The very idea of a "most influential rabbis" list is of questionable value in the first place. But Newsweek does seemingly everything in its power to make sure we all get the joke. For starters, it’s an annual list in its third year, and there are still rabbis this year who are appearing for the first time – like #17 Menachem Genack, whose job title and responsibilities haven’t changed in decades. And truly, by what measure can Newsweek assert with any seriousness that the past year has seen David Ellenson rise from #8 to #5? Or Uri Herscher drop from #6 to #9? And yet, Newsweek prints all these changes in parentheses next to each ranking, so that we can follow them like baseball statistics.
Then, in typical Jew-face, Newsweek loves to tout its panel of judges as its "machers" (it’s funny ’cause it’s Yiddish?) – a Sony Pictures executive, a NewsCorp executive, and finally at least one panelist who knows something about the Jewish community, JewishTVNetwork.com’s Jay Sanderson. If Newsweek were trying to be taken seriously, it would assemble a panel that at least gave the impression of knowing what’s going on in the broad swath of the Jewish community. Maybe it could assemble editors of the three most influential Jewish news publications – Forward, JTA and the New York Jewish Week. Or it could take any number of alternative approaches that at least suggest it cares about engaging in a meaningful analysis; unfortunately, it doesn’t.
And in case any of us were left wondering if this still should be taken as a joke, and if so who’s the butt of it, Newsweek Religion Editor Lisa Miller let us all in on it in her introduction to the list’s second version, when she wrote:
The fallout from last year was impressive. Rabbis who were on the list, having memorized their ranking and, in some cases, issued press releases, proceeded to pretend they didn’t care.
Miller’s holding up these rabbis for ridicule — when none of them asked her to make the list in the first place, and yet many of them could have their careers noticeably altered by their ranking in this national magazine – is appaling.
I’ll be the first one to expose rabbinic wrongdoing and to shine light on the underbelly of the Jewish community. I’ve fought for journalists to do real work to expose the real concerns in this community, and never to ignore the warts.
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