Social Justice & America’s Top 50 Rabbis
Newsweek and the Daily Beast released their annual list of “America’s Top 50 Rabbis” this week, and we at the RAC are thrilled to see director Rabbi David Saperstein in the number four spot. The write-up on him reads:
At the 50th anniversary of the Religious Action Center (RAC), which is headed by Saperstein and prioritizes social justice in the Reform Movement, President Obama offered this tribute: “You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half century. Without these efforts, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today … You have brought to life your faith and your values. The world is a better place for it.” When Obama wanted to address rabbis from all religious streams before the High Holidays, he asked RAC to arrange the conference call. (Nearly 900 rabbis participated.) RAC’s social-justice seminars on high-school and college campuses now bring in nearly 2,000 young Jews annually. The RAC was out front protesting the controversial decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to defund Planned Parenthood (quickly reversed).
We were pleased to see that a number of other social justice-focused rabbis were included on this year’s list, too, indicating that tikkun olam is alive, well, and of vital importance to the Jewish community, denominations aside. Below, some of the rabbis who made the list:
- Rabbis Marvin Hier & Abraham Cooper: The dean and associate dean, respectively, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center work vigilantly to combat global anti-Semitism, hate, and terrorism and defend the safety of Jews worldwide.
- Rabbi Burton Visotzky: As director of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Rabbi Vistotzky was recently awarded the Goldziher Prize for Jewish-Muslim dialogue and made a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
- Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum: The leader of Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT congregation, Rabbi Kleinbaum is a prominent and outspoken activist for equality (and is an out lesbian herself).
- Rabbi David Stern: The Reform Movement’s Rabbi Stern serves Temple Emanu-El in Dallas and is a beacon for social justice, leading his congregation in groundbreaking interfaith dialogue and pushing for reproductive choice in a state often hostile to women’s health.
- Rabbi Asher Lopatin: This Modern Orthodox rabbi leads Chicago’s Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel (the spiritual home of Rahm Emanuel) and is known for his largely progressive views on feminism and conversion, which he writes about for the blog Morethodoxy.
- Rabbi Marc Schneier: As president of the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding, Rabbi Schneier works with chairman and hip-hop star Russell Simmons (often partnering with big names like Jay Z) to promote Jewish-Muslim coexistence and racial harmony.
- Rabbi Steve Gutow: The president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is a prominent voice on pressing social issues both domestically and abroad, including poverty, the environment, and Israel. Last month, he was arrested with Rabbi Saperstein and George Clooney while protesting violence in Sudan.
- Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz: This young rabbi heads Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox organization that focuses on social justice and eradicating suffering and oppression. Uri L’Tzedek tackles weighty issues such as immigration, human trafficking, and domestic violence.
- Rabbi Jill Jacobs: Currently the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Jacobs is also the author of There Shall be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition.
- Rabbi Micah Greenstein: As senior rabbi of Reform Temple Israel in Memphis, Tenn., Rabbi Greenstein is also a staple in the southern interfaith community and frequently speaks at area churches and throughout the Christian community.
A number of other prominent leaders from the Reform community also made the list, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ; Rabbi Jonah Pesner, founder of Just Congregations and the URJ’s new Vice President; and Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.