Friday, March 29, 2013

Who's the Best Rabbi?


For whatever reason, Pesach seems to be rabbi season, during which we choose the "Best" rabbis. I take that back; "we" don't choose anything. For whatever reason, the American secular Jewish media has seen fit to dedicate Pesach to choosing its favorite rabbis:
The Forward gives us the thirty-six (a special Jewish number) "America's Most Inspiring Rabbis", while the Daily Beast shares with us a list of "America's Top Fifty Rabbis". Who chooses what's considered "inspiring"? What exactly makes a "top rabbi" anyway? How do you "make" the list?
I find these lists particularly demeaning to the rabbinate. They imply that (a) there's a way to rank rabbis and (b) that there should even be a list at all. How is one rabbi "better" than another? Is he (or she) a better teacher? A better counselor? More compassionate? More learned? (actually, that's easier to judge - but doesn't seem to be a criteria on these lists). From what I can tell, from the Forward's perspective, the "best" Orthodox rabbis are the most progressive, who fit into the mold of Orthodoxy the Forward's editors can most easily stomach. At least the Daily Beast found fit to list rabbis in Orthodoxy who have major followings and actually are considered leaders in their communities (although I wonder whether Rav Matisyahu Solomon's PR people had to work very hard to get him on the list).
I much prefer the list put out by Motzash Magazine (the weekly Dati Lite publication from Mekor Rishon), who before Pesach published an issue called "The Top 100 People Who Define the [Religious Zionist] Demographic"  The issue listed 100 movers and shakers, from politicians to actors to academics who play prominent roles in Israeli society, and also happen to be Religious Zionists (at least most of them seem to be). While some of the hundred are also rabbis, they were chosen as authors, writers, or other accomplishments outside of their rabbinic roles. In fact, the list's editors wrote in their introduction that they decided at the outset to exclude rabbis from the list. It seemed inappropriate and unseemly. They were right.
It's fascinating to note that throughout the Hagaddah we recite on Pesach night, we mention a great number of rabbis. Yet, the most important rabbi of them all - Moshe Rabbeinu - gets only a tangential mention, despite the fact that his contributions played the most pivotal role in our nation's birth.
Perhaps that's the most important lesson here: A rabbi's importance or significance has literally nothing in common with any possible list he "makes". The single measure of importance is the impact he has on those he can influence, teach, help or heal. Making any other list is about as significant as the paper on which the list was printed, if it was even printed at all.