Chabad’s Yehuda Krinsky 'most influential rabbi in US'

"The contemporary face of the Hasidic branch,” at the top of ‘Newsweek’ list.

yehuda krinsky 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yehuda krinsky 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NEW YORK – When historians look back on what was “hot” in 2010, there’s no doubt that Lady GaGa, Facebook and the vuvuzela will make the list.
But how about Chabad?
According to Newsweek’s just-published list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America in 2010, America’s No. 1 rabbi is Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
“As the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Krinsky is the contemporary face of the Hasidic branch,” the magazine’s listing states.
The list’s provenance is, admittedly, not necessarily authoritative. The list originated as a project of Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg, now an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., in 2006. The two devised a scoring system to rank the rabbis. Being known internationally and/or nationally garnered someone 20 points, for example, and a prominent media presence was deemed to be worth 10 points. Other criteria included whether they were leaders within their communities (10 points), size of constituency (10 points), impact on Judaism (10 points), and their impact on community beyond the Jewish community (10 points).
Krinsky rose up to dominate the list from his place in last year’s ranking as No. 4.
This is the fourth year of Newsweek’s printing of the Lynton-Ginsberg list. When the magazine first published Lynton and Ginsberg’s list in 2007, it did so with the note, “Is the list subjective? Yes. Is it mischievous in its conception? Definitely.”
Certainly, subjectivity and mischievousness have continued through to the list’s current incarnation, which comes closer to a rabbinic version of America’s Next Top Model than it does to an attempt to gauge scholarship or sagacity.
Nonetheless, Krinsky’s placement reflects Chabad’s grow since the old days in Lyubavichi, the tiny town in White Russia where the movement was based for more than a century. Today, there are over 3,000 Chabad institutions around the world, and up to 1 million Jews attend a Chabad service at least once a year.
“My first question when I heard the news was, ‘Why me?,’”  Krinsky told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “And the answer is that it’s not me: It’s Chabad-Lubavitch. It’s the largest Jewish organization in the world, and it’s the schluchim [emissaries] – 4,000 plus in number, which I always double because it’s the husband, wife and even the children. It’s all the people who are there constantly in the trenches, devoted and totally in love with the Jewish community and the people they come in contact with.
“I believe this recognition and tribute is for them; they are the ones who deserve the recognition,” Krinsky said. “It’s incumbent upon our Jewish community to realize the demographics and the role that Chabad plays in outreach, yiddishkeit and in bringing people closer to their ancestral faith, Torah and mitzvot. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Jewish Theological Seminary professor Jack Wertheimer said that Krinsky’s selection was indicative of an attempt to confer recognition on the “stunning phenomenon” of Chabad in American Jewish life.
“I think the critical issue that perhaps people don’t necessarily realize is just how many Jews are touched by Chabad,” Wertheimer said, citing Chabad’s multi-generational approach to outreach through its early childhood education centers, Hebrew schools and college campus outreach, all the way through to adult learning programs.
Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said Krinsky’s placement at the top of the list is meant to convey Chabad’s heavyweight status.
“I certainly think that it is one of many signals that Chabad is now a major player... Chabad is arguably the most successful Jewish religious story of the post-World War II era,” Sarna said. “It scarcely existed in America prior to 1940, and today, just 70 years later, there’s no community without Chabad, increasingly no university without Chabad, and Chabad continues to grow in worldwide influence.”
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who represents 1.5 million Jews as president of the Union of Reform Judaism and is No. 2 on Newsweek’s list, has applauded Chabad numerous times for the success of its outreach to Jews who would otherwise be unaffiliated with Judaism.
“It is Chabad that finds Jews on campus, and in out-of-the-way places; that instructs them in the lighting of Shabbat candles and in all manners of Jewish rituals; that reaches out to them with classes, audiotapes and satellite TV,” Yoffie said in a speech on outreach to the Union of Reform Judaism as early as 1999. “Chabad, it seems, is everywhere. Many, many Jews will tell you that a Chabad rabbi was the first one to care, to really care, about their spiritual lives.”
Additionally, Sarna noted, Krinsky is to be credited with holding the movement together in the wake of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1994.
Krinsky, who went to the Boston Latin school as a child and, as anadult, served for 40 years as Schneerson’s assistant, and was averitable “right hand man” to Schneerson, Sarna said, thus reinforcinghis credibility in the community.
“[Krinsky] had to oversee the strategy which, more or less, separatedthe messianists with Chabad from 770 [Eastern Parkway, the Rebbe’sresidence in Brooklyn], and he did that, making it clear that themainstream of the movement would move beyond ‘Rebbe as moshiach,’ andreally grow at a time when a lot of people thought that with the deathof the Rebbe, the movement would splinter and the center would nothold,” Sarna said. “He became the center. He took the responsibilityseriously.
“Chabad has grown tremendously since the Rebbe’s death, and that’s really a credit to Rabbi Krinsky,” Sarna said.
Chabad, Wertheimer said, is “an operation, an enterprise, that spansthe globe. It’s an enterprise that also spans the age range of Jews,from the very youngest to the very oldest of Jews. It’s a fascinatingphenomenon.”