The Downfall of Abba Hillel Silver and the Foundation of Israel. By Ofer Shiff. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2.014.
At the end of 1945, David Ben Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and later Israel's first prime minister, addressed the secretariat of Mapai (Labor Party of Palestine) in advance of the 22nd World Zionist Congress set to convene in December 1946. He declared: "The [political] Right in Israel up to now has not had a Zionist leader. ... The Right in Israel has now found such a leader. But Silver isn't so stupid as to come out as the leader of the Right even if he is linked to the Right. He's linked to the Revisionists. It's not impossible that he'll take over the next Congress."1 That was one of many and varied addresses and letters by the Labor movement's leaders during the first half of the 1940s that portrayed the American Zionist leader Abba Hillel Silver as a political force threatening their control of the Zionist movement in the coming years.
Ofer Shiff's book is an in-depth study that significantly helps close the gap between Silver's towering prominence in central events in the Jewish history of modern times and the meager scholarship on him. Following new research, Shiff develops a perspective on Silver as an American liberal striving for workers' rights, an opponent of the Cold War and of McCarthyism, and one who challenges the concept of nationality in modern times. Shiff's research does more than give Silver his proper place in Zionist and Israeli history. In the book, we gain through Silver's eyes a fascinating new perspective on key issues in Zionist and Israeli settlement. For example, through deep discussion of Silver's view of evolving concepts of Jewish nationality in modern times in general and in Israel in particular, we learn also of Ben Gurion's practical and ideological views on the issue and can better understand the alternatives that faced Israel's founders.
The book does not claim to be a biography of Abba Hillel Silver. Nonetheless, the first chapter especially contains valuable information about Silver's life as an American Zionist leader, material that will be unfamiliar to most readers. In my view, however, Shiff's outstanding contribution to research on Silver and on American Jewry generally is that without ignoring the 1940s, he concentrates on Silver's philosophy and political outlook regarding the establishment of the state of Israel and the situation there...