Monday, April 6, 2009

The 50 Most Influential Rabbis are Dead......


We talk about them as though they are still with us (my teachers didn't say "Rashi said" -- they said "Rashi says"). But, in my opinion, the 50 most influential Rabbis are all dead.

My list would include my favorite Rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, a man who was a shepherd and didn't even learn to read until he was 40. He spent 24 years learning and teaching (thanks, in a huge part, to his wife, Rahael's encouragement (courage being the operative part of that word -- Rahael was the daughter of one of the richest men and he disowned her for marrying a shepherd) and was one of the tannaim -- the Rabbis of the Mishnaic (early Talmudic) era.

My list would include several of the Gaonim (post Talmudic Rabbis). These Rabbis took the Talmud and explained it for the people in their generation.

My list would include Rashi, Rabbi Shelomo the son of Yitzhak, one of the most famous biblical commentators. His commentary is simple enough for any Yeshiva 2nd grader and deep enough for the most learned Talmid Haham (wise "student").

My list would include Maimonides, also known by his initials Rambam (Rabbi Moshe the son of Maimon), who is famous not only in the Jewish world, but also in the Gentile world. He wrote "The Guide for the Perplexed" and several other books about Jewish law and Jewish philosophy while earning a living as the physician to the Sultan.

My list would include Nahmanides, also known by his initials Ramban (Rabbi Moshe the son of Nahman), who defended Judaism in debates all over Spain until he was forced to flee to Israel.

My list would include the Ari (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria) (literally the Lion), a middle ages Kabbalist from Tzefad, and his student, Rabbi Moshe Luzzato who wrote down the Ari's thoughts and teachings.

My list would include Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, literally the "Set Table" -- a book of Jewish Law for the "everyman" Jew.

My list would include Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, who wrote a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh. And the Taz and the Shach (who also wrote commentaries on the Shulhan Arukh).

My list would include Rav Yisrael Salanter who started the Mussar movement (that encourages people to examine their lives and be the best people they can be).

My list would include Shamshon Refael Hirsch, who showed that you can still be Orthodox in a secular world. It would include the Gra (also known as the "Vilna Gaon") and the Hofetz Hayim, who encouraged people to watch what they say about other people. I would include Rav Aharon Kotler who was largely responsible for the Lakewood, NJ Jewish community. I would include Rav Soloveitchik and Reb Moshe Feinstein who were Gedolim (great men of learning) when I was growing up.

To be honest, I think these Rabbis were far more influential in the Jewish world than anyone on the Newsweek list of the 50 Most Influential American Rabbis (granted most of the people on my list aren't American, but, so what??? They did influence many Americans). I hope you agree.

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Israel and it's Place in the World
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