Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Jewish Neuhaus

David Klinghoffer published a provocative essay in the Jerusalem Post last week (link). Remarking on the passing of Father Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of the journal First Things and influential conservative thinker (who mentioned this blog three years ago: link), Klinghoffer asked where the Jewish equivalent of Neuhaus is:

So, returning to the question I began with, please tell me. A learned, witty writer, informed about everything, a sophisticated theologian and incisive cultural critic, a creator of institutions, alliances and acolytes, confident as a public representative of his faith, from which he thought the world could learn a lot - would you name the contemporary rabbi who can be compared to Neuhaus?
Click here to read moreThere is some truth to the question because most rabbis are focused on our own troubled community. However, so are most priests. Yet the large number of priests allows for a larger number of exceptions than rabbis. Never the less, just like Neuhaus was an exception among priests, there are similar exceptions among rabbis.

You will never find any other person who matches exactly someone as unique as Neuhaus. However, if you are willing to make approximate comparisons, then there are Orthodox rabbis who speak to the general public and attempt to influence them, such as R. Joseph Telushkin and R. Shmuley Boteach (don't smirk; you don't have to agree with him to appreciate what he does). Some reach out to the Christian world, like R. Daniel Lapin. Many others (such as R. Shalom Carmy and R. Meir Soloveichik) write for intellectual outlets but have not yet risen to the prominence that Neuhaus gained.

But if you are looking for an Orthodox rabbi who is able to influence world leaders, teach religious ethics to the entire world, and even preach the European parliament, then there is such a person -- Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

My point is that there are Orthodox thinkers and doers. While most people are not, if you are looking for the exceptional figure then you have to look beyond most people.

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