Silver, Abba Hillel

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Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), a national and international leader of the Zionist movement, played a key role in events leading to the proclamation of the state of Israel. Silver served as a rabbi for forty-eight of his seventy years. His impressive speaking voice and compelling topics made his Sunday sermons extremely popular, and he was also in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country. In addition, Rabbi Silver was active in social and political issues on a national level, within the state of Ohio, and in his adopted home of Cleveland, Ohio. Rabbi Silver was also a scholar who published seven books dealing with Jewish history and theology.

Abraham Silver (later Abba Hillel) was born January 28, 1893, in Neinstadt, Schirwindt, Lithuania. His father, Moses Silver (1861-1949), his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, had all been rabbis. His mother, Dinah Seaman Silver (1860-1948), was a graduate of a Russian high school and could speak four languages. In 1902, along with his mother, older brother Maxwell, and sisters Pearl and Rose, nine-year-old Abraham emigrated to the United States. In New York City, they were reunited with Moses Silver, who had emigrated in 1898, and the family's oldest child, Bessie, who had joined her father in 1899. Abe Silver, as friends came to call him, grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he attended public schools and, in the afternoons, Yeshiva Etz Chaim for Hebrew religious education. Following the death of Dr. Theodore Herzl, Maxwell and Abe formed the Dr. Herzl Zion Club in 1904. After his 1906 bar mitzvah, Abraham Silver became president of the club. In 1907, at the age of fourteen, he addressed the tenth annual convention of the Federation of American Zionists.

After his graduation from high school at Townsend Harris Hall in 1911, Abraham followed his brother Maxwell and entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Reform rabbinical training school. At the same time, he pursued a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Cincinnati. It was during his college years that he changed his name to Abba Hillel. Abba was involved in many groups and activities during his college years. Active in various Hebrew and Zionist clubs, he brought prominent Zionists to speak at the then primarily anti-Zionist Hebrew Union College. Also at Hebrew Union College, he honed his oratorical skills through speech-making and as president of the Debating Council. He was founding editor of The Scribe, a literary journal at the University of Cincinnati, and also edited the HUC Monthly. He continued to write poetry and had several poems published. He also found time to participate in drama and to be a member of the swim team at the University of Cincinnati. In 1915 he graduated from both Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati, and was ordained a rabbi.

Rabbi Silver's first rabbinical appointment was at Congregation Leshem Shomayim, familiarly known as Eoff St. Temple, in Wheeling, West Virginia (1915-1917). While there he met Virginia Horkheimer (1895-1984), whom he married on January 2, 1923.

In 1917, Rabbi Moses Gries, spiritual leader of the The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio, retired. Leaders of The Temple, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, were aware of Rabbi Silver's oratorical skills, intellect, and growing reputation, and appointed him their rabbi, even though the majority of Temple members were not Zionists. From the start Rabbi Silver's Sunday morning sermons were extremely popular, not only with the congregation, but with the general public. Temple membership grew significantly during his tenure. The building of a new temple in University Circle, Cleveland's cultural center, was completed in 1924. Rabbi Silver also changed the focus of The Temple's activities, de-emphasizing the social and instituting more educational and religious programs.

In 1919 Rabbi Silver began his national commitment as a leader and spokesman for the Palestine Restoration Fund. During the 1920s, he intensified his involvement in Zionist, social, and political issues. As a delegate and speaker, he attended many national and international Zionist conventions. Rabbi Silver spoke before a wide array of groups and for many causes around the country, yet always returned home to present his Sunday sermons and to attend to his rabbinical responsibilities. Local concerns and issues were also important to him. He quickly became a leading member of the Jewish community and when the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education was organized, he served as its first president (1924-1932). He also served as chairman of the Jewish Welfare Fund Appeal in Cleveland (1935-1941). Rabbi Silver was also a staunch supporter of labor and resigned from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce in 1922 over Chamber support of the open shop. Despite all these activities, he found time to finish his Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1925) and to publish his first book, Messianic Speculation in Israel (1927).

With the onset of the Depression, Rabbi Silver turned some of his time and energy to the issue of unemployment insurance. In 1930 he headed the Cleveland Committee on Unemployment Insurance and in 1931 was appointed to the Ohio Commission on Unemployment Insurance and the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. His was one of the early voices to speak out against Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany. As a founder of the League for Human Rights Against Nazism (1933), a local Cleveland group, and as president of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights (1938), a national group, he urged a nationwide boycott of German-made goods. As events in Europe became more ominous, Rabbi Silver put more and more effort into the Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, he opposed the partition plan of Chaim Weizmann at the 1937 Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) convention. In 1938 he became the president of United Palestine Appeal and the co-chair of United Jewish Appeal. While he took a more moderate stance at the 1939 World Zionist Congress, urging compromise with the British over Palestine, he soon became more militant; nothing short of the establishment of a permanent state of Israel was acceptable to him.

In 1942, at the Biltmore Conference of Zionists in New York City, he urged that an independent Jewish state be established in Palestine. This plan was incorporated into what became known as the Biltmore Declaration. The following year Rabbi Silver became co-chair with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC) and chaired its Executive Committee. During 1944, Rabbi Silver fought long and hard for passage of the Palestine Resolution in the U.S. Congress. As a result of a controversy with Rabbi Wise over the Roosevelt Administration's lack of support of the Palestine Resolution, Rabbi Silver later that year was forced to resign his AZEC positions. Many executives of AZEC also resigned in protest over Rabbi Silver's ouster. They formed the American Zionist Policy Committee in order to conduct a campaign for his recall. The campaign was a success and Rabbi Silver was reinstated to his AZEC positions in 1945. That same year he was elected president of the Zionist Organization of America. In December 1945, the Palestine Resolution was finally adopted by the U.S. Congress.

In the post-war years, Rabbi Silver's refusal to agree to any compromise plan for Palestine and his impatience with further debate between governments lead to a ZOA boycott, in 1946, of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry hearings held to discuss the European refugee and Palestine issues. Rabbi Silver opposed the binational state plan for Palestine announced by the Committee in April 1946. At the World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, that year, his position was upheld, as was the Biltmore Declaration. In 1947 he was appointed to an additional key position, chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency. In this role Rabbi Silver gave a powerful and eloquent address before the United Nations General Assembly on May 8, 1947, in support of an independent Jewish State. He was his lifelong goal fulfilled on November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly approved establishment of a Jewish state, and when, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Soon after the birth of Israel, a power struggle within the Zionist movement began. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, felt that the international Zionist movement should now be in the hands of those Zionists living in Israel. Rabbi Silver, however, felt that the diaspora Jewry should continue to play a key role in the new state. The resulting power struggle, as well as controversies concerning fundraising by the United Palestine Appeal and United Jewish Appeal, left Rabbi Silver with little choice but to resign as president of the ZOA in 1948, and from his positions at AZEC and the Jewish Agency in 1949.

Rabbi Silver's efforts and dedication to the State of Israel did not end with these resignations. Throughout the 1950s he was involved, both in the United States and in Israel, with issues concerning the new state. He continued as a spokesman for Jewish and Israeli causes and was involved with developments within Israel. He made numerous trips to Israel and was often greeted enthusiastically. Despite the public acclaim, in 1951, at the Twenty-Third World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, he and the other diaspora Zionists were defeated by Ben-Gurion who succeeded in gaining Israeli control of the international Zionist movement. In 1956, however, at the dedication of Kfar Silver, an Israeli agricultural school named in Rabbi Silver's honor, Ben-Gurion gave a speech praising Rabbi Silver which led to their reconciliation. Rabbi Silver maintained close ties with United States government officials, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In 1956 he met with Dulles and President Eisenhower to urge them to sell weapons to Israel.

Rabbi Silver's final years were devoted primarily to congregational activities and to writing. While he had previously written The Democratic Impulse in Jewish History (1928), Religion in a Changing World (1930), and The World Crisis and Jewish Survival (1941), he now published perhaps his most popular title, Where Judaism Differed (1956), as well as Moses and the Original Torah (1961). He received many honorary degrees and awards, and was still in demand as a speaker to diverse groups and organizations. He and his wife, Virginia, found time to travel. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1963 a festschrift entitled In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday was published. Rabbi Silver died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963.

Additional biographical material on Rabbi Silver is available in Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism by Marc Lee Raphael (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1989) and In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, edited by Daniel Jeremy Silver (New York: Macmillan Co., 1963). Rabbi Silver is also profiled in the Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 14, p. 1544 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 1972) and in Current Biography, 1963, pgs. 386-389 (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1963). A selected list of writings entitled "A Bibliography of the Writings of Abba Hillel Silver," by Miriam Leikind, librarian, The Temple, is included in the aforementioned In the Time of Harvest.

Click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

From the guide to the Abba Hillel Silver Photographs, 1918-1950, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), a national and international leader of the Zionist movement, played a key role in events leading to the proclamation of the state of Israel. Silver served as a rabbi for forty-eight of his seventy years. His impressive speaking voice and compelling topics made his Sunday sermons extremely popular, and he was also in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country. In addition, Rabbi Silver was active in social and political issues on a national level, within the state of Ohio, and in his adopted home of Cleveland, Ohio. Rabbi Silver was also a scholar who published seven books dealing with Jewish history and theology.

Abraham Silver (later Abba Hillel) was born January 28, 1893, in Neinstadt, Schirwindt, Lithuania. His father, Moses Silver (1861-1949), his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, had all been rabbis. His mother, Dinah Seaman Silver (1860-1948), was a graduate of a Russian high school and could speak four languages. In 1902, along with his mother, older brother Maxwell, and sisters Pearl and Rose, nine-year-old Abraham emigrated to the United States. In New York City, they were reunited with Moses Silver, who had emigrated in 1898, and the family's oldest child, Bessie, who had joined her father in 1899. Abe Silver, as friends came to call him, grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he attended public schools and, in the afternoons, Yeshiva Etz Chaim for Hebrew religious education. Following the death of Dr. Theodore Herzl, Maxwell and Abe formed the Dr. Herzl Zion Club in 1904. After his 1906 bar mitzvah, Abraham Silver became president of the club. In 1907, at the age of fourteen, he addressed the tenth annual convention of the Federation of American Zionists.

After his graduation from high school at Townsend Harris Hall in 1911, Abraham followed his brother Maxwell and entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Reform rabbinical training school. At the same time, he pursued a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Cincinnati. It was during his college years that he changed his name to Abba Hillel. Abba was involved in many groups and activities during his college years. Active in various Hebrew and Zionist clubs, he brought prominent Zionists to speak at the then primarily anti-Zionist Hebrew Union College. Also at Hebrew Union College, he honed his oratorical skills through speech-making and as president of the Debating Council. He was founding editor of The Scribe, a literary journal at the University of Cincinnati, and also edited the HUC Monthly. He continued to write poetry and had several poems published. He also found time to participate in drama and to be a member of the swim team at the University of Cincinnati. In 1915 he graduated from both Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati, and was ordained a rabbi.

Rabbi Silver's first rabbinical appointment was at Congregation Leshem Shomayim, familiarly known as Eoff St. Temple, in Wheeling, West Virginia (1915-1917). While there he met Virginia Horkheimer (1895-1984), whom he married on January 2, 1923.

In 1917, Rabbi Moses Gries, spiritual leader of the The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio, retired. Leaders of The Temple, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, were aware of Rabbi Silver's oratorical skills, intellect, and growing reputation, and appointed him their rabbi, even though the majority of Temple members were not Zionists. From the start Rabbi Silver's Sunday morning sermons were extremely popular, not only with the congregation, but with the general public. Temple membership grew significantly during his tenure. The building of a new temple in University Circle, Cleveland's cultural center, was completed in 1924. Rabbi Silver also changed the focus of The Temple's activities, de-emphasizing the social and instituting more educational and religious programs.

In 1919 Rabbi Silver began his national commitment as a leader and spokesman for the Palestine Restoration Fund. During the 1920s, he intensified his involvement in Zionist, social, and political issues. As a delegate and speaker, he attended many national and international Zionist conventions. Rabbi Silver spoke before a wide array of groups and for many causes around the country, yet always returned home to present his Sunday sermons and to attend to his rabbinical responsibilities. Local concerns and issues were also important to him. He quickly became a leading member of the Jewish community and when the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education was organized, he served as its first president (1924-1932). He also served as chairman of the Jewish Welfare Fund Appeal in Cleveland (1935-1941). Rabbi Silver was also a staunch supporter of labor and resigned from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce in 1922 over Chamber support of the open shop. Despite all these activities, he found time to finish his Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1925) and to publish his first book, Messianic Speculation in Israel (1927).

With the onset of the Depression, Rabbi Silver turned some of his time and energy to the issue of unemployment insurance. In 1930 he headed the Cleveland Committee on Unemployment Insurance and in 1931 was appointed to the Ohio Commission on Unemployment Insurance and the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. His was one of the early voices to speak out against Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany. As a founder of the League for Human Rights Against Nazism (1933), a local Cleveland group, and as president of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights (1938), a national group, he urged a nationwide boycott of German-made goods. As events in Europe became more ominous, Rabbi Silver put more and more effort into the Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, he opposed the partition plan of Chaim Weizmann at the 1937 Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) convention. In 1938 he became the president of United Palestine Appeal and the co-chair of United Jewish Appeal. While he took a more moderate stance at the 1939 World Zionist Congress, urging compromise with the British over Palestine, he soon became more militant; nothing short of the establishment of a permanent state of Israel was acceptable to him.

In 1942, at the Biltmore Conference of Zionists in New York City, he urged that an independent Jewish state be established in Palestine. This plan was incorporated into what became known as the Biltmore Declaration. The following year Rabbi Silver became co-chair with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC) and chaired its Executive Committee. During 1944, Rabbi Silver fought long and hard for passage of the Palestine Resolution in the United States Congress. As a result of a controversy with Rabbi Wise over the Roosevelt Administration's lack of support of the Palestine Resolution, Rabbi Silver later that year was forced to resign his AZEC positions. Many executives of AZEC also resigned in protest over Rabbi Silver's ouster. They formed the American Zionist Policy Committee in order to conduct a campaign for his recall. The campaign was a success and Rabbi Silver was reinstated to his AZEC positions in 1945. That same year he was elected president of the Zionist Organization of America. In December 1945, the Palestine Resolution was finally adopted by the U.S. Congress.

In the post-war years, Rabbi Silver's refusal to agree to any compromise plan for Palestine and his impatience with further debate between governments lead to a ZOA boycott, in 1946, of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry hearings held to discuss the European refugee and Palestine issues. Rabbi Silver opposed the binational state plan for Palestine announced by the Committee in April 1946. At the World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, that year, his position was upheld, as was the Biltmore Declaration. In 1947 he was appointed to an additional key position, chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency. In this role Rabbi Silver gave a powerful and eloquent address before the United Nations General Assembly on May 8, 1947, in support of an independent Jewish State. He was his lifelong goal fulfilled on November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly approved establishment of a Jewish state, and when, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Soon after the birth of Israel, a power struggle within the Zionist movement began. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, felt that the international Zionist movement should now be in the hands of those Zionists living in Israel. Rabbi Silver, however, felt that the diaspora Jewry should continue to play a key role in the new state. The resulting power struggle, as well as controversies concerning fundraising by the United Palestine Appeal and United Jewish Appeal, left Rabbi Silver with little choice but to resign as president of the ZOA in 1948, and from his positions at AZEC and the Jewish Agency in 1949.

Rabbi Silver's efforts and dedication to the State of Israel did not end with these resignations. Throughout the 1950s he was involved, both in the United States and in Israel, with issues concerning the new state. He continued as a spokesman for Jewish and Israeli causes and was involved with developments within Israel. He made numerous trips to Israel and was often greeted enthusiastically. Despite the public acclaim, in 1951, at the Twenty-Third World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, he and the other diaspora Zionists were defeated by Ben-Gurion who succeeded in gaining Israeli control of the international Zionist movement. In 1956, however, at the dedication of Kfar Silver, an Israeli agricultural school named in Rabbi Silver's honor, Ben-Gurion gave a speech praising Rabbi Silver which led to their reconciliation. Rabbi Silver maintained close ties with United States government officials, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In 1956 he met with Dulles and President Eisenhower to urge them to sell weapons to Israel.

Rabbi Silver's final years were devoted primarily to congregational activities and to writing. While he had previously written The Democratic Impulse in Jewish History (1928), Religion in a Changing World (1930), and The World Crisis and Jewish Survival (1941), he now published perhaps his most popular title, Where Judaism Differed (1956), as well as Moses and the Original Torah (1961). He received many honorary degrees and awards, and was still in demand as a speaker to diverse groups and organizations. He and his wife, Virginia, found time to travel. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1963 a festschrift entitled In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday was published. Rabbi Silver died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963.

Additional biographical material on Rabbi Silver is available in Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism by Marc Lee Raphael (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1989) and In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, edited by Daniel Jeremy Silver (New York: Macmillan Co., 1963). Rabbi Silver is also profiled in the Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 14, p. 1544 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 1972) and in Current Biography, 1963, pgs. 386-389 (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1963). A selected list of writings entitled "A Bibliography of the Writings of Abba Hillel Silver," by Miriam Leikind, librarian, The Temple, is included in the aforementioned In the Time of Harvest.

click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for Abba Hillel Silver

From the guide to the Abba Hillel Silver Papers, Series II, 1894-1985, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), a national and international leader of the Zionist movement, played a key role in events leading to the proclamation of the state of Israel. Silver served as a rabbi for forty-eight of his seventy years. His impressive speaking voice and compelling topics made his Sunday sermons extremely popular, and he was also in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country. In addition, Rabbi Silver was active in social and political issues on a national level, within the state of Ohio, and in his adopted home of Cleveland, Ohio. Rabbi Silver was also a scholar who published seven books dealing with Jewish history and theology.

Abraham Silver (later Abba Hillel) was born January 28, 1893, in Neinstadt, Schirwindt, Lithuania. His father, Moses Silver (1861-1949), his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, had all been rabbis. His mother, Dinah Seaman Silver (1860-1948), was a graduate of a Russian high school and could speak four languages. In 1902, along with his mother, older brother Maxwell, and sisters Pearl and Rose, nine-year-old Abraham emigrated to the United States. In New York City, they were reunited with Moses Silver, who had emigrated in 1898, and the family's oldest child, Bessie, who had joined her father in 1899. Abe Silver, as friends came to call him, grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he attended public schools and, in the afternoons, Yeshiva Etz Chaim for Hebrew religious education. Following the death of Dr. Theodore Herzl, Maxwell and Abe formed the Dr. Herzl Zion Club in 1904. After his 1906 bar mitzvah, Abraham Silver became president of the club. In 1907, at the age of fourteen, he addressed the tenth annual convention of the Federation of American Zionists.

After his graduation from high school at Townsend Harris Hall in 1911, Abraham followed his brother Maxwell and entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Reform rabbinical training school. At the same time, he pursued a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Cincinnati. It was during his college years that he changed his name to Abba Hillel. Abba was involved in many groups and activities during his college years. Active in various Hebrew and Zionist clubs, he brought prominent Zionists to speak at the then primarily anti-Zionist Hebrew Union College. Also at Hebrew Union College, he honed his oratorical skills through speech-making and as president of the Debating Council. He was founding editor of The Scribe, a literary journal at the University of Cincinnati, and also edited the HUC Monthly . He continued to write poetry and had several poems published. He also found time to participate in drama and to be a member of the swim team at the University of Cincinnati. In 1915 he graduated from both Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati, and was ordained a rabbi.

Rabbi Silver's first rabbinical appointment was at Congregation Leshem Shomayim, familiarly known as Eoff St. Temple, in Wheeling, West Virginia (1915-1917). While there he met Virginia Horkheimer (1895-1984), whom he married on January 2, 1923.

In 1917, Rabbi Moses Gries, spiritual leader of the The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio, retired. Leaders of The Temple, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, were aware of Rabbi Silver's oratorical skills, intellect, and growing reputation, and appointed him their rabbi, even though the majority of Temple members were not Zionists. From the start Rabbi Silver's Sunday morning sermons were extremely popular, not only with the congregation, but with the general public. Temple membership grew significantly during his tenure. The building of a new temple in University Circle, Cleveland's cultural center, was completed in 1924. Rabbi Silver also changed the focus of The Temple's activities, de-emphasizing the social and instituting more educational and religious programs.

In 1919 Rabbi Silver began his national commitment as a leader and spokesman for the Palestine Restoration Fund. During the 1920s, he intensified his involvement in Zionist, social, and political issues. As a delegate and speaker, he attended many national and international Zionist conventions. Rabbi Silver spoke before a wide array of groups and for many causes around the country, yet always returned home to present his Sunday sermons and to attend to his rabbinical responsibilities. Local concerns and issues were also important to him. He quickly became a leading member of the Jewish community and when the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education was organized, he served as its first president (1924-1932). He also served as chairman of the Jewish Welfare Fund Appeal in Cleveland (1935-1941). Rabbi Silver was also a staunch supporter of labor and resigned from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce in 1922 over Chamber support of the open shop. Despite all these activities, he found time to finish his Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1925) and to publish his first book, Messianic Speculation in Israel (1927).

With the onset of the Depression, Rabbi Silver turned some of his time and energy to the issue of unemployment insurance. In 1930 he headed the Cleveland Committee on Unemployment Insurance and in 1931 was appointed to the Ohio Commission on Unemployment Insurance and the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. His was one of the early voices to speak out against Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany. As a founder of the League for Human Rights Against Nazism (1933), a local Cleveland group, and as president of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights (1938), a national group, he urged a nationwide boycott of German-made goods. As events in Europe became more ominous, Rabbi Silver put more and more effort into the Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, he opposed the partition plan of Chaim Weizmann at the 1937 Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) convention. In 1938 he became the president of United Palestine Appeal and the co-chair of United Jewish Appeal. While he took a more moderate stance at the 1939 World Zionist Congress, urging compromise with the British over Palestine, he soon became more militant; nothing short of the establishment of a permanent state of Israel was acceptable to him.

In 1942, at the Biltmore Conference of Zionists in New York City, he urged that an independent Jewish state be established in Palestine. This plan was incorporated into what became known as the Biltmore Declaration. The following year Rabbi Silver became co-chair with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC) and chaired its Executive Committee. During 1944, Rabbi Silver fought long and hard for passage of the Palestine Resolution in the U.S. Congress. As a result of a controversy with Rabbi Wise over the Roosevelt Administration's lack of support of the Palestine Resolution, Rabbi Silver later that year was forced to resign his AZEC positions. Many executives of AZEC also resigned in protest over Rabbi Silver's ouster. They formed the American Zionist Policy Committee in order to conduct a campaign for his recall. The campaign was a success and Rabbi Silver was reinstated to his AZEC positions in 1945. That same year he was elected president of the Zionist Organization of America. In December 1945, the Palestine Resolution was finally adopted by the U.S. Congress.

In the post-war years, Rabbi Silver's refusal to agree to any compromise plan for Palestine and his impatience with further debate between governments lead to a ZOA boycott, in 1946, of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry hearings held to discuss the European refugee and Palestine issues. Rabbi Silver opposed the binational state plan for Palestine announced by the Committee in April 1946. At the World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, that year, his position was upheld, as was the Biltmore Declaration. In 1947 he was appointed to an additional key position, chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency. In this role Rabbi Silver gave a powerful and eloquent address before the United Nations General Assembly on May 8, 1947, in support of an independent Jewish State. He was his lifelong goal fulfilled on November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly approved establishment of a Jewish state, and when, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Soon after the birth of Israel, a power struggle within the Zionist movement began. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, felt that the international Zionist movement should now be in the hands of those Zionists living in Israel. Rabbi Silver, however, felt that the diaspora Jewry should continue to play a key role in the new state. The resulting power struggle, as well as controversies concerning fundraising by the United Palestine Appeal and United Jewish Appeal, left Rabbi Silver with little choice but to resign as president of the ZOA in 1948, and from his positions at AZEC and the Jewish Agency in 1949.

Rabbi Silver's efforts and dedication to the State of Israel did not end with these resignations. Throughout the 1950s he was involved, both in the United States and in Israel, with issues concerning the new state. He continued as a spokesman for Jewish and Israeli causes and was involved with developments within Israel. He made numerous trips to Israel and was often greeted enthusiastically. Despite the public acclaim, in 1951, at the Twenty-Third World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, he and the other diaspora Zionists were defeated by Ben-Gurion who succeeded in gaining Israeli control of the international Zionist movement. In 1956, however, at the dedication of Kfar Silver, an Israeli agricultural school named in Rabbi Silver's honor, Ben-Gurion gave a speech praising Rabbi Silver which led to their reconciliation. Rabbi Silver maintained close ties with United States government officials, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In 1956 he met with Dulles and President Eisenhower to urge them to sell weapons to Israel.

Rabbi Silver's final years were devoted primarily to congregational activities and to writing. While he had previously written The Democratic Impulse in Jewish History (1928), Religion in a Changing World (1930), and The World Crisis and Jewish Survival (1941), he now published perhaps his most popular title, Where Judaism Differed (1956), as well as Moses and the Original Torah (1961). He received many honorary degrees and awards, and was still in demand as a speaker to diverse groups and organizations. He and his wife, Virginia, found time to travel. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1963 a festschrift entitled In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday was published. Rabbi Silver died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963.

Additional biographical material on Rabbi Silver is available in Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism by Marc Lee Raphael (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1989) and In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, edited by Daniel Jeremy Silver (New York: Macmillan Co., 1963). Rabbi Silver is also profiled in the Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 14, p. 1544 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 1972) and in Current Biography, 1963, pgs. 386-389 (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1963). A selected list of writings entitled "A Bibliography of the Writings of Abba Hillel Silver," by Miriam Leikind, librarian, The Temple, is included in the aforementioned In the Time of Harvest .

click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for Abba Hillel Silver

From the guide to the Abba Hillel Silver Papers, Series III, 1916-1945, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), a national and international leader of the Zionist movement, played a key role in events leading to the proclamation of the state of Israel. Silver served as a rabbi for forty-eight of his seventy years. His impressive speaking voice and compelling topics made his Sunday sermons extremely popular, and he was also in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country. In addition, Rabbi Silver was active in social and political issues on a national level, within the state of Ohio, and in his adopted home of Cleveland, Ohio. Rabbi Silver was also a scholar who published seven books dealing with Jewish history and theology.

Abraham Silver (later Abba Hillel) was born January 28, 1893, in Neinstadt, Schirwindt, Lithuania. His father, Moses Silver (1861-1949), his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, had all been rabbis. His mother, Dinah Seaman Silver (1860-1948), was a graduate of a Russian high school and could speak four languages. In 1902, along with his mother, older brother Maxwell, and sisters Pearl and Rose, nine-year-old Abraham emigrated to the United States. In New York City, they were reunited with Moses Silver, who had emigrated in 1898, and the family's oldest child, Bessie, who had joined her father in 1899. Abe Silver, as friends came to call him, grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he attended public schools and, in the afternoons, Yeshiva Etz Chaim for Hebrew religious education. Following the death of Dr. Theodore Herzl, Maxwell and Abe formed the Dr. Herzl Zion Club in 1904. After his 1906 bar mitzvah, Abraham Silver became president of the club. In 1907, at the age of fourteen, he addressed the tenth annual convention of the Federation of American Zionists.

After his graduation from high school at Townsend Harris Hall in 1911, Abraham followed his brother Maxwell and entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Reform rabbinical training school. At the same time, he pursued a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Cincinnati. It was during his college years that he changed his name to Abba Hillel. Abba was involved in many groups and activities during his college years. Active in various Hebrew and Zionist clubs, he brought prominent Zionists to speak at the then primarily anti-Zionist Hebrew Union College. Also at Hebrew Union College, he honed his oratorical skills through speech-making and as president of the Debating Council. He was founding editor of The Scribe, a literary journal at the University of Cincinnati, and also edited the HUC Monthly . He continued to write poetry and had several poems published. He also found time to participate in drama and to be a member of the swim team at the University of Cincinnati. In 1915 he graduated from both Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati, and was ordained a rabbi.

Rabbi Silver's first rabbinical appointment was at Congregation Leshem Shomayim, familiarly known as Eoff St. Temple, in Wheeling, West Virginia (1915-1917). While there he met Virginia Horkheimer (1895-1984), whom he married on January 2, 1923.

In 1917, Rabbi Moses Gries, spiritual leader of the The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio, retired. Leaders of The Temple, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, were aware of Rabbi Silver's oratorical skills, intellect, and growing reputation, and appointed him their rabbi, even though the majority of Temple members were not Zionists. From the start Rabbi Silver's Sunday morning sermons were extremely popular, not only with the congregation, but with the general public. Temple membership grew significantly during his tenure. The building of a new temple in University Circle, Cleveland's cultural center, was completed in 1924. Rabbi Silver also changed the focus of The Temple's activities, de-emphasizing the social and instituting more educational and religious programs.

In 1919 Rabbi Silver began his national commitment as a leader and spokesman for the Palestine Restoration Fund. During the 1920s, he intensified his involvement in Zionist, social, and political issues. As a delegate and speaker, he attended many national and international Zionist conventions. Rabbi Silver spoke before a wide array of groups and for many causes around the country, yet always returned home to present his Sunday sermons and to attend to his rabbinical responsibilities. Local concerns and issues were also important to him. He quickly became a leading member of the Jewish community and when the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education was organized, he served as its first president (1924-1932). He also served as chairman of the Jewish Welfare Fund Appeal in Cleveland (1935-1941). Rabbi Silver was also a staunch supporter of labor and resigned from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce in 1922 over Chamber support of the open shop. Despite all these activities, he found time to finish his Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1925) and to publish his first book, Messianic Speculation in Israel (1927).

With the onset of the Depression, Rabbi Silver turned some of his time and energy to the issue of unemployment insurance. In 1930 he headed the Cleveland Committee on Unemployment Insurance and in 1931 was appointed to the Ohio Commission on Unemployment Insurance and the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. His was one of the early voices to speak out against Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany. As a founder of the League for Human Rights Against Nazism (1933), a local Cleveland group, and as president of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights (1938), a national group, he urged a nationwide boycott of German-made goods. As events in Europe became more ominous, Rabbi Silver put more and more effort into the Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Along with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, he opposed the partition plan of Chaim Weizmann at the 1937 Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) convention. In 1938 he became the president of United Palestine Appeal and the co-chair of United Jewish Appeal. While he took a more moderate stance at the 1939 World Zionist Congress, urging compromise with the British over Palestine, he soon became more militant; nothing short of the establishment of a permanent state of Israel was acceptable to him.

In 1942, at the Biltmore Conference of Zionists in New York City, he urged that an independent Jewish state be established in Palestine. This plan was incorporated into what became known as the Biltmore Declaration. The following year Rabbi Silver became co-chair with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Zionist Emergency Council (AZEC) and chaired its Executive Committee. During 1944, Rabbi Silver fought long and hard for passage of the Palestine Resolution in the U.S. Congress. As a result of a controversy with Rabbi Wise over the Roosevelt Administration's lack of support of the Palestine Resolution, Rabbi Silver later that year was forced to resign his AZEC positions. Many executives of AZEC also resigned in protest over Rabbi Silver's ouster. They formed the American Zionist Policy Committee in order to conduct a campaign for his recall. The campaign was a success and Rabbi Silver was reinstated to his AZEC positions in 1945. That same year he was elected president of the Zionist Organization of America. In December 1945, the Palestine Resolution was finally adopted by the U.S. Congress.

In the post-war years, Rabbi Silver's refusal to agree to any compromise plan for Palestine and his impatience with further debate between governments lead to a ZOA boycott, in 1946, of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry hearings held to discuss the European refugee and Palestine issues. Rabbi Silver opposed the binational state plan for Palestine announced by the Committee in April 1946. At the World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, that year, his position was upheld, as was the Biltmore Declaration. In 1947 he was appointed to an additional key position, chairman of the American Section of the Jewish Agency. In this role Rabbi Silver gave a powerful and eloquent address before the United Nations General Assembly on May 8, 1947, in support of an independent Jewish State. He was his lifelong goal fulfilled on November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly approved establishment of a Jewish state, and when, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Soon after the birth of Israel, a power struggle within the Zionist movement began. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, felt that the international Zionist movement should now be in the hands of those Zionists living in Israel. Rabbi Silver, however, felt that the diaspora Jewry should continue to play a key role in the new state. The resulting power struggle, as well as controversies concerning fundraising by the United Palestine Appeal and United Jewish Appeal, left Rabbi Silver with little choice but to resign as president of the ZOA in 1948, and from his positions at AZEC and the Jewish Agency in 1949.

Rabbi Silver's efforts and dedication to the State of Israel did not end with these resignations. Throughout the 1950s he was involved, both in the United States and in Israel, with issues concerning the new state. He continued as a spokesman for Jewish and Israeli causes and was involved with developments within Israel. He made numerous trips to Israel and was often greeted enthusiastically. Despite the public acclaim, in 1951, at the Twenty-Third World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, he and the other diaspora Zionists were defeated by Ben-Gurion who succeeded in gaining Israeli control of the international Zionist movement. In 1956, however, at the dedication of Kfar Silver, an Israeli agricultural school named in Rabbi Silver's honor, Ben-Gurion gave a speech praising Rabbi Silver which led to their reconciliation. Rabbi Silver maintained close ties with United States government officials, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In 1956 he met with Dulles and President Eisenhower to urge them to sell weapons to Israel.

Rabbi Silver's final years were devoted primarily to congregational activities and to writing. While he had previously written The Democratic Impulse in Jewish History (1928), Religion in a Changing World (1930), and The World Crisis and Jewish Survival (1941), he now published perhaps his most popular title, Where Judaism Differed (1956), as well as Moses and the Original Torah (1961). He received many honorary degrees and awards, and was still in demand as a speaker to diverse groups and organizations. He and his wife, Virginia, found time to travel. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1963 a festschrift entitled In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday was published. Rabbi Silver died after suffering a heart attack at his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963.

Additional biographical material on Rabbi Silver is available in Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism by Marc Lee Raphael (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1989) and In the Time of Harvest: Essays in Honor of Abba Hillel Silver on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, edited by Daniel Jeremy Silver (New York: Macmillan Co., 1963). Rabbi Silver is also profiled in the Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 14, p. 1544 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 1972) and in Current Biography, 1963, pgs. 386-389 (New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1963). A selected list of writings entitled "A Bibliography of the Writings of Abba Hillel Silver," by Miriam Leikind, librarian, The Temple, is included in the aforementioned In the Time of Harvest .

Click here to view the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History entry for Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

From the guide to the Abba Hillel Silver Papers, 1902-1989, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Abba Hillel Silver Photographs, 1918-1950 Western Reserve Historical Society
referencedIn Morris S. Lazaron papers, 1851-1979 (bulk 1930-1950) The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Hyman G. Enelow Papers., 1897-1933. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
creatorOf Abba Hillel Silver Papers, Series II, 1894-1985 Western Reserve Historical Society
referencedIn New York Times Company records. Arthur Hays Sulzberger papers, 1823-1999 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Abba Hillel Silver Papers, Series III, 1916-1945 Western Reserve Historical Society
referencedIn World Jewish Congress Records, 1918-1982 (bulk 1940-1980) The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
creatorOf Abba Hillel Silver Papers, 1902-1989 Western Reserve Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Enelow, Hyman Gerson person
correspondedWith Lazaron, Morris Samuel person
associatedWith New York Times Company corporateBody
associatedWith World Jewish Congress corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Silver, Abba Hillel, 1893-1963
American Zionist Policy Committee
Silver, Abba Hillel, 1893-1963--Photograph collections
Occupation
Function

Person

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