Abba Hillel Silver

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Abba Hillel Silver

Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), rabbi and Zionist leader, was considered among the most prominent leaders of American Judaism.

Abba H. Silver, the son of Moses and Diana Silver, was born in Neinstadt, Lithuania, on Jan. 28, 1893. He was the fifth rabbi in his family. He emigrated with his parents to New York City in 1902. In 1915 he graduated from the University of Cincinnati and in the same year received his rabbinical degree from the Hebrew Union College there. After serving for 2 years as rabbi in Wheeling, W.Va., in 1917 he joined the Temple of Cleveland, Ohio, the largest Reform congregation in the United States. He remained its spiritual leader until his death.

During World War I Silver served with the American forces in France and was decorated for his performance by the French government as Officier de l'Instruction Publique. In addition to his activities as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1945-1947), he was a founder of the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education and its first president (1924-1932). He was president of the United Palestine Appeal (1938-1943) and co-chairman of the United Jewish Appeal (1938-1944). Silver was president of the Zionist Organization of America (1945-1946), chairman of the American Zionist Emergency Council (1933-1934 and 1945-1949), and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine—American Section (1946-1948).

After World War I Silver was among the supporters of Louis Brandeis in the Zionist controversy, but later he supported Chaim Weizmann and Louis Marshall on the issue of enlarging the Jewish Agency for Palestine, a proposal approved in 1929. He was against the 1937 recommendation of the British Peel Commission to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and a British area comprising strategic sites. Silver claimed that the British mandatory administration in Palestine violated the mandate. He participated as a representative of the Jewish Agency at the United Nations General Assembly sessions in 1947-1948, at which the Nov. 29, 1947, Partition Resolution was adopted. This resolution was one of the international legal bases for the proclamation of the independence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

As a rabbi, Silver was known for his sermons, which were unusual in style, oratory, and content, which was strongly Zionist. His Messianic Speculations in Ancient Israel (1927) earned him a high place in rabbinical scholarship. His World Crisis and Jewish Survival (1941) dealt with the crisis of Jewry in World War II. Silver died on Nov. 29, 1963.

Further Reading

Biographical information on Silver is in Daniel Jeremy Silver, ed., In the Time of Harvest (1963), and Herbert Weiner, ed., Therefore Choose Life (1967).

Additional Sources

Raphael, Marc Lee, Abba Hillel Silver: a profile in American Judaism, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989. □