Rabbi Approves of Girl Inflicting Wounds for Modesty Reasons

A letter is sent from a college campus midrasha to an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi. The letter writer explains that a young Jewish woman on campus who is a counselor at a midrasha (מרכזת מדרשה) is becoming more devout, but her non-observant parents disapprove. She wants to wear long skirts for modesty reasons, but her parents have forbidden her from doing so. Ynetnews.com reports that the letter continued, “The young woman thought that if she inflicted wounds on her legs she could tell her parents that she is wearing a long skirt to cover the wounds.”

According to ynet news, the letter was sent to Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, the son-in-law of prominent Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, for his opinion. Shockingly, Rabbi Zilberstein approved of the young woman inflicting wounds on her own legs so she could dress modestly, wearing the long skirts her parents have forbidden.

If this story is authentic, it is quite troubling on many levels. The young woman is in college and should be able to determine what she wears on her own, without her parents’ consent. [The ynet News translation was erroneous. It said that she was a college student, but the Hebrew explains that she was a counselor in a midrasha (מרכזת מדרשה), meaning that she is likely a teenager.] It should never have gotten to the point where she feels compelled to do self-harm in order to wear modest clothes.

While the commandment to honor ones parents is competing with the young woman’s belief in modest dress, there is precedent in Judaism for disobeying ones parents if it leads to adherence of the law in other cases. But above all else, it is in violation of Jewish law to inflict harm on oneself. Inflicting wounds on oneself is a transgression of Jewish law. It would be religious malpractice if Rabbi Zilberstein actually condoned this practice.

According to the article in ynet news, the rabbi responded to the questioner writing, “She is allowed to inflict wounds on her legs in order to dress modestly and evade sin.”

There is already documented evidence that young women are self inflicting wounds at a high rate. Reports of intentional cutting and self mutilation among teens, especially young women, is shocking. In a November 2008 article in the Huffington Post, Leslie Goldman wrote about the growing epidemic of troubled Jewish teenage girls who are suffering from eating disorders and body image problems that lead to cutting themselves. I would presume Rabbi Zilberstein was not familiar with this crisis when he penned his response.

Ynet reports, “In his reply, the rabbi commended the student’s initiative, saying ‘the blood from the self-inflicted wound will atone for the people of Israel,’ adding that the coordinator should allow the student to commit the act.” The rabbi’s opinion is odd. In fact, it even calls to mind the sacrificial system of a bygone era in Judaism. When I first read Rabbi Zilberstein’s response I couldn’t help but notice that he seems to draw on Christian symbolism.

If there’s truth to this story and Rabbi Zilberstein in fact opined that this young woman in college should continue to inflict wounds on her body so that she’ll have an excuse to dress modestly in the face of her parents’ disapproval, then he owes an explanation for his warped logic. I understand and respect those who feel strongly about modest dress, but there are boundaries. No person in their right mind would grant approval for such a horrible act.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Another Altered Photo in Jewish Newspaper

While everyone is talking about the altered photo with Hillary Clinton in the Haredi newspaper Der Zeitung, there have been other examples of these ultra-Orthodox newspapers editing photographs to suit their purpose.

TIME Magazine reported on a poorly doctored photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet from 2009 in the Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman. In the photo, two female Cabinet members, Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver, are replaced with men’s faces.

The faces belong to ministers Ariel Atias and Moshe Kachlon, who in the original photograph can be seen toward the periphery of the group (standing, second from left and second from right). As TIME explains, “In Yated Neeman‘s version of the image, they have been cropped out. Much of the newspaper’s readership consists of ultra-Orthodox readers who do not think it proper for women to serve in the government.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Kabbalah Centre’s Berg Sent Packing from Newsweek’s List of Top Rabbis

**UPDATE** – Somehow I missed the fact that Yehuda Berg is actually still on the list this year. He comes in at #37 (down from #14 last year). The Newsweek/Daily Beast gallery of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis shows Berg in a photo with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Amazing. Just amazing. (Hat tip to Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, CEO of Synagogue 3000, for pointing out my oversight)

When I read Newsweek magazine’s expose of the Kabbalah Centre and its questionable foundation for a children’s school in Malawi founded with millions of dollars from Madonna, the first thing I thought about was the annual Newsweek list of the top fifty American rabbis (technically: the most “influential” rabbis).

Rabbi Yehuda Berg, the son of the controversial founder of the Kabbalah Centre, has been listed among the top five in Newsweek’s annual list each year. And each year, after the Newsweek list is published, there are those who argue that Berg isn’t even actually an ordained rabbi and doesn’t belong on the list. Some claim that he’s running a cult that is Judaism’s version of Scientology. And then there are those who believe that Berg isn’t a religious figure at all, but rather a businessman running a corporation that sells everything from red strings and holy water to books and astrology sets.

I immediately found it curious that the same publication that would expose such criminal income tax schemes, questionable fundraising practices and laughable merchandise sales would put the mastermind behind it all high on its list of the top rabbis in the country.

Well, sure enough the new list of the fifty most influential rabbis was published yesterday and guess who’s not on the list. Anywhere. Somehow the face of the Kabbalah Centre has disappeared from the list after being in the top five in prior years. I suppose it would have raised eyebrows even more had Yehuda Berg remained on the list only a couple week’s after the “Madonna’s Kabbalah Disaster in Malawi” article appeared. However, it would have been helpful had Newsweek/Daily Beast issued a statement as to why Berg was not included in this year’s list. It could be argued that he’s still very influential, but perhaps Newsweek is no longer regarding him as a rabbi.

I’m hesitant to criticize anyone else’s religious beliefs, however, I don’t think that what the Kabbalah Centre is producing is actually a religion at all. In fact, it’s not even fully based on the teachings of Jewish mysticism. From the Newsweek article, it looks like the Kabbalah Centre is made up of businessmen who have figured out ways to swindle people out of money, including celebrities like Madonna, corporations like Gucci, regular people buying $72 candles, and the U.S. government. The Kabbalah Centre has become classified as a Church by the IRS and they run everything (cars, houses, vacation homes, etc.) through the corporation. Add to that the scam they seemed to have produced with the foundation for the Malawi school, and I’m sure there will be a full-scale investigation soon that will end the Kabbalah Centre as we know it and return Kabbalah to its esoteric roots in the hands of the Jewish scholars of mysticism.

The good news about this year’s Newsweek/Daily Beast list of the top rabbis, in addition to them removing Yehuda Berg, is that it includes some wonderful colleagues of mine. Even though fellow social media consultant Esther Kustanowitz refers to the list as “My Rabbi’s Better Than Your Rabbi,” it actually does include some of the most influential rabbis in the American Jewish community. I was excited to see my classmate Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum of the start-up minyan Kavana Seattle make the list this year. Additionally, it was great to see the inclusion of Rabbis David Wolpe, Rick Jacobs, Irwin Kula, Jill Jacobs, Ethan Tucker, Elie Kaunfer, Shai Held, Naomi Levy, Burt Visotzky, Avi Weiss and Steve Greenberg.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Are Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, John Galliano and Julian Assange Anti-Semites?

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

How does one know when someone’s comment is anti-Semitic? I suppose it’s the same as how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

There have been several high profile examples of anti-Semitic outbursts recently. And like famous anti-Semitic rants in the past, there has been much debate as to whether these recent cases should be classified as anti-Semitic. In all of these instances, one could argue that “I know it when I see it.”

There are times when a celebrity makes a poor choice, but is likely not being intentionally anti-Semitic. Examples are when Roseanne Barr dressed as Adolf Hitler and posed for a magazine and when Prince Harry went to a costume party in a Nazi uniform. However, when Mel Gibson repeatedly espoused his anti-Jewish feelings, there was no question about his motivation or true feelings.

In recent days, we’ve heard questionable comments by Charlie Sheen and Glenn Beck. We’ve seen video footage of Dior designer John Galliano expressing his love for Hitler and berating innocent people with anti-Semitic slurs. And a recent report said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization.

Charlie Sheen, who continues to prove that his “Wild Thing” character in the movie “Major League” was pretty close to his real persona, referred to the executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” by his Hebrew name. Rather than calling him Chuck Lorre, Sheen referred to him as “Chaim Levine” and raised red flags throughout the media and in Jewish organizations. Not only has Sheen denied that there was any anti-Semitic undertone in his rant, he is now requesting that the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman apologize to him for condemning his remarks.

It’s pretty obvious that Sheen’s not getting very good PR counsel these days (if any at all) because he expressed his admiration for Mel Gibson in an interview with Howard Stern. I don’t think Mel Gibson is the guy you want to bring into your corner when you’ve been accused of an anti-Semitic rant.

Glenn Beck recently apologized for his insult to Reform Jews. The Fox News talking head said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.” He was responding to a letter condemning his virulent attack on George Soros. I was one of several non-Reform rabbis who signed the letter urging Fox News to fire Beck. While I don’t agree with Soros’ politics and certainly find his views on Israel to be troubling, I understood Beck’s comments about Soros (comparing him to the Nazis) to be anti-Semitic in nature. While Beck will likely never apologize for his Soros tirade, it is telling that he apologized to the angered Reform (not “Reformed” as Beck called them) rabbis.

The anti-Semitic comments by Christian Dior designer John Galliano in a shocking videotape (see below) were quite obviously anti-Semitic. Dior has fired him for his hateful comments and he was arrested by French police over allegations that he abused a couple in an angry, drunken, anti-Semitic diatribe. Oscar winner Natalie Portman who represents Dior in perfume ads said she was disgusted with John Galliano over his anti-Semitic rants. In a written statement, Portman said, “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way.”

Finally, Julian Assange’s comments seemed to be more paranoia than anti-Semitism. He suggested that British journalists were conspiring to smear his organization. The NY Times reports that Assange “was especially angry about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks.”

While Assange’s accusation does sound like the age-old charge that the Jews own and run the media, it might not be anti-Semitic. Rather, Assange is probably feeling like everyone is out to get him after the recent WikiLeaks dumps of classified information.

Are anti-Semitic comments on the rise? I don’t think so. Rather, there has been a trend of high-profile individuals making anti-Semitic statements. It’s entirely possible that these hate-filled tirades reveal the true sentiments of these celebrities. Hopefully, they will apologize for their outbursts and be more dignified and sane in the future.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Joe Lieberman Tapped for Egyptian Government Post

While I’m no Jon Stewart or Andy Borowitz when it comes to political satire, I have had the following funny situation playing in my head ever since the riots in Egypt began:

PRESS CONFERENCE IN CAIRO, EGYPT

Joe Lieberman: Thank you for joining me here today in Cairo. I know it’s only been a few weeks since my press conference where I announced  I’ll retire from the Senate and not seek re-election. However, I have a major announcement to make yet again. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, has appointed me Foreign Minister over this country.

CNN Reporter: Mr. Lieberman, when will you begin?

Joe Lieberman: The appointment is effective today… it’s immediate in light of the chaos that currently plagues Egypt. I will be the second in command. And no Jewish man has ever held such a position of power in Egypt.

Fox Reporter: Uh, that’s not actually true sir, have you read the Jewish Bible?

Joe Lieberman: Right, good point. Well, I am the first man named Joseph to…

Fox Reporter: No, that’s not quite right either Mr. Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman: Well, anyway, there’s a lot of work to be done. I’d like to thank the Pharoah, er, I mean the President for his faith in me. You know when he called me on the phone to ask me to come down here, he said he never dreamed that the political situation could get so bad. But I told him that he had in fact dreamed that it would get this bad. I keep telling him that.

AP Reporter: What will be your first order of business to calm the masses who are rioting in the street?

Joe Lieberman: I came up with this great idea to stockpile food because you just never know. I’ve been in pits before and I think that in time we can get these people to start building. Thank you very much for your time today and God Bless Egypt!

Al Jazeera Reporter: Have a good Shabbos Vizier Lieberman!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Bris It Is: Bennett Epstein’s Daughter Has a Boy

I had no idea how many Jewish attorneys I know. In the past week I received no less than twenty forwarded email messages from lawyers about US District Judge Kimba Wood’s decision to grant a recess in an ongoing court case if Bennett Epstein, one of the lawyers in the trial, becomes a grandfather to a baby boy. As I blogged last week, Judge Wood famously agreed to allow Epstein the time off from the trial to attend his grandson’s bris, but also taught him a lesson about parity. If Epstein’s daughter gave birth to a baby girl, Kimba Wood offered her opinion that a simcha of equal magnitude should be presented.

Of course Jewish feminists around the world applauded Wood’s response to Epstein. But, alas, it’s a boy and we won’t know what type of Simchat Bat ceremony the family would have held.

According to the NY Daily News, “Defense lawyer Bennett Epstein (pictured) stood in court on Monday and told Wood: ‘Judge, I have an announcement to make: Hoo hah!’ It was Epstein’s slightly unorthodox way of announcing the birth of his grandson. But there was precedent. Epstein had cautioned Wood earlier this month that his 33-year-old daughter, Eva, was due to give birth on Dec. 3 – right after the start of his loan-officer client’s mortgage fraud trial.”

I didn’t have to wait to read about Bennett Epstein’s news in the NY Daily News. As promised, Mark Fass, a staff reporter for the NY Law Journal who is friends with Epstein, sent me an email this morning to inform me of the grandson’s birth.

Epstein’s letter to Wood and her response have been so well circulated around the Web that it would appear this newborn baby boy’s fifteen minutes of fame will be among his first minutes of life. Mazel Tov!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

NJ Jewish Standard & Carl Paladino

While last week’s decision by the New Jersey Jewish Standard to apologize for the inclusion of a gay wedding announcement and then retract the apology made big news, I didn’t have a chance to weigh in on it. But now, that New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has essentially done the same thing regarding the anti-gay comments he made to a group of Hasidic Jews, I thought I’d comment on both matters.

Newspapers, and especially Jewish newspapers, will never be able to please everyone. Stating that the newspaper is for the entire community is actually a shortsighted mission statement because every Jewish community will have its factions that neither read nor care about what is published in certain Jewish newspapers. Whether it is the decision to run advertisements for non-kosher restaurants or print interfaith wedding announcements, the Orthodox community will boycott the paper. And a Jewish newspaper that has a bias toward the Orthodox won’t be of much concern to a progressive audience.

Ultimately, what happened at the NJ Jewish Standard was neglect. The paper’s editorial board and staff neglected to have a thoughtful process about whether to publish gay wedding (and engagement) announcements in the first place. And when there was backlash from the Orthodox, they should have debriefed on the matter, gathered information, and sought counsel from local rabbis and Jewish leaders before issuing an apology. The quick decision to apologize for publishing the engagement of Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen (who, by the way, seem like a very nice couple and will be married by my colleague Rabbi Josh Gruenberg) and then making the statement that the paper will never again run such an announcement turned into a public relations nightmare. It took days until James Janoff, the publisher, issued a retraction of the editor’s statement which said, “The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.”

The engagement announcement of former Camp Ramah in Nyack staffers
Avi Smolen & Justin Rosen, who will be married this month.

In a statement posted to the paper’s website, Janoff said the New Jersey Jewish Standard probably should not have reversed its policy so quickly, “responding only to one segment of the community.” He said he is now holding meetings with local rabbis and community leaders, and will be printing many of the letters “that have been pouring in” on the issue. Without saying that the paper will print same-sex marriage announcements in the future, my sense is that in time they will.

Now on to Carl Paladino, who I’m convinced is a wish that was granted to Jon Stewart for his last birthday. Today’s New York Times reports that the alliance between Republican Carl Paladino and Yehuda Levin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, has fallen apart, with the rabbi denouncing Paladino on Wednesday for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality on Sunday. It turns out that Rabbi Levin wrote Paladino’s anti-gay speech, so he was obviously angered when Paladino did a 180 and apologized for his “poorly chosen words” and said he would “fight for all gay New Yorkers’ rights” if elected governor.

I’m not really sure how Paladino could be so naive to think that, in the 24-hour news cycle era, his offensive anti-gay remarks wouldn’t be broadcast all over the country within hours. During a meeting with a small Orthodox congregation that was arranged by Rabbi Levin, Paladino said that children should not be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality was acceptable, and then he criticized his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, for marching with his daughters in New York City’s gay pride parade. While his comments obviously went over well with the Hasidic group, they didn’t play very well for the rest of the world.

There are some pretty funny lines in the NY Times story including Rabbi Levin explaining where he was and what he was doing when he learned of Paladino’s apology (emphasis is mine):

Rabbi Levin said he was especially upset that Mr. Paladino gave him no notice that he planned to back away from the comments. “I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich,” Rabbi Levin said. “While I was eating it, they come running and they say, ‘Paladino became gay!’ I said, ‘What?’ And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

So, was it a kosher pastrami or kosher salami sandwich, Rabbi Levin? And I love how he had to mention that it was “kosher.” Did he think that folks would question whether he was eating a non-kosher sandwich?

The Times then had to clarify that Paladino hadn’t actually become gay (of course):

Mr. Paladino, of course, had not become gay, but had announced that he wanted to clarify that he embraced gay rights and opposed discrimination. In explaining his views, Mr. Paladino and his aides noted that he had a gay nephew who worked for the campaign.

So, what did Rabbi Levin have to say about Paladino’s gay nephew?

“He discovered now he has a gay nephew?” the rabbi said. “Mazel tov! We’ll make a coming-out party!”

So, my question is: If the Hasidic Rabbi Yehuda Levin makes a coming-out party for Carl Paladino’s gay nephew, will the New Jersey Jewish Standard announce it in their paper? You just couldn’t make this stuff up!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Dancing at Auschwitz

The Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit, Michigan is the nation’s first Holocaust memorial. It was originally located in a building connected to the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. It was this Holocaust museum that I toured with my grandfather when I was twelve-years-old and listened to him explain that many of his family members — my relatives — perished in the Shoah.

Several years ago that Holocaust museum moved to a new location a few miles away in Farmington Hills. The space that was originally occupied by the Holocaust Center is now a teen center where Jewish youth come to watch movies, play video games, eat pizza, and compete in pool and ping-pong tournaments. It is also where hundreds of Jewish teenagers come to dance to loud music.

The symbolism is not lost on me. This space was originally dedicated as a museum to pay tribute to the victims of the Shoah and to memorialize the six million souls who perished. It was a solemn space to educate about the Holocaust so that history wouldn’t be repeated. But today, it is a space where Jewish young people (many the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) can celebrate that “Am Yisrael Chai” — the Jewish people have endured. Hitler and the Nazis were not successful because the Jewish people are alive today and our children sing and dance at the Jewish Community Center and in the location originally consecrated as a museum of memory.

It is in this spirit that I embraced the YouTube video of a Holocaust survivor dancing with his grandchildren to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive” in front of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. The original video, which was viewed over 500,000 times in one day, has since been removed from YouTube for a copyright violation. However, it was likely removed due to the controversy it created. The reposted video is below.

Australian Jewish artist Jane Korman filmed her three children and her father, 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Adolk, in the video clip “I Will Survive: Dancing Auschwitz.” The clip depicted the Korman family dancing in front of Holocaust landmarks in Poland, including the infamous entrance sign to Auschwitz death camp reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” a Polish synagogue, Dachau, Theresienstadt, and a memorial in Lodz.

Her father at one point in the clip even wore a shirt on which the word “Survivor” was written. During a recent family visit to Israel Korman said that she thought of the idea after she encountered hatred toward Israel and Jews in Australia and added that she wanted to give her concerns presence during the heritage tour of Poland she recently took with her family, and take a different approach to the matter.

Haaretz newspaper reported that “Many Jewish survivors have reacted gravely to the video, accusing her of disrespect. Yet Korman told Australian daily The Jewish News that ‘it might be disrespectful, but he [her father] is saying ‘we’re dancing, we should be dancing, we’re celebrating our survival and the generations after me,’ – the generation he’s created. We are affirming our existence.'”

This is clearly a work of art, but it is also a powerful message that no matter how horrific and catastrophic were the acts committed by the Nazis in the last century, the Jewish people are still having children and grandchildren, and we are dancing together in joy all over the earth. Even on the land that buried millions of members of the Jewish faith, the Jewish people are still rejoicing with our future generations.

What do you think about Holocaust survivors dancing with their grandchildren at Auschwitz?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Top 10 Reasons I Hate Lists: The Newsweek Ranking of the Rabbis

Within hours of the publication of yesterday’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis list by Newsweek Magazine, I began to hear complaints about this list.

On Twitter and Facebook, as well as in the blogosphere and in person, people complained about the idea that a mainstream magazine like Newsweek (which is for sale if anyone’s interested) would publish an unscientific listing of top rabbis.

Year after year, the only rabbis who seem to like this list are the ones who make the ranking and can then add the accolade to their bio and have their temple, synagogue or organization issue a press release.

One comment on Facebook regarding the list chastised these influential rabbis. “Personally, I have little respect for influential rabbis. It means they are spending too much time on their public image and too little on being rabbis.”

Others took exception with the high number of non-congregational rabbis who made the list. “Really? They’re more influential than the rabbi who has spent his (or her) whole life in a pulpit serving the needs of their congregants? I’d have to say, I’m not sure that’s really true. They’re more visible certainly, but fame isn’t the same as influence.”

Julie Wiener of The NY Jewish Week wrote the Top Ten Reasons To Hate Newsweek’s Annual Top Rabbis List. I have to agree with many of her arguments. I too was surprised at the number of misspellings on the list. After all, if Shmuley Boteach and Avi Weiss are so influential and famous, how can their names be botched in a high-profile magazine like Newsweek (Schmuley and Weis!)? By the way, I know a few out-of-work, not-very-influential rabbis who’d be willing to proofread future articles on the Newsweek website.

I agree with Julie that it’s odd that Newsweek runs such a list for rabbis and not for any other group of religious leaders. Honestly, I don’t think I’d find a Top 50 list of imams or priests to be very interesting and that’s exactly how I imagine the 98% of the country’s population that isn’t Jewish feel about this list (not to mention the 98% of Jewish Americans who have never heard of these rabbis and could care less about how influential two guys think they are).

The #1 rabbi on the list, Yehuda Krinsky, is the leader of Chabad Lubavitch. He’s very influential when it comes to Chabad, but probably much less influential for non-Chabad following Jews. Not to mention, there’s a deceased rabbi who still holds more influence over Lubavitchers than even Krinksy.

I’ve never really liked these lists anyway. After all, some “Who’s Who” lists are just made up of the people in that field who agreed to purchase the “Who’s Who” book after it was published. Other lists (e.g., 40 under 40) are just made up of people who were nominated by one person rather than an actual election.

This list really comes down to who are the most well known rabbis in the country. Getting published, running an organization, or being elected president for a two-year term in your denomination’s rabbinic group should put you somewhere on this list. Short of that, having a television show and hanging out with Michael Jackson or the President puts you in the top ten. A rabbi of a 100-member congregation in a small, nobody-ever-visits city may be very influential in that community but the two Hollywood moguls (Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Time Warner Exec VP Gary Ginsberg) who make the Newsweek list will never have heard of him/her.

If Newsweek really wants to know who the most influential rabbis in the country are, they should probably take a field trip to any Hebrew School where a rabbi stands in front of a class of 2nd graders once a week.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Newsweek Magazine Affirms Female Orthodox Rabbi

Newsweek Magazine released its annual list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America.

Now in its fourth year, Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., list who they think are the 50 most influential rabbis in the U.S.

While the yearly ranking is merely based on the opinions of two Hollywood moguls and some unscientific criteria, it generates a lot of buzz. There’s also a certain amount of ego that becomes manifest among rabbis when the list is released each year, in addition to debate regarding who was ranked too high and who was missing from the list altogether. My teacher Irwin Kula, who ascended from #10 in 2009 to an impressive #7 this year, tweeted a link to the Newsweek list with the question “How can I not share this!”

What is most interesting in this year’s list is which rabbi was ranked as the 36th most influential rabbi in the U.S. She is new to the rabbinate and new to the Newsweek ranking. Her name is Sara Hurwitz and a lot of controversy surrounds her. Rabbi Avi Weiss (#18) ordained her as a rabbi a couple years ago giving her an acronym for a title and then changing it to “rabba,” a title that irked many in the Orthodox world. Earlier this year, under much pressure from the Right, he backed down and decided to not go through with creating women rabbis.

However, it would appear that Lynton and Ginsberg side with Avi Weiss on this one. And so Rabba Sara Hurwitz becomes one of the most influential rabbis in the country according to Newsweek Magazine, while among the people she is supposed to serve she is not even considered a rabbi.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller