Turning Silver Into Gold: Major American Rabbinical Archive to Go on Block in Jerusalem

Entire archive of prominent Rabbi Eliezer Silver to be auctioned off in Jerusalem, including letters sent to him by Rabbi Avraham Kook and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A huge collection of letters, manuscripts, religious artifacts and photographs belonging to one of the leading rabbinical authorities of 20th-century America will be put up for public sale on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

The entire archive of Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1881-1968), who served for decades as the head of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in both the United States and Canada, is being put on the block by Kedem Auction House, which specializes in ancient Jewish books and manuscripts. Silver also served as president of Agudat Israel of America, the umbrella organization for Haredim.

“For us, this sale is an extremely significant event,” said Avishai Galer, a partner in the auction house. All the items are from the collections of private individuals, he added.

Born in Lithuania to a rabbinic family, Silver is credited with saving thousands of Jewish Torah scholars in Europe during the Holocaust by arranging for them to leave to the United States on special student visas. He helped organize the famous march of rabbis on Washington, D.C. in 1943, demanding U.S. intervention on behalf of European Jewry.

Among the most notable items in the collection, according to Galer, are letters sent to Silver from Rabbi Yitzhak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, a leader of the Haredi community in Israel during the first years of the state, and from Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman – a disciple of the famed Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen Kagan, also known as the Chofetz Chaim – who was murdered during the Holocaust.

The collection includes Silver’s correspondences with other leading rabbinical figures, including Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, leader of the Chabad movement; Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, another prominent American Orthodox leader; and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of prestate Israel.

Among other items on auction are photographs and religious documents belonging to Silver.

Particularly noteworthy is a large collection of documents and letters from the archive of the “Va’ad Hatzhalah” (rescue committee) that Silver headed during the Holocaust. It includes lists of names of Jews requesting assistance in escaping Europe and documents concerning fund-raising campaigns undertaken by various Jewish communities in the United States, aimed at assisting European Jewry.

Silver immigrated to the United States in 1907 and served as the rabbi of Orthodox congregations in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Springfield, Massachusetts, before settling in Cincinnati, Ohio - a center of Reform Judaism - where he was the rabbi of Knesset Israel Congregation for almost 40 years.

Silver worked actively to combat the growing influence of the Reform movement from his Midwest base.

A consensus figure of sorts, Silver maintained good relations with leaders of the various streams of Orthodoxy (Hasidic and non-Hasidic, Zionist and non-Zionist), and was widely consulted on matters of kashrut, divorce and money - considered his areas of expertise.

Other relics of Jewish Americana (unrelated to the Silver collection) to be auctioned off by Kedem on Wednesday include 19th-century books containing the state laws of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New York, which make reference to the treatment of their Jewish minorities.

A letter to Rabbi Eliezer Silver, going under the hammer in a major auction.Credit: Kedem Auction House

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