Silverman, Joseph

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SILVERMAN, JOSEPH (1860–1930), U.S. rabbi. Born in Cincinnati, he attended the University of Cincinnati, where he earned his B.A. in 1883. A year later he was ordained as the class valedictorian and received his D.D. from Hebrew Union College in 1887. He was a rabbi in Dallas, Texas, at Temple Emanu-El (1884–85), in Galveston at Temple Bnai Israel (1885–88), and at Temple Emanu-El, New York City (1888–1922), where he began as assistant rabbi and then served as rabbi after 1897. He was the first American-born rabbi to serve in New York. He was president (1900–03) of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and was founder and president of the Emanu-El Brotherhood. He wrote A Catechism on Judaism (1885), made numerous contributions to periodicals, and was active in Zionist work.

Among his other contributions, he was a consulting editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia. He was president of the New York Board of Ministers and founder and first president of the Association of Reform Rabbis of New York and Vicinity. An early opponent of Zionism, he became an active Zionist. Despite Emanu-El's undeserved reputation as an anti-Zionist congregation he was honorary vice president of the Palestine Foundation Fund and a member of the executive committee of the Masonic Foundation Fund. He was active in the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the organization to which his congregation traditionally gave leadership. He visited Palestine in 1923 and then traveled the U.S. encouraging philanthropic work in Palestine. He was more reluctant to advance political Zionism. He was a member of the Committee for Religious Congress of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and twice delivered the invocation at the House of Representatives. He wrote for the major Jewish periodicals of his day and was influential in the adoption of the Union Hymnal. He also wrote The Renaissance of Judaism (1918). He was active in ecumenical affairs, often the lone Jew represented among Christian clergy.

He opposed anti-Jewish portrayals in the theater and brought suit against Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance, which helped kill the play (during the Holocaust years Asch would not allow it to be performed lest the portrayal of Jews offer solace to antisemites; in recent years the play has enjoyed a revival in summer stock theater).


Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (1943), 9:538; K.M. Olitzsky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993); E. Nahshon, "The Pulpit and the Stage," in: American Judaism (March 2003).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]