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148 SHOFAR Summer 1999 Vol. 17, No.4 Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, edited by Mark A. Raider, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Ronald W. Zweig. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers, 1997. 127 pp. $37.50. In reading Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, the reviewer recalls Thomas Carlyles' statement: "The history of the world is but the biography of great men." As the Jewish world marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, this book is avery timely reminder that in reflecting upon the history of the Zionist movement and the creation of the Jewish state, one cannot overlook the significant accomplishments of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. These collected essays offer the reader a careful and reasoned analysis of such pertinent questions as, "How did Silver's rabbinic career influence his actions as a Zionist leader?" "What was the source of his political strength and skill as a Zionist leader?" and "What impact did Silver have in the struggle to achieve Jewish statehood?" Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963) was not only a forceful and commanding presence in the American rabbinate, but also a dynamic and inspiring orator, a master of the Hebrew language, an intellectual luminary, and an uncommonly eloquent and persuasive voice for Zionism in the halls, not only ofJewish forums, but in Washington, D.C. and the United Nations. In a time when Refonn Judaism was primarily opposed to the aspirations and the principles of Zionism, Silver, as a leading Refonn congregational rabbi, first in Wheeling, West Virginia and then in Cleveland, Ohio, became an ardent champion of Zionism. For Silver, as these essays convincingly posit, there was no incompatibility between being a Refonn Jew and an ardent espouser of Zionism. This is borne out in Mark Raider's essay, "Where American Zionism Differed," in which he quotes Silver, "Zionism is the national effort to restore the lost hannony of Jewish life. It aims at a reconstituted totality of Jewish existence" (p. 93). There is much in Silver's writings and pronouncements that is not dated, even today. Thus, as Hasia Diner's essay, "Zion and America: The Fonnative Visions of Abba Hillel Silver," demonstrates, Silver was greatly concerned by the lack of unity among American Jews. He saw it not only as a political problem, but also as one which indicated the presence ofspiritual torpor in American Jewish life. Silver was profoundly disturbed by the low level of spirituality among American Jews and the absence of a strong interest in Jewish education. One wonders if Silver would have thus been heartened by recent trends in American Judaism indicating a desire on the part of more Jews to fmd increased spirituality and meaning in life and by Refonn Judaism's call for a stronger commitment to Torah study and Jewish learning in general. This reviewer was also struck by the parallel between Silver's call for a "vital Liberal Judaism" in Israel in order to keep alive Israel's spiritual strength and the contemporary struggles within Israel for the equal rights and recognition of nonOrthodox fonns ofJudaism. It was Rabbi Silver who insisted on an indigenous Israeli Book Reviews 149 form ofReform Judaism, when he said, "We cannot import our special brand ofReform Judaism into Israel. Our spiritual apparel may not be suitable raiment for them" (p. 30). However, Michael Meyer, in his essay, "Abba Hillel Silver as Zionist within the Camp of Reform Judaism," correctly points out that Silver was still a classical Reform Jew whose Reform Jewish ideology was very much patterned after prophetic Judaism rather than, as now evidenced within Reform Judaism, increased ritual and tradition. One of the major strengths of this book is its emphasis on the strong connection between American liberalism and Zionism in Silver's life. The influence of the ancient prophets with their clarion call for justice and righteousness was manifested in Silver's assertion, made again and again, that Zionism and liberal democracy are co-partners in giving meaning to people's lives. Thus his impassioned efforts to promote effective prolabor legislation and to further the cause of women suffrage, as well as his espousal of other liberal causes, emanated from...


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