Abba Hillel Silver

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Abba Hillel Silver, Menachem Ussishkin and Israel Goldstein during a Zionist Congress, 1937.

Abba Hillel Silver (January 28, 1893 – November 28, 1963) was an American Rabbi and Zionist leader. He was a key figure in the mobilization of American support for the founding of the State of Israel.[1]


Born Abraham Silver in Naumiestis, in the Suwałki Governorate of Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire (present-day Lithuania), son and grandson of Orthodox rabbis, he was brought to the US at the age of nine. A Zionist from his youth, he made his first speech at a Zionist meeting at age fourteen. Educated in the public schools and after-school Jewish schools of New York City's Lower East Side, he left after high school to attend the Hebrew Union College (HUC) and the University of Cincinnati.[2] After graduation as valedictorian of his HUC class and ordination in 1915—and now known as Abba Hillel Silver—he served as rabbi of a small congregation, Leshem Shomayim, now Temple Shalom (Wheeling, West Virginia). In 1917, at age twenty-four, he became rabbi of The Temple - Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the nation's largest and best-known Reform congregations, where he served for forty-six years.

Abba Hillel Silver was an early champion of rights for labor, for worker's compensation and civil liberties, though his highest priorities were to advance respect for and support of Zionism. He canvassed first Reform Jewish congregations, then American Jewry, then the American public and politicians, and last the international community, the United Nations in particular. Silver was a keynote speaker in the Allied Jewish Campaign to raise funds jointly for Zionist projects in Palestine and for European Jewry.[3]

At a meeting of the American Zionist Emergency Council in May 1944, Silver argued that ‘our overemphasizing the refugee issue has enabled our opponents to state that that, if it is rescue you are concerned about, why don’t you concentrate on that and put the politics aside…It is possible for the Diaspora to undermine the Jewish state, because the urgency of the rescue issue could lead the world to accept a temporary solution…We should place increased emphasis on fundamental Zionist ideology’.[4]

Silver was one of the chief Zionist spokesmen appearing before the United Nations in the Palestine hearings of 2 October 1947 in what the Israeli government says was the future nation's acceptance speech,[5] two weeks before Moshe Shertok made the case for Israel on 17 October 1947.[6] Silver expressed reservations about the UN partition plan. A practical man, Silver did ultimately accept partition of Palestine as the best means to rapidly create a homeland for the Jewish people.

Abba Hillel Silver was a leading proponent of Zionism in America and met with President Truman several times to discuss his views until his uncompromising manner caused friction with the White House, leading to estrangement from the Truman White House,[7] including Truman's appearance on national television to announce the formation of the State of Israel. The story of his pounding on Harry Truman's desk at the White House, however, after much research by Rafael Medoff, has been shown to be untrue.

By mobilizing Jewish and non-Jewish support and through a relationship with the Republican party that resulted in 1948 in a pro-Israel plank in their platform, Silver left Truman no choice but to support Israel and recognize it immediately after it declared its independence.

A nationally-known orator and author of many scholarly works, including important studies of the history of Jewish-Christian relations,[8] Silver also served as head of many Jewish and Zionist organizations.

He died on November 28, 1963, and was interred at Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.[9]


  • A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel from the First through the Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Macmillan Company. 1927.
  • The Democratic Impulse in Jewish History. New York: Bloch Publishing Company. 1928.
  • Religion in a Changing World. New York: R.R. Smith. 1930.
  • The World Crisis and Jewish Survival: A Group of Essays. New York: R.R. Smith. 1941.
  • Vision and Victory: A Collection of Addresses, 1942-1948. New York: Zionist Organization of America. 1949.
  • Where Judaism Differed: An Inquiry into the Distinctiveness of Judaism. New York: Macmillan. 1956.
  • Moses and the Original Torah. New York: MacMillan. 1961.
  • Weiner, Herbert, ed. (1967). Selected Sermons, Addresses, and Writings of Abba Hillel Silver. New York: World Pub. Co.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abba Hillel Silver website
  2. ^ Mark A. Raider, Jonathan D. Sarna, Ronald W. Zweig, Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism (1997) Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-4824-8 p 88
  3. ^ Moses Rischin, The Jews of North America (1987) Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0-8143-1891-6 p 220.
  4. ^ Novick, Peter. The Holocaust and Collective Memory: The American Experience. London: Bloomsbury, 2001, p.43
  5. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Highlights of Main Events 1947-1974
  6. ^ Mr. Moshe Shertok, as head of Political Department of the Jewish Agency, statement to Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine.
  7. ^ Michelle Mart (2006) Eye on Israel: how America came to view the Jewish state as an ally, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-7914-6687-6 p 127.
  8. ^ Langton, Daniel (2010). The Apostle Paul in the Jewish Imagination. Cambridge University Press. pp. 71–74.
  9. ^ Koykka, Arthur S. (1986). Project Remember: A National Index of Gravesites of Notable Americans. Algonac, Mich.: Reference Publishing. p. 377. ISBN 9780917256226.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)