Some of the rabbis from the Newsweek Top 50 Rabbis list. / The Daily Beast
If we’ve ever watched how a well-intentioned concept can generate unintended consequences, it’s the Newsweek Top 50 Rabbis list.
It was conceived back in 2007 simply because we were genuinely curious about which rabbis were considered leading lights and why.
It evolved over the years into a more reported piece, as we tried to showcase the broad diversity of pacesetters, speakers, teachers, authors, activists, and congregational leaders.
We tried to make it more reflective of the rise of women in the rabbinate and we tried to introduce readers to lesser-known trailblazers.
The list never pretended to use any scientific methodology. We were always transparent about its subjectivity. We always kept our sense of humor.
But despite our lightheartedness, the list started to carry too much weight for too many people.
The annual Newsweek list of America’s “Top Rabbis” — now hosted by The Daily Beast, since Newsweek doesn’t exist anymore as a print product — was published today, a day after the Forward’s first-ever reader-driven project looking for the nation’s most inspiring rabbis. The contrast is fascinating.
Newsweek’s list is a classic journalistic attempt to assess impact on a national scale, and so veers heavily toward names you already know. By my count, there were only seven new faces on this year’s list, and most of them were ranked in the bottom-fifth of importance.
This isn’t a rap on the authors, not at all. Gabrielle Birkner, a former Forward editor and a terrific journalist, put together this year’s list, with an assist from Abigail Pogrebin, another superb journalist and sometime Forward contributor. Since these two women got involved in the last few years, Newsweek’s effort has been a little less predictable and certainly more gender diverse than previously.
Stands to reason, since Gabi dreamed up the Sisterhood 50 in 2010 when she was editor of our women’s issues blog as a response to the persistent absence of women on Newsweek’s list until then.
The Forward’s project had a different purpose: To search out the untold stories of profound inspirational leadership, told not from our offices in New York City but from the Jews who had these memorable rabbinic experiences, direct from the pews, the classroom, the Hillel, the hospice. The entry on Rabbi Asher Lopatin illustrates this point.
The current issue of Newsweek has a must-read inside look at what drives President Obama’s Iran policy, including the ups and downs of his relations with Israel on the matter.
The article, by Newsweek writers Daniel Klaidman, Dan Ephron and Eli Lake (Lake is a former Forward correspondent), reports that Iran was the main topic of Mossad director Tamir Pardo’s secret trip to Washington two weeks ago. America is pressing Israel to give sanctions time to work before attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. Israel worries that by that time, Iran’s nuke infrastructure will be too secure for an Israeli raid to destroy, and only America will have the capacity. Among other things, Pardo wanted to know whether America is likely to attack, how advanced its preparations are, how it will react if Israel attacks and so on.
Israel has several times sought a promise from Obama to attack if sanctions fail, but hasn’t gotten one. As a result, Israel keeps its own intentions vague. This is an improvement from the total information blackout that Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed on Washington from June to October last year, in pique over Obama’s “based on the 1967 borders” speech. Today information sharing is quite extensive, though Washington keeps a certain amount of intelligence from Israel when it fears it could enable actions that violate U.S. law, like assassinations.
Obama first discussed Iran with Israeli leaders back in 2008, while he was still a candidate, and he “impressed everyone with his determination to stop Iran from going nuclear,” Newsweek reports. His conversation with then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, however, left Netanyahu troubled that Obama “didn’t talk specifically about Israel’s security”: