The Sisterhood, a Forward blog devoted to what it describes as "women's issues," has published its own list of 50 influential rabbis to parallel the one featured for the last four years in Newsweek. And like all such lists, the composers and the criteria they use are actually far more interesting than the people on the list -- and I have been on Newsweek's list since its inception!
It's interesting to note how the different compilers operate. Clearly, the list compiled by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg is about rabbis and their impact, or perceived impact, on the larger American culturescape. The Sisterhood list describes itself as being most interested in women who have "shaped the Jewish story."
To be clear, all 50 women on The Sisterhood's list are worthy of recognition, so nobody should confuse this for a "second-best" or runner's-up deal. In fact, the most important thing about the proliferation of these lists is that it opens the doors to more lists.
Imagine if more and more people were capable of either making or identifying with a list of 50 rabbis, other Jewish teachers, or any spiritual teachers who they would describe as meaningfully influential in either their own lives or in the world as a whole. The issue would no longer be who is on what list and in what position, but rather the fact that the rabbis and teachers are actually engaging serious numbers of people in ways beyond personal ritual service.
Both of these lists are peopled with men and women who are animated by a vision which is bigger than even their own rabbinate. They are people who think big about Jewishness, about how it can contribute to the world as a whole, about the audiences it can reach, and about the fact that creation, not preservation, is the primary challenge in life.
Anyone who focuses attention on those issues is to be congratulated. So, I say "Mazel Tov" to my teachers, colleagues and friends on The Sisterhood's list, and many thanks to The Sisterhood for compiling it.
Let me suggest that you now go out and make your own list of 50 spiritual teachers who you think are worthy of recognition. As you construct your own list, pay attention not only to who is on the list, but also why you put them there. In doing so, you will discover the underpinnings of your own spiritual orientation and know how to pursue it more fully and more effectively. Not a bad pay off for a few hours work!