This article reviews recent publications such as Artur Patek’s Jews
on Route to Palestine, Hillel Cohen’s 1929, Eric Gartman’s Return to Zion, Ofer Shiff’s The Downfall of Abba Hillel Silver, Jesse Ferris’ Nasser’s Gamble, Daniel Zoughbie’s Indecision Points, and more.
Sherrard, Brooke. “American Biblical Archaeologists and Zionism: How Differing Worldviews on the Interaction of Cultures Affected Scholarly Constructions of the Ancient Past.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84.1 (2016): 234-59.
A major critique of American biblical archaeologists has focused on biblical presuppositions they brought to their work, whereas Israeli archaeologists have been critiqued for promoting Jewish ethno-nationalism through their work. I maintain, however, that American archaeologists also participated in the debate over Zionism, implicitly (and not necessarily consciously) through writings about the ancient past, and explicitly through political activism. This article focuses on contemporaries William Foxwell Albright and Millar Burrows, who disagreed about Zionism. Burrows, who opposed Zionism, characterized the ancient world in terms of cultural interaction and fluidity, while Albright, who favored Zionism, characterized the ancient world in terms of rigid ethnic boundaries. Burrows published a book about Palestinian refugees; thus, his political involvement was no secret. Albright’s political involvement in favor of a Jewish state, which he later denied, is reconstructed here from archival materials. The terms of this debate still resonate, as demonstrated by the current controversy over archaeological theory at the City of David site in Jerusalem.
In early February 1949, American Jewry’s most popular and powerful leader, Abba Hillel Silver (1893–1963), had summarily resigned from all his official positions within the Zionist movement and had left New York for Cleveland, returning to his post as a Reform rabbi. In the immediate years prior to his resignation, during the second half of the 1940s, Silver was the most outspoken proponent of the founding of a sovereign Jewish state. He was the most instrumental American Jewish leader in the political struggle that led to the foundation of the State of Israel. Paradoxically, this historic victory also heralded Silver’s personal defeat.
Soon after Israel’s declaration of independence, he and many of his American Zionist colleagues were relegated to the sidelines of the Zionist movement. Almost overnight the most influential leader—one who was admired and feared by both supporters and opponents—was stripped of his power within both the Zionist and the American Jewish arenas.
Shiff’s book discerns the various aspects of the striking turnabout in Silver’s political fate, describing both the personal tragic story of a leader who was defeated by his own victory and the much broader intra-Zionist battle that erupted in full force immediately after the founding of Israel. Drawing extensively on Silver’s personal archival material, Shiff presents an enlightening portrait of a critical episode in Jewish history. This book is highly relevant for anyone who attempts to understand the complex homeland-diaspora relations between Israel and American Jewry.
Among the most significant events in American Zionism between 1938 and 1948 was the rise of Abba Hillel Silver to the leadership of American Jewry in the late 1940s. A close reading shows that throughout his public career in general, and in relation to the establishment of Israel in particular, Silver sought, in theory and in practice, to enlarge the concept of Israeli sovereignty on one hand and to create a theoretical and practical basis for the continued ethnic-national existence of the Jews in the United States on the other. He tried to minimize as far as possible any injury to the status of Jews as American citizens because of their Zionist activity. Silver regarded Jewish national existence in the Diaspora in a most favourable light, maintaining that it could and must continue alongside Israel.