even journalists, but are instead corporate big shots (Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc. — and isn’t it kind of weird that Newsweek is relying on someone whose company owns Time Magazine?)

8-Shmuley (I mean Schmuley, of course) Boteach already gets far too much publicity, as do most of the other overwhelmingly media-savvy rabbis who dominate the list.

9-Not one intermarried rabbi! (Just kidding — as I wrote in a column last year, I am not sure I support the idea of ordaining intermarried Jews as rabbis; anyway, intermarried rabbis are quite rare, since Renewal and Secular Jewish are the only movements that allow them.)

10- Norman Lamm, who retired as president from Yeshiva University several years ago and, based on his paucity of Google News hits has not been especially active recently, ranks No. 12. OK, Lamm’s presence also irritates me because the last time he was in the news, in a Jerusalem Post interview, he crassly said, “The Reform Movement may show a rise [in membership numbers], because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK,” referring to the Reform movement’s policy of recognizing patrilineal descent.

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"goyim is a rude way of referring to gentiles" Wrong! Goy means a nation, a people. Goyim is plural pro-noun. It is not a rude expression at all. That was the prophecy to Rebekah, one of the mothers of the Jewish nation: וַיֹּאמֶר ה' לָהּ שְׁנֵי גיים [גוֹיִם] בְּבִטְנֵךְ וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ. And the LORD said unto her: Two "Goyim" (nations) are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. Learn your Hebrew, girl.
I would be remiss if I didn't respond to your statement that "it would be nice for him to show more respect to Reform Jews, even those whom he regards to be "goyim." If the Torah handed down to us for the past 3300+ years is to be adhered to, if someone born to a non-Jewish woman wants to become a Jew, he/she must convert according to the Shulchan Aruch, according to halacha, Jewish law. Torah is not a living breathing document. G-d doesn't change His mind or His rules. So sadly and very unfortunately, regarding those not converted according to halachic Orthodox & Torah standards, all those born of non-Jewish mothers even though they may call themselves Jewish, may love Reform Judaism, Israel. latkes, bagels, lox and having Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, they aren't Jewish whatsoever. This is the con that Reform movement has pulled on those who have decided to put their trust in this movement. Sad yet true. And yes, rabbi Lamm is most respectful to Jew and non-Jew alike. It is the Reform movement that he as well as I have major problems with. May I suggest a neutral eye-opening book I believe you will find quite interesting.
1. Goyim is not a rude way of referring to gentiles. In Torah discussions, it is frequently used as the term of choice, not having any negative connotation whatsoever. Are you saying the term "shabbos goy" is rude? Most shabbos goys refer to themselves that way! 2. Rabbi Lamm wasn't showing disrespect to Reform Jews, and you know that. He was showing disrespect to the Reform movement, which has sold Reform Jews a bill of goods.
Suburban Sweetheart, get a grip. You are the one making blanket judgments and generalizations about the Orthodox.
Julie, in the observant world, goyim is not a rude way of referring to Gentiles in any way, shape or form. It's like calling collectibles "chotchkes". It's the actual literal Hebrew word for "the nations", which refers to those who are not Jewish. There is nothing insulting or demeaning about the word whatsoever. However, in the non-Orthodox world, it has taken on a rude and negative connotation, as in that milieu it's not polite to differentiate between Jew and non-Jew at all. Therefore, when anyone non-observant hears the term, it insults their liberal sensibilities because of course we all all the same and should never differentiate for any reason ever! I'm elaborating on this as I was raised completely secular and have only been what you would call "Orthodox" for the past 5 years, so I am very aware and sensitive to the subtleties of what the non-Orthodox mistakenly believe about the Orthodox and the language we use. Also be aware that Rabbi Lamm is one of the most respectful and honorable Orthodox Jews out there, so what you are saying is tantamount to calling Mother Theresa a terrorist because she saved the lives of the poor. Regarding Reform's patrilineal descent, that's a topic for a library of books. I don't agree with it whatsoever, and all it has done is create a fracture in modern Jewry that is impossible to fix. For thousands of years, Judaism based someone's Jewishness on matrilineal descent. Don't you think it's somewhat chutzpahdik (ballsy, for those who aren't familiar with Yiddish) for some "enlightened" group of Jews to create their own rules in the 1800s simply because they tired of following the rules everyone else had followed for thousands of years? If one wants to observe Judaism, it should be according to the Shulchan Arach, period. Some may or may not want or need to hold by it all, but that, my dear friend, is the only yardstick.
You are incorrect, Reform rabbis can also be intermarried. I should know, my rabbi is intermarried and also gay. How many glbt rabbis were on the list? I don't think there's anything wrong with publishing a list of influential rabbis - though I would question who they really think they're influencing - but I do think it's right to question the wisdom of having a couple CEOs decide who they think influential rabbis are. The reality is that the Reform movement is actually the only aspect of American Jewish life which has had a significant impact on larger American culture. Which doesn't mean a few rabbis who are Conservative, Reconstructionist, and even Orthodox or Hasidic may have affected American life. But rabbis are mostly only influential to other Jews, though we often like to believe otherwise.
I didn't know that NEWSWEEK still publishes - and, who cares anyway.. :-)
Surprise, surprise, an Orthodox Jew showing disrespect for the Reform Movement? Sadly all too prevalent & not at all shocking. Hurtful? Always. But surprising? Never. I was, until recently, employed by the Reform Movement (& therefore by a few rabbis on the list!) & we were always happy to see our leaders on it (the list doesn't lean toward any one movement, for which I give the authors due credit), but I, too, find this list to be, for the most part, entirely arbitrary - and increasingly redundant.
Jeff, I am upset with Rabbi Lamm's comments because a) goyim is a rude way of referring to gentiles and b) while Rabbi Lamm is of course free to disagree with Reform's patrilineal descent policy (and I would be shocked if he didn't), it would be nice for him to show more respect to Reform Jews, even those whom he regards to be "goyim."
Julie, you wrote that you are upset with Rabbi Lamm because he said that: “The Reform Movement may show a rise [in membership numbers], because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK,” referring to the Reform movement’s policy of recognizing patrilineal descent." The truth hurts. Is that why you're upset with him? I too intermarried, but went in a totally different direction than you did. Why do those who see things differently from your subjective point of view upset you?

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