Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Newsweek’s Favorite Rabbis

Newsweek published its list of the 50 most influential rabbis, and the usually entertainingly acerbic Failed Messiah comments blandly, “Star power trumps community influence.” There’s much more that we can say than that. 

This list, which will be the talk of the Jewish community for the next week, along with that comment from the normally ferocious blogger, illustrates the whole problem with our Jewish leadership. There are some wonderful individuals on Newsweek‘s rabbi list. But do you see anyone — apart from the idiosyncratic Shmuley Boteach — whose influence has anything to do with the Jewish mission as Jewish tradition, and this blog, defines it? “Influence” upon our own little “community” is well and good, but it’s not why God made Jews. True, the top rabbi on the list, David Saperstein, exerts an influence on the wider world, but in a direction either tangential or diametrically opposed to Judaism.


Saperstein runs the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. In the most recent press release on the RAC’s website, we find Rabbi Saperstein taking a firm stance against tobacco, supporting the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Which of course has zero to do with Judaism. It’s an example of what I call the moralesque — pseudo-moral issues that are a favorite of the Religious Left.
What is the Jewish mission? Providentially, a few days ago as I was inaugurating this blog, I came across a succinct definition in the classic Torah commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. More on that shortly.
Comments read comments(6)
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Scott R.

posted April 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Why is it wrong to come out against tobacco? Or to make a statement on anything, for that matter?
Religious people should make comments on moral matters. And we on the left do have morals, you know.:)

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Richard H

posted April 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Scott, David’s not saying there is something wrong with “coming out against tobacco.” He’s saying there is nothing particularly Jewish about doing so. He’d like to see Rabbis lead on the basis of the particular content of the Jewish tradition not merely on the basis of what is perceived as general wisdom. That is, he’d like to see them leading in ways that one might actually identify as Jewish.

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posted April 5, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I agree, it’s an odd list. But, to give credit where it’s due, Rabbi Telushkin’s books *do* appeal to a wide audience.

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posted April 6, 2009 at 10:16 am

I guess I am ignorant and in the wrong religion. I thought prservation of life and health was about Judaism. I also thought that Judaism taught that we had an obligation to protect the weak. I guess I will have to find a religion which does value life.

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Larry Y

posted April 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm

You might think that the Torah values saving life, and that a rabbi who saves lives by preventing cigarette smoking is a wonderful rabbi. But David Klinghoffer doesn’t really believe in medicine.
As he explained in his book, How Would God Vote, medicine in general, and government health measures in particular, interfere with a spiritual approach to health, in which God either answers prayers to heal illness or offers suffering as a growth experience.
It’s not mainstream Judaism, of course. But I have many Jewish relatives who, like David, lived near Seattle and converted to Christian Science. So I can understand where he’s coming from.

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David Klinghoffer

posted April 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm

That illness can carry meaning is a persistent theme in the Hebrew Bible. Sorry, it just is. Let’s not turn away from confronting what Scripture actually says and try to imagine it as something other than it is. Where the commenter gets his idea that I’m a Christian Scientist, and what that has to do with living in Seattle — well, I’m baffled. As for the chapter on health-care policy in my book “How Would God Vote?”, see p. 126: “This doesn’t mean, obviously, that we should stop getting checkups with our primary care providers or neglect to have our ailments treated medically.” See the rest of Chapter 11 in my book for more on this theme in Scripture.

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