In the April 2 issue of Newsweek, Michael Lynton and his friends rated “The Top Fifty Rabbis in America” according to fame, media savvy, influence, and size of constituency. Though many of the “chosen” are superb rabbis, the list – not surprisingly, given those hyper-muscular criteria – contains 45 men and five women.
I’ve spent the past week soliciting nominations from Jewish friends around the country in order to compile a list of rabbis who satisfy a different set of criteria: spirituality wedded to activism, deeds of lovingkindness, and ability to communicate the meaning and beauty in Jewish life.
Their names – 45 women and five men — are listed alphabetically.
THE “OTHER FIFTY” TOP RABBIS IN AMERICA
–Judith Z. Abrams (Reform)
–Rebecca Alpert (Reconstructionist)
Assoc. Prof. Religion and Jewish Studies, Temple University; co-author, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation.
–Camille Shira Angel (Reform)
Congregation Sha’ar Zahav S.F’s gay & lesbian progressive Reform congregation; first lesbian rabbi hired at a mainstream synagogue. (Rodeph Sholom (NYC).
–Phyllis Berman (Jewish Renewal)
Director, Summer Program, Elat Chayyim retreat center; author; creator of ritual and life cycle celebrations.
–Leila Gal Berner (Reconstructionist)
Founding director, Center for Jewish Ethics; writer of “Song to Miriam” now widely sung in Havdalah ceremonies; historian; author.
–Sharon Brous (Conservative)
Founder, IKAR spiritual-social justice community in L.A.
–Angela Warnick Buchdahl (Reform)
Cantor (and rabbi), Central Synagogue, NY. First Asian-American ordained in North America. Board member, Multiracial Jewish Network.
–Nina Beth Cardin (Conservative)
Founding Associate Director, National Center for Jewish Healing; creator first liturgy for stillbirth and abortion. Past Editor, Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility.
–Ayelet S. Cohen (Conservative)
Associate Rabbi, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, world’s largest synagogue serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities.
–Dianne Cohler-Esses (Conservative)
Scholar-in-Residence, UJA-Federation, NY; co-director, UJA-Federation Task Force on the Jewish Woman
–Mark Dratch (Orthodox)
Founder. Jsafe.com, domestic violence prevention education and activism.
–Amy Eilberg (Conservative)
First woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi. Co-Director, Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction, St. Paul, Minnesota. Co-founder, Bay Area Jewish Healing Center.
–Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (Reform)
Director, Rabbinic Women’s Network; chair, Haddassah Foundation
–Sue Levi Elwell (Reform)
Author/editor, “The Open Door,” the CCAR haggadah; Founding director, American Jewish Congress Feminist Center, LA; Co-editor, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation.
–Helene Ferris (Reform)
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Israel of Northern Westchester; first mid-life career female rabbi (ordained at 44); first woman to read from a Torah scroll at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
–Tirza Firestone (Jewish Renewal Movement)
Congregation Nevei Kodesh, Boulder Colorado.; author; psychotherapist; kabbalist.
–Nancy Flam (Reform)
Director, Institute for Jewish Spirituality; co-founder, Jewish Healing Center.
–Elyse Frishman (Reform)
Editor Mishkan Tefillah, new Reform prayer book.
–Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer (Reconstructionist)
Pioneering teacher of interreligious studies to rabbinical students.
–Laura Geller (Reform)
Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills; writer; teacher; feminist pioneer; third woman ordained in U.S.; first woman to be senior rabbi of a major metropolitan synagogue.
–Shefa Gold (Reconstructionist/Jewish Renewal)
Liturgical composer; teacher; Eitz Or, Seattle.
–Lynn Gottlieb (Jewish Renewal Movement)
Founder, Interfaith Inventions; founder, Bat Kol national Jewish feminist theater troupe; co-founder, Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk pilgrimages.
–Steve Greenberg (Orthodox)
Author, “Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition; featured in the 2001 film “Trembling Before God;” senior teaching fellow, CLAL
–Jill Hammer (Conservative)
Director of Tel Shemesh website; co-founder of Kohenet: The Hebrew Priestess Institute; author, educator, poet, midrashist, ritualist.
–Judith Hauptman (Conservative)
Talmud scholar; Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS); author “Rereading the Rabbis”
–Margaret Holub (Reform)
Innovator of new ways to connect rural Jews to Judaism; one of the “Redwood Rabbis” who protested destruction of ancient trees in Northern Californiat.
–Jill Jacobs (Conservative)
Director of Education, Jewish Funds for Justice; one of The Forward newspaper’s 50 Most Influential Jews
–Jen Krause (Reform)
Teacher, writer, workshop leader. Creator of “Backstage Pass,” interview series at NYC’s 92nd Street Y, and “Oy Latte” open dialogues; co-founder Lishmah.
–Joy Levitt (Reconstructionist)
Executive director, JCC in Manhattan; co-author, Reconstructionist haggadah, A Night of Questions.
–Ellen Lippman (Reform)
Founder, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn, NY; chair, first rabbinic conference for Rabbis for Human Rights (2006); officiated at lesbian wedding NYC (2003).
–Shira Milgrom (Reform)
Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains, NY; author; speaker; pioneered co-rabbi pulpit partnership; advocates passionate engagement with Jewish texts, rituals, and traditions.
–Marcia Prager (Reconstructionist/Jewish Renewal)
P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Community, Mt. Airy, PA; dean, ALEPH:Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s seminary without walls.
–Sally Priesand (Reform)
First woman rabbi ordained in U.S. (1972); served Monmouth Reform Temple, NJ.
–Jennie Rosenn (Reform)
Program Director, Jewish Life & Values, Nathan Cummings Foundation; former Assoc. Chaplain, Hillel, Columbia University; founding board, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.
–Joanna Samuels (Conservative)
Congregation Habonim, NYC.
–Amy Schwartzman (Reform)
Temple Rodeph Shalom, Falls Church, VA; only woman among 15 rabbis who met in 2003 with George W. Bush 2003; only rabbi there to raise issue of poverty with Bush.
–David Silber (Orthodox)
Founder and Dean, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education.
–Felicia Sol (Nondenominational)
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, New York City; rabbinic partner to Rolando Matalon and Marcelo Bronstein.
–Mychal Springer (Conservative)
Assoc. Dean and Director of Field Education of the Rabbinical School, JTS; former Assoc. Director, Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care, HealthCare Chaplaincy, Manhattan.
–Devora Steinmetz (Unaffiliated, nonordained)
Asst. Professor, Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS
–Burton L. Visotzky (Conservative)
Professor of Midrash, JTS, ethicist; author; collaborator on Bill Moyers 10-part PBS series, “Genesis: A Living Conversation;” pioneer in Jewish/Christian/Muslim dialogue.
–Margaret Moers Wenig (Reform)
Her Siddur Nashim was first to use feminine imagery and God language in prayer book; gay rights pioneer; outreach between Jews and Latinos; pastoral care for people with AIDS.
–Sheila Peltz Weinberg (Reconstructionist)
Institute for Jewish Spirituality; melds meditation and social action in Jewish life
–Shohama Wiener (pluralist)
First woman to head a rabbinical seminary; President Emerita, The Academy for Jewish Religion, Riverdale, NYC
–Melissa Weintraub (Conservative)
Rabbis for Human Rights, author, first report on torture and Jewish law; co-founder, Encounter Program.
–Simkha Weintraub (Conservative)
Rabbinic director, National Center for Jewish Healing; Adjunct Lecturer, Pastoral Skills, JTS.
–Zari Weiss (Nondenominational)
Eitz Or: Seattle’s Jewish Renewal Community; Rabbinic Cabinet, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom
–Nancy Wiener (Reform)
Clinical director of the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling, HUC;
–Elaine Zecher (Reform)
Temple Israel, Boston. First female rabbi in the Temple’s 130 year history; organized coalition supporting cutting-edge health care legislation in Massachusetts.
–Devorah Zlochower (Orthodox, nonordained)
Rosh Beit Midrash, Head of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education; teaches Talmud and Halacha in the Scholars Circle.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a writer, lecturer, and social justice activist. A founding editor of Ms. magazine, she is the author of ten books, most recently “Three Daughters” (a novel), and “Deborah, Golda, And Me: Being Female and Jewish in America.” She is past president of the Authors Guild and of Americans for Peace Now, a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the recipient of an Emmy for her work on Marlo Thomas’ Free To Be, You and Me.