Monday, June 22, 2009

The Top Rabbis: An Overview

In a first-ever comprehensive study of its kind, the movement that has taken the world by storm through its rock solid management, ceaseless innovation and ever-expanding scope of operations, now has a global ranking it can call its own.

Three of them in fact:

1. Top 15 Global Rabbis
2. Top 10 Global Rising Stars
3. Top 5 Global Educators & Intellectuals

Ranking Criteria:

This one-year independent report assessed the impact of more than 3,500 Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in close to a 1,000 cities worldwide. The selection was based on the following five equally weighted criteria:

1. Grassroots Achievements
2. Depth of Knowledge
3. Mainstream Political Influence
4. Leadership & Peer Support
5. Financial Backing

The timing of the study's release was deemed highly relevant and newsworthy as it coincides with the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Mendel Schneerson, the 7th and final spiritual leader or "Rebbe" of Chabad.

Top 15 Global Rabbis

#1 Avrohom Shemtov, Washington D.C. / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Shemtov is chairman of the New York-based Agudas Chasidei Chabad (Association of Chabad Chassidim, also known as “Aguch”), the umbrella organization of Lubavitch. Appointed by the Rebbe as his personal emissary to the nation’s capital, he is the movement’s indisputable dominant policy setter and driving political force. Shemtov has maintained relationships with congressional figures and presidents alike, from Nixon to Reagan, Clinton to Bush. Although he still stands as head representative to both Washington and Pennsylvania (he resides in Philadelphia), Shemtov has since passed the day-to-day mantle in D.C. to his son, Levi. His chairmanship of the organization’s largest school, Beth Rivkah, and primary boys’ camp, Gan Israel, enables him to impact future generations of Chabad leaders. Our list’s #1 has further entrenched his power through long-standing relationships with prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists including Revlon boss, Ronald O. Perleman.

#2 Moshe J. Kotlarsky, Brooklyn, New York

If you ever wondered how the Chabad movement expanded by 200% since the Rebbe’s passing in 1994 to its present colossal size of more than 4,000 emissaries serving 200,000 members spanning 75 countries in more than 900 cities, look no further than Kotlarsky. Vice chairman of the educational arm of the organization, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (Merkos), he has spearheaded one of the great success stories in grassroots Jewish outreach. He instructs all newly minted emissaries as to their ultimate destination, whether that be to a small campus in North Dakota or to a major city in India. A passionate and emotional communicator, he is closely backed by philanthropist George Rohr, Chabad’s largest independent donor.

#3 Chaim Yehuda Krinsky, Brooklyn, New York

Born in 1933 and educated at the elite Boston Latin School, he entered the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn at the age of 13. Krinsky served as chief spokesman and chauffer for the Rebbe and was the sole executor of his will. He is chairman of Merkos, the educational arm of Chabad, and a substantial host of the movement’s other branches including the social services division, Machne Israel. Krinsky was recently thrust before the global media following the November 2008 terrorist attack and murder of Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg in Mumbai, India.

#4 Boruch Shlomo Cunin, Los Angeles, California

With nearly 10% of the 3,500 emissaries worldwide reporting to Cunin, his operations in California, Nevada and Oregon are arguably the most self-sufficient and independent. Cunin’s annual telethon broadcast is a showcase of the personal power he wields with celebrities and business personalities of renown. At the outset of his 45 years as head emissary on the West Coast he personally coined the term “Chabad House” upon opening the country’s first in the 1960s on the campus of UCLA. Noted for his vast success in building non-sectarian drug-rehabilitation programs (his most prominent is based in Los Angeles), educational facilities, and homeless programs, he brings with him a zero tolerance management style. And for good reasons as the stakes are high: In the past 10 years his fund-raising has generated an estimated $100 – $150 million for Chabad of the West Coast. It is worth noting that Cunin's accumulation of private wealth, derived principally from real estate holdings, lends commanding credibility to his deal-making overtures in the not-for-profit arena.

#5 Sholom Duchman, Brooklyn, New York / Jerusalem, Israel

Duchman is the director of Colel Chabad the oldest institution in the organization’s history, established in Russia over 200 years ago by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi the first Chabad Rebbe. He manages a $10 million budget –privately fund-raised– which is allocated to maintaining soup kitchens and other provisions. Duchman and his minions have become the largest charitable food donors in Israel providing over 7,500 tons each year, a figure representing an unprecedented 30% of the nation’s total annual provision. His ties also run deep in the business community serving as personal rabbi to Yossel (Joe) Gutnik, the Australian natural resource magnate and brother of this list’s #15, Mordechai Gutnick. He divides his time between New York and Jerusalem.

#6 Shmuel Kaminetsky, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

When the Iron Curtain began to disintegrate in the early 1990s the energy was focused on finally getting Jews out of the former Soviet Empire. For Chabad the emphasis was on making inroads to accommodate those who would choose to remain within. Kaminetsky had no hesitation and soon became the head shliach to the Ukraine. He is a dynamic power broker among the more than 400 communities that compromise the umbrella group of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. Playing a vital role in the establishment and management of The Bogolubov Fund– dedicated by businessman and philanthropist Gennady Bogolubov– he is flush with cash controlling the purse strings to a hefty $10-$20 million annual budget which is allocated to support fellow Chabad emissaries with their own personal family needs. An added level of support: his uncle happens to be Shalom Ber Drizin who weighs in among the wealthiest Lubavitch businessman in the world.

#7 Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky, Rechovot, Israel

Chief Rabbi of Rechovot and director of the Chabad Rabbinial Court, Gluchowsky is a dynamic figure whose star continues to rise within the intricate world of religion and politics in the Jewish State. The court is the senior decision-making body for Chabad Hassidim in Israel. Recognized for his oratory excellence, balanced judicial mind, and unswerving commitment to extend the reaches of Chabad to every corridor of Israeli society, he lectures the internationally and has been one of the most influential voices among the more than 230 emissaries based in the Holy Land.

#8 Berel Lazar, Moscow, Russia

At the political level of the game it doesn’t get much more full contact than within Chabad of Russia and the countries of the former USSR. Lazar has demonstrated a strategic brilliance and cutting edge talent at navigating the dicey waters of Russia’s complex landscape. He is the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities and chief rabbi of Russia. There are no less than 150 emissaries who report to him directly. His close relationships with Prime Minister Vladimir Putinand President Dmitry Medvedev have brought him both respect and influence (and occasional controversy). His appointment by Putin in 2005 to the 126-member Public Chamber of Russiawas sited for his “distinguished merit for the state and society.” Many were surprised by the former KGB head’s willingness to impart such prestige upon a Chabad emissary. Lazar’s long-term personal relationships with London-based tycoons Lev Leviev (diamonds) and Roman Abramovich (oil) have contributed to the expansion of new synagogues and educational facilities. And for the record Lazar’s high personal net worth enables him to further leverage his scope of power throughout the region.

#9 Shea Hecht, Brooklyn, New York

A Commissioner of Human Rights of New York City for 7 years, Hecht serves as chairman of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE), an umbrella organization with over 30 active divisions and decades of pedigree. It is Chabad’s oldest outreach institution in the United States and its coveted “Release Time Program” is a must attend service for virtually all aspiring emissaries. He assumed the mantle to the family dynasty in 1990 following the passing of his father Rabbi JJ Hecht, one of the Rebbe’s closest confidants. A life strategist, marriage counselor, radio show host, and published author (Confessions of a Jewish Cult Buster), Hecht is also among Chabad’s foremost experts in conflict management and was point man during the tumultuous Crown Heights riots in 1991. Street smart and politically savvy, he has carte blanche access to councilmen and governors alike.

#10 Shalom Dovber Lipsker, Bal Harbour, Florida

Founder and spiritual leader of The Shul in Bal Harbor, Florida, Lipsker is nothing less than a tour de force of innovation and charisma. With its 1,000+ service attendance of highly affluent congregants, The Shul is on par with Manhattan's Park East Synagogue as one of the must visit stops for politicians of all stripes. In 1981 Lipsker also founded the non-profit Aleph Institute that provides broad services for Jewish men and woman in the armed forces as well as prisoners throughout the United States. He concurrently founded the Educational Academy for the Elderly, which develops programs to assist members of the elderly population to raise their self-esteem. His brother Mendel, a respected influence within Chabad globally, is the head emissary in South Africa based in Johannesburg.

#11 Moshe Herson, Morrison, New Jersey

Herson is a true heavyweight in the Chabad movement. Having amassed an army of 50 emissaries dispersed throughout every corridor of the state, as regional director of New Jersey his power base is entrenched and loyal. He is the dean of the prestigious Rabbinical College of America, which ordains students from 24 states and 18 countries. It is supported by a who’s who of financial backers including Ronald Lauder of Estée Lauder and the World Jewish Congress fame (of which he is president), and the mega wealthy Hartford, Connecticut-based David Chase, whose self-made fortune in diversified investments has fared well for Chabad. Herson’s annual menorah lighting at the State House in Trenton (27 years and running) routinely features New Jersey’s elite politicos. He also serves on the distinguished board of Agudas Chasidei Chabad (Association of Chabad Chasidim), the umbrella organization for the Lubavitch movement.

#12 Shmuel Lew, London, England

An executive board member of Lubavitch United Kingdom, he scores highly on the credibility index for his extensive learning and role as humble mentor. Lew oversees 30 Chabad Houses and is perhaps among the more profound communicators regarding Chabad Chasidic thought. His webinars and keynote speeches are well-attended and a testament to his dedication. One of the Rebbe’s primary translators, he continues to faithfully transmit the philosophy, writings and discourses of Menachem Mendel Schneerson to this day. In fact the Rebbe served as the officiator (Mesader Kiddushin) at Lew’s wedding. He maintains meaningful relationships with Chabad’s executive leadership and members of the younger generation.

#13 Tzvi Grunblatt, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Recognized by his peers for his scholarship and uncompromising principled commitment to Chabad’s vision, Greenblatt is among the few emissaries hand-picked by the Rebbe. He serves as the institution’s head in Argentina based out of the country’s capital Buenos Aires. His strong ties to the government bode well for Argentina’s 180,000 Jews who represent over 50% of South America’s total Jewish population. Social services programs and general outreach have been his crowning accomplishments. He also played a vital role in providing extensive relief to victims of the bombing of the Jewish Community Center and Israeli Embassy in 1992 and 1994 respectively.

#14 Mordechai Avtzon, Hong Kong, China

As the first emissary to Greater China - that’s Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan - Avtzon has fostered the explosive growth of Chabad throughout the Asian region over his 20 years. His headquarters in Hong Kong is located in the commercial capital of East Asia. It has been an oasis for the most affluent Jewish community per capita in the world and equally to visiting businessmen. He founded L.I.F.E. – Lubavitch in the Far East – to provide for the needs of Jewish communities in countries spanning Japan to Vietnam, Laos to Nepal. Wife Goldie, daughter of this list’s paramount influence, #1 Avrohom Shemtov, has contributed tirelessly to her husband’s accomplishments. That success has led to the establishment of more than 20 Chabad Houses in 8 countries and growing.

#15 Mordechai Gutnick, Melbourne, Australia

When research began on this project Rabbi Dovid Groner was the unanimous endearing influence within Chabad Australia. His passing in July of 2008 opened up the gates for a host of new leaders to fill the void. Gutnick is filling a segment of that gaping hole. His scope of control can be observed in three realms: (1) He directs kosher supervision for the entire continent under his “Kosher Australia” umbrella organization, the premier authority for the entire Australasia region; (2) He is acting head of the Melbourne Beth Din (Jewish Court) and is spiritual leader of the Elwood Hebrew Congregation, a position previously occupied by his late father the venerable Rabbi Chaim Gutnick; and (3) The name “Gutnick” travels far and wide: one of his 3 brothers is business mogul (gold and diamonds) and prominent philanthropist Yossel Gutnick.

Top 10 Global Rising Stars

#1 Chaim Kaplan, Tzfat, Israel

Kaplan is the head emissary to Tzfat –one of the Jewish faith's four holiest cities –and is the influential director of Yeshivas Tzeirei Hashluchim (Young Emissaries Yeshiva). The yeshiva is one of the primary training grounds for children the world over. Kaplan also made headline news in 2006 when he was injured in a Hezbollah rocket attack.

#2 Moshe Garelick, Brussels, Belgium

If ever in need of a lesson in entrepreneurship, international relations or power politics just dial Garelick’s number. He is a founder of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) and serves as its executive director out of its Brussels headquarters. His father is Chabad’s chief representative to Milan and heads up the RCE’s Executive Committee. If no one slows Garelick down he might find himself all too soon chairing the European Union.

#3 Yitzchak Schochet, London, England

Schochet is an impassioned communicator, a staunch defender of religious freedom and is routinely sought after by the British media. His appearance on the BBC’s “The Big Questions” - a television program which focuses on issues concerning morality and ethics - have now become a matter of routine. Schochet is the rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in North London and is also the son of Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet (Leading Educators & Intellectuals #2)

#4 Ari Raskin, Brooklyn, New York

Raskin founded Chabad of Brooklyn Heights and became the head of B’nai Avraham Synagogue both at the ripe age of 21. Ambitious and intelligent, he’s a prolific writer who has penned two books to date - Letters of Light and The Rabbi and the CEO – with another soon going to print. And let’s not forget that he also earned the distinction of being the first Chabad rabbi to ever appear on the cover of National Geographic in 2006.

#5 Chaim Shaul Brook, Brooklyn, New York

Brook received an invitation in 2004 to become the youngest member of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (Merkos), the movement’s educational arm. He declined and continues to serve in his role as director of Lahak, an organization which reviews and publishes in Hebrew all of the Rebbe’s talks. He continues to receive extensive guidance from Rabbi Yoel Kahn (Leading Educators & Intellectuals #1).

#6 Chaim Nochum Cunin, Los Angeles, California

Cunin is another Chabad emissary who stands to inherit an impressive dynastic thrown, and deservedly so. He is the executive producer of the Chabad Telethon, directs public relations for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch , is board member of popular website, and is an editor of Chabad’s flagship magazine, Farbrengen. These and his other achievements must make his father (Top Global Rabbis #4) sleep well at night.

#7 Levi Shemtov, Washington, D.C.

Shemtov has done an admirable job of carving out his own sizable niche considering that he is the son of Top Global Rabbi’s #1, Avrohom Shemtov. He has assumed virtually all daily responsibilities as head emissary to the nation’s capital and director of American Friends of Lubavitch. In short, he is at the epicenter of political affairs for the movement in Washington. Perhaps a future seat awaits him on the Agudas Chasidei Chabad? You can bank on it!

#8 Mendel Kaplan, Toronto, Canada

The quintessential rising star who possesses strong inter-personal skills, savvy media relations and high intellect, Kaplan might soon find himself on the list of the Top 15 most influential Chabad rabbis. And to think that he hasn’t even reached his 39th birthday! He is the head emissary and founder of Chabad@Flamingo in Toronto, Canada, which houses a 22,000 square foot religious and cultural center with another 20,000+ square feet on the way. He is also the chaplain of the York Regional Police and a member of Toronto’s Vaad HaRabbanim (Rabbinical Committee).

#9 Levi Wolff, Sydney, Australia

Wolff is a refined and charismatic emissary who arrived in 2001 to serve as rabbi of the city’s highly aristocratic Central Synagogue. He has become a recognizable face throughout Australia and was recently in the national spotlight in April 2009 when he presided over the funeral of billionaire Richard Pratt, the country’s fourth wealthiest man.

#10 Hirschy Zarchi, Boston, Massachusetts

Approachable, amiable and able, such are just a few of the traits of Chabad’s lead emissary to Harvard. Zarchi is adept as well at sustaining relationships with the brilliant and beneficent: His Chabad House faculty advisor is the legendary professor Alan Dershowitz and a portion of his financial support comes from the über-generous Rohr family.

Top 5 Global Educators & Intellectuals

#1 Yoel Kahn, Brooklyn, New York

Well-respected for his erudition and authenticity, Kahn was at the side of the Rebbe from the day he assumed the position in 1950. He not only transcribed the Rebbe’s talks but explained often hidden mystical concepts to the masses. Through Kahn’s methodology of documenting the Rebbe’s remarks, he was instrumental in the publishing of the first 9 volumes of Likkutei Sichot (Anthology of Talks). He is also the author of multiple books on Chasidus and retains a commanding spiritual influence among Chabad Chasidim. Kahn is now endeavoring to publish a Chassidic encyclopedia.

#2 Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Toronto, Canada

He brings brains – lots of them – to the table and is considered one of the big guns when intellectual demarcations need to be articulated both within and without the movement. A mainstay on the Chabad lecture circuit, Schochet thrives on provocative and scintillating debate. He is professor emeritus of medical ethics, well-read author, an expert in debunking cults, Messianism and addressing all aspects of Jewish identity.

#3 Manis Friedman, Twin Cities, Minnesota

Dean of Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies, an institution specifically catering to the needs of women of all ages. Friedman is touted for his practical yet probing insights into the complexities facing the modern day Jew and is master of the human psyche. An accomplished author and public speaker, his name is synonymous with scholarship and reason.

#4 Simon Jacobson, Manhattan, New York

Founder of the Meaningful Life Center in New York City, Jacobson is a no-nonsense, straight-shooting scholarly thinker and educator. He is the author of the blockbuster best-selling book Toward a Meaningful Life which has sold over 300,000 copies. One of Judaism's most in-demand speakers, Jacobson likely has chalked up more frequent flyer miles than any other headline name in the organization.

#5 Zalman Shmotkin, Brooklyn, New York

Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace ( has one of the zippiest slogans on Internet: Spreading Judaism at the Speed of Light. The initiative was the brainchild of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen, one of the Web’s early adopters and visionaries back in 1994. Good Morning America went so far as to dub him the “Cyber Rabbi” prior to his passing at the tender age of 44 in 1998 The site that has since reached millions worldwide under the able stewardship of Shmotkin. He directs an innovative and expert team of professionals. Shmotkin also serves in the dual role as director and spokesperson of the Chabad Lubavitch Media Center.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

correction #11 Moshe Herson, Morristown, New Jersey