Broyde ranked among top American rabbis

Rabbi Michael J. BroydeNewsweek magazine selected Rabbi Michael J. Broyde as one of America’s top 50 rabbis. Broyde, a leading expert on Jewish law, is a law professor at Emory University and a senior fellow of the university’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR). The magazine ranked him 37th on its annual list of notable Jewish clergy.

In a statement, CSLR Director John Witte Jr., described Broyde as “a brilliant bridge builder across the disciplines of law, theology, and ethics, and a skillful navigator of the complex and sometimes dangerous interactions among Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

In the article accompanying the list, the magazine asks, “What makes a great 21st century rabbi?” It answers: She comforts a dying man, mentors struggling students or delivers a powerful Rosh Hashanah sermon. In addition to those things, a great rabbi is also an “influencer on a grand scale,” the magazine stated.

The selection team noted that Yeshiva University’s chancellor called Broyde “the finest mind of his generation.” In addition to his duties at Emory, Broyde, 48, is a prolific writer and lecturer on Jewish law and ethics.

They recognized his role as a Beth Din of America member, the nation’s largest Jewish law court. Many have praised Broyde for his part in revitalizing the court and for his leadership of the institution since the mid-1990s.

Broyde was also a frontrunner this year to become the chief rabbi of Great Britain, which ultimately went to another nominee. The chief rabbi is recognized unofficially as the religious leader of Britain’s Jewish community.

The individuals selected as leading rabbis represent the full range of Jewish denominations: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Some were recognized for their influence from the pulpit, while others are educators, organization leaders or activists. The list features men and women, though women represent a relatively small percentage of rabbis in America.

This is the seventh year that Newsweek has compiled and published its list of top rabbis. But many in the community have expressed objections to the list. Rabbi Rachel Gartner, director of Jewish chaplaincy at Georgetown University, for example, writes in the Huffington Post that “the negative consequences outweigh the list’s worthy ones.” She adds that rabbis “have an obligation to resist” giving legitimacy to the idea of a list of leading rabbis.

She laments that the list reinforces the popular culture value that places greater worth on winning awards and pursuing status over living a wholesome, rewarding life. The awards and status mindset, Gartner said, often leads people to sacrifice their family in pursuit of wealth.  Gartner has spent more than half of her decade-long rabbinical career serving as a college campus rabbi. Many other rabbis, she said, serve unheralded and in anonymity to provide spiritual guidance and comfort to those in need. The satisfaction of doing that work is in itself reward enough, she explained.

“They (these unnoticed rabbis) have found abundant blessings off the list, in lives lived in pursuit of what they care about most deeply, and, more importantly, so can you,” she advises her students.

Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta, also earned a spot on the list. Newsweek placed him in the 43rd position. The magazine recognized Berg, 41, for his leadership in Atlanta’s Reform Jewish community. He reaches out to unaffiliated young adult Jews through his Open Jewish Project. Berg serves a congregation of more than 1,500 families.

At the number one position, Newsweek selected Rabbi Sharon Brous. Brous, 39, serves a Los Angeles congregation and has garnered accolades for her success in attracting “young, unaffiliated” Jewish worshippers to her congregation. The selection team noted: “Brous shows that reaching this coveted cohort doesn’t mean skimping on substance.”

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