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ABBA HILLEL SILVER CHAIR IN JEWISH STUDIES
AT CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY
at
In celebration of the naming of Dr Alanna E. Cooper to the Abba Hillel Silver Chair in Jewish Studies.  Arnold Berger,  November 11, 2019

THE CHAIR IS ANNOUNCED

On Sunday September 27. 1964 the first page of the  Plain Dealer told of creation of a chair of Jewish Studies at Western Reserve University in memory of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. The $500,000 endowment came equally from the Louis D  Beaumont Foundation, the Edith Anisfield Wolf Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, and the Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation.

In 1964 a half-million dollars was a generous endowment for a chair in the humanities. As an example, in February 1964 a professorship in business and economics, where salaries are often higher, at Harvard and its Business School was established for that amount in honor of another Clevelander   George Gund II. (More on this chair.)

On Friday October 2, 1964 the Jewish Independent reported on the new chair on pages 1 and 5. The last lines of the story are specially significant:

"A committee of faculty members and community representatives will be appointed immediately to seek a scholar of distinction to fill the post."
 
 

THE HISTORY OF THE CHAIR


The Temple Tifereth Israel, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver's congregation, moved to Cleveland's University Circle area, near Western Reserve University, in 1924. Silver had earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College in 1927 and had been awarded an honorary doctorate by WRU in 1928.

Rabbi Silver died on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963.

There may have been talk of endowing a chair in honor of Rabbi Silver as part of his 70th birthday celebration in January 1963. There would have been discussion after his death on Thanksgiving Day that year. Such letters may have been saved in the archives of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and of our Jewish Federation which are available at the Western Reserve Historical Society.


The university archives show that the donor was the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, for all the letters are on Federation letterhead, signed by its president Myron E. Glass, or responses to him from university officials.

An important letter from Federation stipulates that holders of the chair should be aligned with Rabbi Silver's values. It includes an example of an unnamed British historian of world-class reputation whose views were the opposite of those held by Abba Hillel Silver. That would not be acceptable for the chair in memory of the great rabbi.

This was a reference to Arnold Toynbee, whose "Study of History" had called Judaism a "fossil religion" and whose views were regarded by Jews as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.

 
 

ABOUT ENDOWED CHAIRS

Many universities have published their policies for filling vacancies in endowed chairs. They allow, or even require, that representatives of the donor be part of the process. For a search, click here.

Though some faculty may not have welcomed non-university influence in faculty selection, as the donors specified, representatives of our Jewish community have had a voice in the choice.

 

 

THE FIVE HOLDERS OF THE ABBA HILLEL SILVER CHAIR

In the 55 years the Abba Hillel Silver chair in Jewish Studies has been established it has been held by five persons: three male Reform rabbi-PhDs (Bernard Martin, Marc Lee Raphael, and Peter Haas) and two female non-rabbi PhDs (Susannah Heschel and Alanna Cooper). They are listed below, in order of their appointment.

 
1966-January 1982 Bernard Martin
(1928 -- 1982)
Born in Czechoslovakia, came to US in 1934, age 6.
M.H.L. and ordination Hebrew Union College (1951)
Ph.D. University of Illinois (1960)
Served congregations in Chicago and St Paul MN
Served as Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies
Also served as Chair of Department of Religious Studies
Died in January 1982 at age 53
Years Occupied = 15.5
Fall semester 1985
Fall semester 1986
Fall semester 1988
 
Marc Lee Raphael B.A. University of California, Los Angeles
M.A. Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati (ordained)
Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles

During the years he worked on Silver's biography he served three one semester appointments as Abba Hillel Silver Visiting Professor while on leave from his position as professor of Jewish Studies at Ohio State University
Recently retired as Professor of Judaic Studies, College of William and Mary.
Years Occupied = 1.5

Sept 1991
 - June 1998
Susannah Heschel A.B. Trinity College
M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School
Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania
Had been Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Southern Methodist U.
Served as Abba Hillel Silver Associate Professor of Jewish Studies
Left CWRU to become Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth
Years Occupied = 7.0
Jan 2000
- June 2016
Peter J. Haas B.A. U of Michigan (1974)
Ordained Reform rabbi Hebrew Union College (1974)
Ph.D. in Jewish Studies Brown University (1980}
Had been professor of Jewish Literature and Thought at Vanderbilt University.
Served as Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies,
Also served as Chair of Department of Religious Studies, retired 2016
Years Occupied = 15.5
January 2020 - Alanna E. Cooper B.A. Barnard College of Columbia University (1990)
M.A. cultural anthropology Columbia University (1993)
Ph.D. cultural anthropology Boston University (2000)
Most recently Director of Jewish Studies, Siegal Lifelong Learning of CWRU
Teaching and research positions at Harvard University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Boston University, U of Michigan and U of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Will be Abba Hillel Silver Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies.
Years Occupied = 0
 

Allowing a one year vacancy when selecting a new occupant, in 55 years an endowed chair with five holders should have been occupied for 50 years. This chair has been occupied only 39.5 years. That means 10.5 years of service lost. May the future see greater accountability.

 
 
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