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teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
Born in Russia,
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Masliansky (1856–1943) was the most eloquent and
Maggid on the American scene at his time. His oratorical skills were recognized when he
was a young man. His Zionist speeches aroused much enthusiasm. He came
to the United States in 1895 and lectured often in Hebrew and in
Yiddish. There has been some suggestion that he had earned smicha (ordination)
though he was generally called "Reverend", not "Rabbi".
He had a great
influence upon Yiddish-speaking immigrants, especially through his
Friday evening sermons at the
on East Broadway. Young "Abe" Silver attended those sermons and, 50
years later, still remembered them warmly.
Masliansky may have
been the greatest source of example and inspiration for Abba Hillel
Silver's oratorical skills.
more about Masliansky.
The area on Manhattan
Island north of Central Park was called Harlem, a
village with very few residents and many abandoned farms. In financial difficulties, it was annexed to New York in 1873
— the same year Central Park was completed.
Jews began moving to Harlem in the late 1870s.
More ... In 1900 there were nearly 150 synagogues in Northern
In the early 20th century overbuilding in Harlem
led to low real estate prices. Tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews settled
there or, as the Silver family did, moved north from the overcrowded Lower
East Side. African-Americans also moved to Harlem, but were restricted by landlords and real estate agents
to living east of Lenox Avenue.>
The Silvers came to
Harlem in 1908 and lived on Fifth Avenue near West 119th Street. That
was one avenue east of Lenox. But by April 1910 they had moved
again, still in Harlem but to 232 West 120th Street, one avenue west
of the Lenox Avenue divide.
Between 1910 and 1930 a
large inflow of southern blacks came to New
York City, augmented by perhaps 20,000 from the Caribbean. The city's African-American population soared from
92,000 to 328,000.
More .. Many Harlem landlords now welcomed blacks who, with so few
neighborhoods that would accept them, would pay much higher rents than
whites. They surged into
the area, east and west of Lenox Avenue. These years marked the flowering of African-American culture
known as the "Harlem Renaissance."
In the face of this change and following the
immigrant practice of "moving up" as their economic status improved, Jews
left Harlem. Many of the more prosperous families moved to the Upper West Side. Others relocated to working class neighborhoods in
the South Bronx and Brooklyn. more
By 1930 Harlem's Jewish population, which had peaked at 150,000 in
1917, had declined to only 5,000.
When Harlem Was Jewish
The Lazaron - Silver Connection
Lazaron and Abba Hillel Silver, who succeeded
Lazaron at the Wheeling congregation, had very different backgrounds.
Lazaron (bio), born in
Savannah Georgia in 1888, came to Cincinnati in
1905 from a preparatory school. In nine years he
earned a B.A. and M.A. at the University of
Cincinnati followed by graduation from HUC
born in Lithuania in 1893, arrived in New York
City as a boy of nine. He came to Cincinnati in 1911 from a two
year public high school. In four
years he earned his B.A. from the University of
his ordination at HUC, both in 1915.
Both rabbis worked hard for social causes, but for
very different causes.
Lazaron served as an Army
chaplain in World War I and remained in the reserves
until age 65. He was a pioneer in
interfaith activities as part of the original
"tolerance trio" — the
National Conference of Christians and Jews
National Conference for Community and Justice) first minister-priest-rabbi team that traveled the nation
making more than 100 presentations to promote
In contrast, Silver worked for Zionism
and for social justice issues such as suffrage, a
worker's right to join a labor union, unemployment
insurance and civil liberties. A continuing theme in
Silver's preaching and the subject of his 1956 book Where Judaism Differed was the distinctiveness
two could not have differed more on Zionism. Silver
became a leader of American Zionism. Lazaron
would become a
leading anti-Zionist rabbi. Their opposition on this issue
is described in an
essay on the start of the American Council for
Judaism, which Lazaron helped to form.
their paths connected in several ways.
They attended Hebrew Union
College (HUC) at the same time,
Lazaron graduating in 1914, Silver in 1915.
Both rabbis came to
the Leshem Shomayim pulpit immediately after graduation from
HUC — and at the same salary.
Both rabbis soon
left before the end of their
two year contracts, for large congregations —
Lazaron after one year to the Baltimore Hebrew
Congregation, Silver after two years to the
Temple in Cleveland.
Lazaron returned to Wheeling in May 1916 to
marry Pauline Horkheimer, daughter of Bernard
Horkheimer, one of Leshem Shomayim's leading
members. Silver returned to Wheeling in January
1923 to marry Pauline's
younger sister Virginia. The
rabbis had become brothers-in-law. (Pauline
Horkheimer died in 1933.)
discrepancies between the accounts.
As described by the president of the Temple, the selection was an exhaustive, objective search. Yet
describes it as a personal, less formal process. We present both
views. There are also some contacts and conversations between
Silver, the Temple Board and others that cannot be reconciled
with the Temple president's description of the selection
process. We ask the reader to accept these differences, as we
Reform Judaism and Zionism
Anti-Zionism, or at least a lack of interest in Zionism, was
the view of Reform congregations of the time and would be
the prevailing attitude until World War II brought news of
the persecution of European Jews. Members were striving to
be very American and did not want be open to charges of dual
loyalty. But It went beyond member attitudes. The
Reform prayerbook eliminated all prayers for a
return to Zion. Reform statements of principles, like
1885 Pittsburgh Platform, saw America as Zion and
Jews as a religion, not a people.
Dr. Kaufmann Kohler
If the Temple used outside help in its
search, it may have been Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler Ph.D. who, as president of the Hebrew Union College since 1903, would have known all the younger Reform rabbis. Kohler
himself had been rabbi of two large congregations. Raphael (21)
reports that in 1916, upon learning that Silver had rejected an
offer from a much larger congregation in Providence, Kohler had
written him as follows:
"... in a
few years larger opportunities will come to you commensurate
with your growing power and the fine qualities of mind,
heart and tongue with which a good Lord had endowed and
A friend of the
Temple - Kohler had occupied its pulpit as a guest preacher -
he may have passed along his high opinion of Silver and suggestions
on how to best approach him and his Board.
Endnote: Who invited Silver to speak in
Abba Hillel Silver to Cleveland where the Temple's trustees could see his
greatest skill at the most opportune time?
Our candidate is
Alfred A. Benesch, a Harvard Law School graduate who in
1917 was a
Temple trustee (at 38, perhaps its youngest) and the city's
Director of Public Safety.
Raphael (21) notes
that Benesch had approached Silver about coming to the Temple.
They had probably met through B'nai B'rith, an organization in
which they were both active. Benesch, who would later start one of
the city's leading law firms, died in 1974 at age 94 after a lifetime of
civic and charitable accomplishments.
Silver's 1917 salary of
$10,000 is mentioned in
Congregations now have budgets
for travel, professional dues and other expenses related
to their rabbi's activities. The Temple expected their
rabbi to be very active and travel extensively and to pay
such expenses directly out of his salary. And, as the
Temple did not provide a house for its rabbi, some of
this may have been regarded as what today would be
called "parsonage." For those who wonder how
this 1917 salary converts to 2006 levels, multiply by
The hymns were usually slightly revised versions of hymns
created for Protestant services, many by German composers such
as Rheinberger. They would be augmented by the organ and the
Sullivan is Arthur Sullivan (as in
Gilbert & Sullivan).
Anthem - Jubilate
by 19th century Protestant composer George William
Warren, a Canadian, is "old wine in a new bottle."
It begins "Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands:
serve the Lord with gladness and come before his
presence with a song." These are the first lines of
Psalm 100, often recited in the
Pesukei D'Zimrah (verses of praise)
section of a Jewish morning service.
The Temple's announcement
little about the new rabbi. Yet they are told far more about how thoroughly the selection had been
conducted and how
ethically all parties had behaved, than about Abba Hillel Silver.
Lowenstein's conversation with
Silver is very reassuring for members. The story reveals that their new rabbi,
reluctant to leave his little congregation, is a caring man
who puts duty to his "flock" above personal
As in the paper's April 20 story, Abba Hillel
Silver's age is reported as 26, not 24.
Silver is also
described as "a native of New York City", which avoids
mention of his foreign birth. Perhaps there were concerns about how some
members would accept a foreign born rabbi. Also not mentioned are
his ardent Zionism
and love of Hebrew, qualities which Raphael (23) notes must have given the trustees much concern.
Raphael also suggests that many trustees felt that the
congregation had gone too far in the direction of radical Reform. They knew
that Silver's oratorical gifts would enthrall the members and bring acclaim to the Temple.
But in other ways he was a 180 degree turn from
Rabbi Moses Gries.
concerns, the young rabbi and his
new congregation were about to begin a remarkable and devoted
relationship that would last 46 years.
Abba Hillel Silver and his congregants must have
learned much from each other. Perhaps in their own very
American way they were following the
Jewish custom of the "siyyum" — the celebration
at the end of a long course of
respectful approach to the leaders of Leshem Shomayim and
their consenting to the move may have given the
congregation's leaders a sense of having shared
in this decision and thus much more likely to
Stephen S. Wise (1874-1949)
in Budapest, Stephen Samuel Wise came to New York as
an infant with his family. His grandfather had
been rabbi in a small town near Budapest: Orthodox, very
anti-Reform, but liberal politically. His
father had earned a Ph.D. in Europe and was the rabbi of
Rodeph Sholom, an 'uptown' conservative congregation of
wealthy German Jews.
He studied at the College of the City of New York
(1887-91), Columbia College (B.A. 1892), and
Columbia University (Ph.D. 1901), and later pursued
rabbinical studies. In 1893 he became a rabbi at
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York. In 1900 he
became rabbi of Reform Congregation Beth Israel in
In 1897, just one year
Theodore Herzl's First Zionist Congress in
Basel Switzerland, he co founded America's first
Zionist federation.. The next year, only 24, he attended the Second
Zionist Congress where he met Herzl.
Wise was a rarity, a Reform rabbi active in Zionist
affairs, perhaps the only one to take a leadership
role until Abba Hillel Silver, more than 20 years
1905, then a Reform rabbi in Portland, Oregon, Wise
was being considered for the pulpit at New York's
Temple Emanu-El, but learned that his sermons would
be reviewed in advance by its Board. This led him to
found the Free Synagogue — free of such restrictions and
also free from dues.
more ... He also founded the
Jewish Institute of
Religion in 1922 to serve all
streams of Judaism.
superb orator, Wise was a renowned
advocate of social justice and human rights. In the
1930s and early '40s he was America's leading
Zionist, its best known rabbi, and perhaps its most
influential and respected Jew.
In his youth
he had been a rebel, pressing for radical changes, challenging authority.
In the 1930's and early '40's. Wise would concurrently head
several major Jewish organizations and
become close to President
Franklin Roosevelt. His detractors would accuse him
of having become unwilling to share leadership and too compliant
with those in power. Wise had some accomplishments,
Medoff writes, often those that helped FDR near
election time or that asked other nations (not the
U.S.) to accept Jewish refugees.
Events of July 1943 would move
Stephen S. Wise
aside and place Abba
Hillel Silver in the forefront of Zionist leadership. Wise
died in New York in April 1949.
the Biltmore Program
In May 1942 there had been a prelude to the
transfer of power. At an
international Zionist conference at the Biltmore Hotel, Silver's eloquence
led the assembly of more than 400 delegates to a near-unanimous
adoption of what became known as the "Biltmore
Program". It was perhaps the strongest statement yet of the rights of
Jews to a homeland in Palestine. (read
statement) and it was far more aggressive than Wise's
position. After this stunning victory for Silver and his
this interaction took place:
Wise encountered Silver in a corridor, he pleaded:
"Rabbi Silver, I am an old man, and have had my
moment in the sun. You are a young man and will have
your proper share of fame. It is not necessary for
you to attack me." Silver walked away without a
Abba Hillel Silver had worked for the Zionist cause
since he was a boy of fourteen. He was then 49 years old
and at the peak of his powers. In a time of
crisis, Wise, who had been in power so long and was
ill with cancer was speaking condescendingly to him as if he was a brash young man.
What could Silver have said?
Wise and Silver
Some who write about this period of American Jewish history
say that Wise, 19 years older than Silver, was his mentor
and Silver was Wise's protégé. Our view is that Wise may have
had that perception, but it was not shared by Silver.
It appeared that these two "stars" of the Reform rabbinate had
much in common. Both were foreign-born, sons and grandsons
of rabbis. But there were major differences. Wise, had
come to the United States as an infant, with no European
memories. He lived a very comfortable 'uptown' life in a family
with much "yichus" (stature). In contrast, Silver had come here as a Yiddish
speaking youth of nine. His
rabbi grandfather had run the family soap and cosmetics business in
a small Lithuanian town. The Silver family lived in the
Lower East Side. His father, Rabbi Moses Silver, had no
congregation but was a poorly-paid Hebrew School
teacher. His sisters helped support the family by
sewing neckties at home..
when Silver was considering the position in Cleveland, Wise
cautioned him not to accept for it would compromise his
principles, given his strong Zionist feelings and the Temple's
anti-Zionist stance. Raphael describes Silver's annoyed reaction
to this suggestion.
The two leading Zionist Reform rabbis, both
of them the tall, handsome, eloquent "matinee idols" of Reform Judaism,
may have been rivals.
While Silver's first years in
organized Zionism were in the same groups Wise worked in (or
led), Silver was soon to strike off in a parallel direction
leading his own group.
In the early 1940's their
differences would grow, Silver pursuing a much more aggressive
Zionism than Wise.
Wise's memoir does not mention
Silver by name, but he does question the actions of "a certain
Mid-Western rabbi". Silver's unpublished memoir criticized those
who give complete loyalty to he Democratic party no matter how
little it gives in return, but he does not mention Wise by name.