Abba Hillel Silver - Biography
Abba Hillel Silver (1893–1963) was a U.S. Rabbi and Zionist leader. He was a key figure in the mobilization of American support for the founding of the State of Israel.
Born Abraham Silver in Naumiestis, 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 and the University of Cincinnati. After graduation as valedictorian of his HUC class — and now known as Abba Hillel Silver — and ordination in 1915, 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 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. 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 say is the acceptance speech, 2 weeks before Moshe Shertok made the case for Israel on 17 October 1947. Silver expressed reservations about the UN partition plan. Ultimately a practical man, Silver did accept partition as the only way to obtain a homeland for the Jewish people.
Abba Hillel Silver was a leading proponent of Zionism in America, meeting with President Truman several times until his bombastic manner caused friction, leading to alienation with the White House and him being barred from further meetings and appearing on national television to announce to Americans the advancement of Israel. There is, however, no confirmation for the story of his pounding on Harry Truman's desk.
Silver, by mobilizing Jewish and non-Jewish support and his relationship with the Republican party which resulted in a pro-Israel plank in their party platform, gave Truman no choice but to support Israel and to recognize it immediately after it declared its independence.
A nationally-known orator and author of many scholarly works, he also served as head of many Jewish and Zionist organizations.
- Religion in the Changing World (1930)
- Where Judaism Differed; an Inquiry Into the Distinctiveness of Judaism (1956)
- Temple Tifereth-Israel, Beachwood, Ohio