It’s that time of year again—when Jews around the world gather at seder tables to recount the Exodus, slurp matzoh-ball soup, argue about Mideast policy, and debate the rationale for Newsweek & The Daily Beast's 50 most influential rabbis of the year.
Okay, maybe this annual rundown is not required reading at every seder, but after five years of doing this round-up, we do know that Jewish professionals pay attention to it, even if it’s the kind of attention that sometimes arouses harsh criticism, even contempt.
The Daily Beast freely admits that the list is subjective. And Abq Jew's Top 2 List is also subjective. Very subjective, since there are no New Mexican rabbis on The Daily Beast's list. Abq Jew's has thus chosen to focus on his favorite themes: ethics, social justice, and midrash.
You can view the entire Daily Beast list of America's Top 50 Rabbis here.
45. Jill Jacobs (Conservative)
Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights–North America, which has been organizing rabbis to get better working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. (One of her members recently suggested adding a tomato to the seder plate this week—as a symbol of contemporary slavery.) One of the few rabbis out there with a master’s in urban affairs, Jacobs’ second book was published last June: Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community.
Abq Jew Notes: Jacobs' first book, There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law & Tradition, is also excellent.
17. Burton Visotzky (Conservative)
His 10th book, Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud, offered a spirited walk through often-daunting rabbinic commentary. A veteran professor of midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), Visotzky is also that institution’s director of the newly formed Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue. At the forefront of Muslim-Jewish engagement, Visotzky last month was awarded the prestigious Goldziher Prize for Jewish-Muslim dialogue and was made a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. One of just three Jews invited to Obama’s Iftar meal last summer during Ramadan, he was seated at the president’s table, where he had Obama’s ear on Judaism and Islam.
Abq Jew Notes: Visotsky's ninth (?) book, a novel of historical fiction entitled A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean, is also excellent.
In fact, every book that Abq Jew can recall Visotsky having written is excellent, starting with The Genesis of Ethics: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development, proceeding to The Road to Redemption: Lessons from Exodus on Leadership and Community, and continuing.