Pico-Robertson Boasts Three Of Modern Orthodoxy’s Top Pulpit Rabbis

Rabbis Steven Weil of Beth Jacob, Elazar Muskin of YICC and Yosef Kanefsky of Bnai David-Judea all rank at the top of any list of America’s leading Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Various Angelenos are honored in the Forward’s latest list of 50 influential Jews.

As with the following case, the public stands that bring popularity to Orthodox rabbis among the non-Orthodox are the very thing that marginalize one in the Orthodox world.

Brad A. Greenberg writes:


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky learned last fall the danger of voicing a political opinion last fall when he wrote a column for The Jewish Journal that said Israel should be free to determine the fate of Jerusalem without having to kowtow to Diaspora Jews who demand the city remain undivided.

“To be sure, I would be horrified and sick if the worst-case division-of-Jerusalem scenario were to materialize. The possibility that the Kotel, the Jewish Quarter or the Temple Mount would return to their former states of Arab sovereignty is unfathomable to me, and I suspect to nearly everyone inside the Israeli government,” he wrote.

“At the same time though,” he continued, “to insist that the government not talk about Jerusalem at all [including the possibility, for example, of Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods] is to insist that Israel come to the negotiating table telling a dishonest story—a story in which our side has made no mistakes and no miscalculations, a story in which there is no moral ambiguity in the way we have chosen to rule the people we conquered, a story in which we don’t owe anything to anyone.”

Nauseated or not, by simply suggesting that American Jews should butt out Kanefsky had broken an Orthodox taboo and the damage had been done.

“We heard sales, er, give-aways of the Journal spiked—in Gaza,” Robert Avrech wrote on his blog Seraphic Secret. “As we said, we’d like nothing better than to ignore Kanefsky, an arch leftie crank in Pico Robertson area, who leads a Romper Room congregation, but naturally the story was gleefully snapped up by the Los Angeles Times, a paper that would like nothing better than to see Israel disappear from the map. And of course, all the usual leftist Conservative, and Reform suspects jumped in to greet their lone Orthodox colleague to the Official Neville Chamberlain Appeasement Club. One of these characters labels Kanefsky a—get this—visionary.”

Well, last week The Forward agreed with that visionary label and named Kanefsky to its list of 50-most influential Jews, which includes a handful of Angelenos.

“A former associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a New York congregation led by maverick Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss, Kanefsky has long taken positions at odds with the Orthodox establishment,” The Forward stated. “He has allowed women to read from the Torah in their own single-sex services. As a past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, he is far more engaged with the non-Orthodox Jewish world than most of his peers. But his nontraditional approach seems to be helping his cause: Over the past year, Kanefsky’s congregation of 300 families has grown by more than 10%.”


The verdict on Kanefsky’s brand is not yet complete. There is no other orthodox shul in l.a. whose mission seems to be tolerance above all, with authenticity left for the accuracy of the torah reading and the checking of bugs in salad. He is the only rabbi to show a gay movie (Trembling Before God) in the shul, to say that Jerusalem could be split, and to do these hoky women’s services. it is as if he wants to piss someone off – I doubt he has more members because of his actions, his shul’s growth is due to the capacity at other shuls and the inferiority complex of most of its members vis a vis YICC and BJ. The members of Bnai David are "downstat" compared to the tonier members of YICC and BJ.

It does not play to a base of committed jews, it is trying to be open to all. Many in his synagogue send their kids to shalhevet. Lots of parents in my shul whose kids go to shalhevet go to shul less and less. Some don’t even keep shabbat. We will see where Kanefsky’s airy fairy brand is in 20 years. Do those who grew up in that shul return, or do they take the tolerance of a kanefsky the next step and end up in the library minyan in Beth Am, with their kids taking the next step and leaving the religion altogether?

As a teenager growing up and on my way to yeshiva in israel, a tolerant rabbi who could state that jerusalem was on the table would not attract me. If i am spending 10 hours a day in school to do both secular and religious studies, and on to 12 hours a day of talmud, i do not want some rabbi spending his time with the homeless on :ico instead of making sure that the women in the congregation do not wear pants. I want a code not good karma.

Kanefsky seems to do well among jewish men and women in their 30s-50s who have to work their asses off to make the 200 plus it costs to live in any type of normalcy in the hood. Those people are so concerned about bringing home the bacon that they are sick of the code. They want Judaism to be less inconvenient, they want their rabbi to read like Fareed Zakaria and not like Rabbi Chaim Luzatto. They do not want the polish shtetl, they want the Upper West Side.

There is no doubt that Rabbi Kanefsky is influential and has the candle power. If he went black hat, he would kick the ass of any rabbi in La Brea on every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I just do not know if he realizes the genie he has unleashed won’t come and knock him off.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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