Silber, Saul

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SILBER, SAUL (1881–1946), Orthodox rabbi. Born in Alexandronsky, a small Lithuanian village, Silber grew to become a leader in American Zionist Orthodoxy. He attended ḥeder until he was 10, then moved with his family to Dvinsk in Latvia, where he studied Talmud under Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman and Rabbi Nachum Fefferman. At age 16, Silber joined a study group in Lida under Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines. Reines was unique in his belief of the importance of studying secular subjects and mastering Jewish history and thought alongside Talmud study. He was hugely influential over Silber, who became a lifelong Zionist dedicated to yeshivah study that included secular subjects. Reines was an early founder of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement, which was established in 1902.

In 1900, at the age of 19, Silber immigrated to America. Four years later, he married and started leading congregations in Youngstown and Columbus, Ohio. In 1910, Silber accepted a pulpit position at one of Chicago's most prestigious synagogues, Congregation Anshe Shalom. He may have received ordination earlier, but he definitively was granted rabbinic ordination by Rabbi Judah L. Gordan in 1921.

For 35 years, Silber was a role model for Orthodox Jewish life in Chicago and across the country. Trained in Lithuanian yeshivot, he differed from his peers in his fluent English, being well-versed in American history, literature and culture, and advocating a synthesis of secular and Talmud study. He also worked closely with non-Orthodox rabbis on communal matters.

Silber spoke in English and Yiddish from his pulpit, which he used as a vehicle for discussing contemporary issues. He mixed Torah references with secular literature in his talks. Silber was actively involved in the Central Relief Committee for the Joint Distribution Committee, American Jewish Congress, Mt. Sinai hospital in Chicago and orphanages and senior citizens' homes. He embodied a – then – new type of Orthodox rabbi that influenced the shape and direction of American Orthodoxy.

In his later years, Silber was a prominent member of Mizrachi, attending several World Zionist Congresses abroad. In 1926, he immigrated to Palestine in hopes of establishing a business there in the sale of oranges. Unfortunately, economic instability sent him back to Chicago a year later.

Silber helped found the Beth Midrash l'Torah yeshivah in Chicago, later named the Hebrew Theological College. He assumed its presidency in 1921, working closely with Rabbis Nissan Jablonski and Chaim Isaac Korb, its roshei yeshiva.

[Lynne Schreiber (2nd ed.)]