Judaism — it’s a big religion; America — it’s an even bigger place.
But one man — one brave, self-sacrificing man — has taken upon himself the weight and burden of serving both constituencies, of being just the Jew that this country needs, of being: America’s Rabbi.
I’m sorry, did I say “one man”? I meant “five men.”
There are five American men (and yes of course they’re men) currently laying claim to the title of “America’s Rabbi.” Five, can you believe it? Why, that’s as many books as we have in the Torah! We’re going to have to add a chapter to our Holy Scriptures, or at the very least create a field guide, to sort them all out.
So allow me to present to you: A Field Guide to “Rabbis, America’s”
1. Shmuley Boteach.
As news outlets reminded us earlier this week, America’s Rabbi is Rabbi Shmuley, he of the piercing blue eyes and bendy social values — hip enough to talk about sex, but not so hip as to think he shouldn’t tell women what we really want. Hip enough to want to play within America’s political arena, but not so hip as to think maybe he shouldn’t hitch his wagon to someone as manifestly crooked as Chris Christie. Hip enough to think he’s the Jew America needs (and if you doubt his bona fides, check out his About Shmuley page. You can even see his beeper!) but not so hip as to worry about the fact that an Orthodox rabbi doesn’t actually represent America’s actual Jews especially well. Now, Shumley Boteach sure is a whiz at public relations (he wants to “help educate and evolve with the masses,” as long as he gets the credit), but even though the front page of his website declares his singular status, Boteach is not, in fact, America’s only America’s Rabbi.
2. Also America’s Rabbi? Daniel Lapin.
According to his website, Lapin (“known world-wide as America’s Rabbi”) has an uncanny ability “to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner” and in so doing, bring “countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.” Need to “reprogram the software of your soul”? Seeking a “system of regular spiritual injections?” Lapin’s got books! But note particularly the rabbi’s contributions to America’s search for a padded bank account. One video answers the perennial question “How can America’s Rabbi help me create wealth when I work full time?” At Lapin’s other website, called I’m-not-kidding-this-is-really-the-name Ancient Hebrew Wisdom, one finds the answer to this head-scratcher: “Why Would This 8th Generation Rabbi Defy Convention, Revealing Ancient Jewish Money Principles?” The Christian Broadcast Network has been happy to give him a listen on all these points. Now, I’m no America’s Rabbi, but I’m just going to guess that most of America’s Jews would, in fact, rather not have men sporting big black kippahs make their living off of anti-Semitic stereotypes. Luckily, though, we have more rabbis to choose from!
3. Like, for instance, Nachum Shifren.
Also known as the “Surfing Rabbi,” this America’s Rabbi — author of the book “Kill Your Teacher” — is beloved of the Tea Party/Rabid Anti-Muslim crowd. Probably because, as one of the many organizations claiming to represent the Tea Party movement will tell you, (all caps in original) “RABBI SHIFREN TELLS YOU THE TRUTH THAT POLITICIANS AND THEIR FAILED LEADERSHIP DON’T WANT YOU TO HEAR!” One of those truths apparently being that “we don’t want multiculturalism, we don’t want diversity.” So, you know. Super representative of America’s Jews!
4. And then there’s Aryeh Spero.
One does have to wonder what would happen if the Surfing Rabbi were to meet the Caucus for America Rabbi, Aryeh Spero — their bases seem to be hewn from very similar bedrock.
Spero’s organization is dedicated to “clarifying and fighting for what Americanism is” (like, with one of those fancy clarifying shampoos?) and also “bolstering the spirits of those beleaguered by blame America first political correctness.”
You can certainly see why the first rabbi to publicly endorse Ronald Reagan (as Spero rushes to inform us) would claim the title “America’s Rabbi.”
Maybe someday he and Shifren will duke it out, in muscular American fashion.
5. Last but not least, Joseph Potasnik.
With this last entry, our field guide will have to stray a bit into the weeds. Heretofore we’ve been dealing with rabbis who have crowned themselves and then pointed to said crown as evidence of their status. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, on the other hand, included in The Forward’s list of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, has been deemed “America’s Rabbi” not by himself, but by people he inspired. Nominating reader Beth Philips wrote that “as a New York City fire chaplain, [Potasnik] spent countless hours and days at ground zero searching for survivors [of the 9/11 attacks] as well as comforting and praying with the grieving families…. It is no wonder he is known as America’s rabbi.” Last month Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz also called Potasnik “America’s rabbi,” at an event recognizing him for his long dedication to his synagogue, Mount Sinai, and the broader community. At one point in the evening, Potasnik turned to his son and said “the greatest honor I ever achieved was being your father.” So it could be that Potasnik isn’t self-aggrandizing enough to win the title of America’s Rabbi — and I don’t know, I think Shulmey’s beeper gives him the edge anyway.