Abba Hillel Silver was a frustrated innovator in American Zionist history. A leading Reform rabbi, he played a crucial role in advocating a boycott of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and was a passionate supporter of Israel, with inside connections to Congress and the U.S. President. However, Ofer Shiff, a professor of Jewish history at Ben Gurion University, expertly shows how in the end, his role exposed “the inherent weakness of Diaspora Zionism in relation to the State of Israel.”
Silver was born in Lithuania and followed the path of many Jews of his generation in migrating to the U.S. and living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In The Downfall of Abba Hillel Silver, the author shows how Silver struggled to mesh his theories on American Judaism with his support of Zionism. His main innovation was to propose that Diaspora Zionism was equal to what was taking place in Israel after the foundation of the state. However, leaders like David Ben Gurion gave him a cold shoulder. He also played an early role in securing support for Soviet Jewry in the 1960s, long before it became a consensus issue, and in working to encourage Congress to support military aid to the nascent Jewish state.
This is an interesting and erudite book, however it is not a chronological biography of Silver; it is more a thematic examination of his political and religious views. Readers are given no insight into his early years and background in which these views may have been grounded. In addition, it is not altogether clear how important he was compared to other Jewish leaders of the period. It seems the author is arguing for crediting him more historically; but the assumption that the reader is familiar with the period means that this book will appeal more to experts and researchers.
Notes, bibliography, index