Obeliai, Lithuania

Rabbi Eliezer Silver zt”l

The following biographical information is a compilation of extracts from the Fall 2005 edition of 'Windows into CHDS', a publication of the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School, Chofetz Chaim, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. With profuse thanks to Rabbi Travis for his permission to reproduce both the texts and the photograph of Rabbi Silver.

As an activist, Rabbi Silver was President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, founder and President of the Agudat Israel of America, founder and President of the Vaad Hatzalah Rescue Committee, and that’s only the beginning. In his work for the Vaad, Rabbi Silver raised millions of dollars to buy not just the freedom, but the lives, of Jews in death camps and of those trapped behind enemy lines. Through his ceaseless lobbying of the White House, the Vatican, the Kremlin and neutral governments to intercede on behalf of Europe’s Jews, he directly saved at least 10,000 lives and helped spare tens of thousands more.

His determination to improve standards in areas such as kashrus during the earlier part of the last century laid the foundation for the fine Jewish infrastructure now enjoyed in the USA.

Though Rabbi Silver’s efforts as an activist for his people were monumental, they in no way eclipsed his greatness as a Torah scholar. Born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1882, Rabbi Silver studied with several of the most pre-eminent European sages of his time, including Rabbi Yosef Rosen of Dvinsk (known as the Rogotchover Gaon), Rabbi Chaim Solovetchik of Brisk, and later with Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, from whom he received Semicha in 1906.

Rabbi Silver’s tremendous diligence in Torah study continued after he immigrated to the United States in 1907; many times he was honored to present a Talmudic discourse when the greatest Torah sages of America gathered. In 1960 he published the first of three volumes of his Anfe Erez, an in depth analysis of some of the most complex topics in the Talmud. After his passing in 1968, his son, Rabbi David Silver, published Tzemach Erez, which contains novellae and explanations on several Tractates in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud.

Despite the rigors of his life in the Rabbinate and activism, Rabbi Silver was able to teach those who themselves would go on to teach others. Distinguished among this group was Rabbi Shlomo Wahrman zt''l. Rabbi Wahrman lived and later spent much time in Cincinnati between 1940 and 1955. During those years he regularly studied with Rabbi Silver. In his biography of Rabbi Silver, he wrote,

"I remember at times he screamed at me for lack of understanding-however, even then I sensed his great love and concern for me and not the slightest hint of hatred. Rabbi Silver was a man whose very essence was giving to others-his ahavas yisroel (love for his fellow Jew) knew no bounds…he saw every Jew as an extension of himself."

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Copyright : Emma Freeman
Last revised: 22 January 2022

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