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(RNS) There’s a new top rabbi in town, according to Newsweek’s list of the 50 most influential Jewish clergy in America: Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington and a member of President Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Saperstein took the top spot from Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Hier had topped both previous annual lists, but came in second this year.
The ranking system, compiled for the third year by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, News Corp’s Gary Ginsberg and Jay Sanderson of JTN Productions, rewards rabbis with international reputations and political influence.
In response to criticism about overlooking local community leaders, the three judges also compiled a list of 25 Most Vibrant Congregations this year, ranging from the Orthodox B’nai Jeshrun in Manhattan to the nondenominational Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.
Critics still say the subjective list favors New York and California, and now note that it’s gotten repetitive: only nine of the 50 rabbis on this year’s list have not appeared in previous rankings.
Complaints also remain about its dearth of women: this year’s ranking includes six female rabbis, up just one from last year. The highest was only in 25th place: Sharon Kleinbaum, down from 17th place last year, is the senior rabbi of New York’s synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews.
No list or method could be perfect, the judges note in their caveat.
“This list is intended to provoke a global conversation about the role of our religious leaders in today’s world,” they wrote. “Although this is a well-thought-out list, it is by no means scientific and is not connected to any religious movement or agenda.”
Nicole Neroulias
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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