Category Archives: Law, Politics & Military

Jews in the World of Law and Politics

Jew of the Week: Abba Hillel Silver

The Reform Rabbi Who Made Israel Happen

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

Abraham Silver (1893-1963) was born in what is today Lithuania (then Poland) to an Orthodox Jewish family, the son and grandson of rabbis. The family settled in New York when he was nine years old. He first studied at the Orthodox Yeshivat Etz Chaim (now Yeshiva University), where he founded a Zionist youth club that later became Young Judea, America’s first Zionist youth organization. He eventually took up studies at the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, America’s main seminary for Reform rabbis. (It was during this time that he changed his name to Abba Hillel Silver.) After graduating, he served as the rabbi of a small town in West Virginia for two years, and then took the helm of Temple Tifereth-Israel in Cleveland, which is still one of the largest Reform synagogues in America. He went on to serve in this position for nearly 46 years, and the synagogue would come to be known as “Silver’s Temple”. He made the congregation less “Reform” and more traditional—Sabbath services were held on Sunday (!) before he took over and moved them back to Saturday. He was also instrumental in making Zionism acceptable within Reform Judaism, which was staunchly anti-Zionist at the time. Meanwhile, he founded the Anti-Nazi League, and managed to form a successful boycott of Nazi German goods in the 1930s. Silver was not only concerned with the Jewish community, but became well known as a worker’s rights and civil rights activist. Among other achievements, he helped draft Ohio’s first unemployment insurance laws. His greatest passion was the re-establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. Silver campaigned across the country to raise funds and support (among both Jews and Christians). He co-founded the United Jewish Appeal, and between 1946 and 1949 headed the American branch of the Jewish Agency. Silver also met with President Truman numerous times to get him to recognize a Jewish state. It was Silver who gave the critical speech at the United Nations on May 8, 1947, convincing the international body to vote for Partition. His words were later described as “Israel’s acceptance speech”. He returned a year later in May of 1948 to deliver the news to the United Nations that Israel had declared independence. Had Chaim Weizmann not accepted, it is believed Silver would have been Israel’s first president. In 1952, Silver was selected to give the blessings at President Eisenhower’s inauguration. He won numerous awards, and also published seven popular books on Judaism, along with many penetrating sermons and essays. The town of Kfar Silver in Israel is named after him. Today is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

Generally his view was that it was not new liturgies we needed, but the reading of prayers in the kind of earnest and exalting way that could not help but uplift the mood of the worshippers. He himself conducted every service as though it were fresh, revelatory, almost with a Hasidic touch of intensity—with kavvanah, which was one of his favorite words. He constantly urged me to read, to study, and to write…
Leon I. Feuer, Abba Hillel Silver: A Personal Memoir

Jews of the Week: Sybil, David Solomon, and James Meyer Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is the final Part 4. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

David Solomon Sassoon

David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942), the grandson of patriarch David Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He was deeply religious, and spent much of his life travelling in search of ancient and rare Jewish manuscripts. By 1932, he had amassed an incredible collection of over 1200 unique texts. He described them in his two-volume tome, Ohel David. Today, these works are an indispensable tool for scholars of Judaism. Unfortunately, many of the manuscripts were auctioned off in recent decades to pay off the Sassoon estate’s tax debts to the British government. Many others are stored at the University of Toronto, and some at the British Library.

Sybil Rachel Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley

Sybil Rachel Betty Cecile Sassoon, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (1894-1989), daughter of Edward Sassoon, she wished to assist the war effort during World War II, and joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service. She went on to serve as Superintendent of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, and a Chief Staff Officer. In 1946, she was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her valiant service. Her great-grandson is actor Jack Huston.

Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858-1927), daughter of Sasson David Sassoon, married a wealthy German-English banker and converted to Christianity, for which her family disowned her. She started writing for The Observer, and eventually became its editor. (She later became editor of the Sunday Times, too.) It was Rachel who managed to secure a confession from Count Ferdinand Esterhazy that the “evidence” against Alfred Dreyfus was forged, and that Dreyfus was innocent. This led to Dreyfus’ release from prison. (And it was the Dreyfus Affair that was one of the key elements in inspiring Theodor Herzl.) Rachel left much of her wealth to her nephew, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), a war hero and one of the most celebrated poets of World War I.

The Right Honourable James Mayer Sassoon, The Lord Sassoon

The son of another of Rachel’s nephews is James Meyer Sassoon (b. 1955), who was born in London and studied at Eton College, followed by Oxford University. After heading a number of investment firms, he joined the British Treasury in 2002. Five years later, he was appointed as president of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. Among his duties was combat financing for terrorists. He was knighted in 2008, and entered the House of Lords in 2010, taking on the title of Baron Sassoon. He also served as the first Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

Words of the Week

I prefer a wicked person who knows they are wicked, to a righteous person who knows they are righteous.
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (c. 1745-1815)