Your top 50 most influential rabbis

Newsweek has released its 4th annual list of the most influential rabbis in America.

Is it a ridiculous concept? Of course.

Even Newsweek says: “Is the list subjective? Yes. Is it mischievous in its conception? Definitely.”

But it’s fun to peruse.

The list is put together by two guys in the entertainment biz: Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc.

Your top 3:

1. Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad-Lubavitch.

2. Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism (who plans to retire in 2012). That’s him.

3. Marvin Heir, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

So there you go.

Did Obama miss an opportunity at ND?

Westchester’s own Ken Woodward has a fine column on about the “lessons” of Obama at Notre Dame.

Woodward is the former longtime religion editor at the newsweekly and now serves as a contributing editor.

A graduate of Notre Dame and a self-described “pro-life Catholic,” Woodward approves of Obama’s invitation. He writes that both Obama and ND President Father John Jenkins showed “courage” for following through with the program.

But he takes Obama to task for not using the opportunity to reach out to Catholics:


For example, he could have signaled his support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, a common-ground initiative that Democrats for Life have introduced in the House and Senate, which has the endorsement of the Catholic bishops Pro-Life Committee.

He might have reassured the Catholic community, beyond a passing phrase, that new regulations governing health-care providers will contain strong clauses protecting the consciences of doctors and nurses who find abortion evil. American Catholics, after all, operate the largest private-hospital system in the world.

As a political gesture, he might have announced a White House liaison to American Catholics. A hundred days into his presidency, there is no one in that post.

Above all, he could have clarified his stand on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill that would remove all state and local restrictions on abortion. As a candidate, Obama declared his support for FOCA; since then he has said that it is no longer high on his list of legislative priorities.


In the end, Woodward writes, Catholic universities actually enhance their religious identity by “respectfully engaging” those who disagree. He writes: “The message of Notre Dame is that thoughtful Catholics wish this president well. They will work with him if he will work with them.”

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Columbine, through two pastors’ eyes

Worth reading: A Newsweek story about how two pastors were affected by the Columbine massacre a decade ago.

One pastor, a liberal Lutheran, did a private memorial service for Dylan Klebold, one of the murderers.

The second, the pastor of a non-denominational church, presided over the funeral for Cassie Bernall, the high school junior who supposedly affirmed her belief in God before she was murdered.

The article says: “Ten years later, these two men of God—radically different in personality and theological approach—are still struggling to deal with the damage done to them by two boys bent on murder and mayhem.”

Ranking synagogues and rabbis

Last year, Newsweek magazine got some attention for piecing together a list of the 25 most influential rabbis in the country.

Now Newsweek has come up with the 25 most vital Jewish congregations in the land.

And on the list is Temple Israel Center of White Plains, a widely respected Conservative congregation. Everyone seems to admire Temple Israel and its senior rabbi, Gordon Tucker.

Newsweek simply noted that “Temple Israel is committed to diverse learning opportunities for congregants of all backgrounds and ages.”

Fair enough.

The magazine also recently came out with its second list of influential rabbis. Numero uno?

Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a potential “powerbroker” in Obama’s Washington (that’s him).

Both lists, by the way, were compiled by the same three guys (none of whom represent Jewish institutions): Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman & CEO Michael Lynton, News Corporation Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and JTN Productions CEO Jay Sanderson.

A ‘uniquely American tale’ (of faith)

Newsweek’s cover story on the faith of Barack Obama includes this polling result: “12 percent of voters incorrectly believe he’s Muslim; more than a quarter believe he was raised in a Muslim home.”

112dfd90a3d14bbfbf8cb3d7ddd452b5.jpgThe magazine’s thorough description of B.O.’s faith journey says:

The story of Obama’s religious journey is a uniquely American tale. It’s one of a seeker, an intellectually curious young man trying to cobble together a religious identity out of myriad influences. Always drawn to life’s Big Questions, Obama embarked on a spiritual quest in which he tried to reconcile his rational side with his yearning for transcendence. He found Christ—but that hasn’t stopped him from asking questions. “I’m on my own faith journey and I’m searching,” he says. “I leave open the possibility that I’m entirely wrong.”

An accompanying essay by Jon Meacham pushes the same theme. He says that Obama is far more interested in asking questions that settling on answers:

Belief and doubt, hope and fear, ambition and humility: Obama’s religion is a new chapter in a long American tradition of presidents and politicians for whom faith is more a matter of mystery than magic, of enduring questions rather than pat answers. This is not to say that the religious are simplistic or simple-minded for believing, in the Christian tradition, that the world has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Son of God. It is to say, however, that reason and experience make it impossible for many believers to accept that any religious creed can alone make sense of the unfolding tragedy of history. The innocent suffer, and the innocent die; some are poor, and some are rich; evil can, and does, strike out of a brilliant blue sky. Where was God at Auschwitz? Where is he when a child dies? The old Sunday-school hymn—”Jesus loves me, yes I know/for the Bible tells me so”—is reassuring as far as it goes, but a lot of believers are more perplexed than enlightened the more they heed Saint Paul’s injunction to “think on these things.”