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Thursday, May 12, 2011 • The RIVERDALE REVIEW


Riverdale Jewish institutions on the national radar By PAULETTE SCHNEIDER Subjective, unscientific and somewhat mischievous in its conception is how Newsweek and The Daily Beast describe their own list of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America—but the list is out there, and it features no fewer than three rabbis from Riverdale institutions. New to the list this year is Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a rabbinical school founded in 1999 by the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s Rabbi Avi Weiss with the goal of training a “new breed” of “non-judgmental” leaders. Listed again is Rabba Sara Hurwitz, a member of the rabbinic staff at HIR and dean of Yeshivat Maharat, a yeshiva for women founded in 2009, also by Rabbi Weiss. And moving ever higher in rank on the list is, not surprisingly, Rabbi Weiss himself, the leader of a vibrant “Open Orthodox” congregation. In deciding whom to include in this fifth annual compendium, media moguls Michael Lynton and Gary Ginsberg enlisted author and Daily Beast contributor Abigail Pogrebin, now that Newsweek has merged with the online publication. “As in previous years at Newsweek, we have assembled this roster to offer an important snapshot of those at the forefront of American Jewish leadership--rabbis who are reimagining ritual, reinventing institutions, mobilizing social activism and energizing scholarship,” Pogrebin explains. “Ideally, the rabbis on this list personify the most important roles in Jewish leaders—as selfless listeners, teachers, connectors, and galvanizers, not self-promoting grandstanders or media strategizers.” “We’re interested in sparking discussion as well as showcasing.” The Riverdale contingent on the list is surely happier with the discussion component than with the showcasing. “On some level, the list makes me really uncomfortable,” Rabbi Weiss said. “I would go as far as to say that it’s not helpful, in the spiritual world, to have this kind of competition.” There are “thousands of invisible rabbis who do such great things,” he said, naming each one of the “extraordinary rabbis in our own community” and citing in particular the merit of HIR’s rising star, Rabbi Steven Exler. “But having said that, I’m appreciative because it shows that the broader community appreciates a Rabbi Dov Linzer and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah or a Rabba Sara Hurwitz and Yeshivat Maharat.” The quietly effective Rabba Sara Hurwitz has indeed sparked discussion of her pioneering role. “I think that the appearance of myself and Rabbi Weiss on the list indicates that the larger community recognizes and supports greater inclusion of Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and sees it as a benefit to the community,” she said. Rabba Hurwitz, as the first officially designated full member of an Orthodox rabbinic staff, continues to blaze a trail for Orthodox women. Yeshivat Maharat (an acronym representing the Hebrew words describing a spiritual leader trained in Jewish law) claims an Open Orthodox philosophy that includes “a religious worldview rejecting the approach of relying on a small group of scholars to decide all social and political matters.” YM has six students this year and will likely accept up to four additional women this coming September. For Rabbi Linzer, as for Rabba Hurwitz and Rabbi Weiss, the glory of recognition is about the institution he leads. “It’s nice, but it’s not a big deal for me personally,” he said. “What I really feel great about is

that it’s an acknowledgement of the amazing work that our guys at the yeshiva are doing in the larger community.” The recognition all at once of Rabbi Weiss and the two yeshivas he founded shows that “it’s not just business as usual” in the Orthodox world, Rabbi Linzer said. Being Open Orthodox involves “thinking about the new challenges and really grappling with them afresh.” The description, coined by Weiss, is gaining broader use by people whose vision is “a real sense of inclusion, trying to connect and to build bridges to be inclusive of all people who have otherwise been ‘othered,’ whether it’s non-Jews or non-Orthodox Jews or women.” “I think that’s what’s happening here,” Linzer said. “That type of leadership is being acknowledged.”

Riverdale Review, May 12, 2011  

Weekly newspaper published in Riverdale, NY 10471