return to Home page ABBA HILLEL SILVER CHAIR  

Abba Hillel Silver Chair in Jewish Studies
at Case Western Reserve University


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


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.


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. 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 choices.


In the 60 years the chair has been established it has been held by five persons: three male Reform rabbi-PhD professors (Bernard Martin, Marc Lee Raphael, and Peter Haas) and two female non-rabbi PhD Associate Professors (Susannah Heschel and Alanna Cooper). They are listed below, in order of their appointment.

Bernard Martin
(1928 -- 1982)
1966-January 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
Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies
Also Chair of Department of Religious Studies
Died in January 1982 at age 53
Years Occupied = 15.5
Marc Lee Raphael
Fall semester 1985
Fall semester 1986
Fall semester 1988


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
Susannah Heschel
Sept 1991
 - June 1998
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.
Abba Hillel Silver Associate Professor of Jewish Studies
Left CWRU to become Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth
Years Occupied = 7.0
Peter J. Haas
Jan 2000
- June 2016
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.
Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies,
Also Chair of Department of Religious Studies, retired 2016
Years Occupied = 15.5
Alanna E. Cooper
January 2020 -
see her faculty page


B.A. Barnard College of Columbia University (1990)
M.A. cultural anthropology Columbia University (1993)
Ph.D. cultural anthropology Boston University (2000)
Teaching and research positions at Harvard University, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Boston University, U of Michigan and U of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Director of Jewish Studies, Siegal Lifelong Learning, CWRU
Abba Hillel Silver Chair of Jewish Studies; Assistant Professor
Named Associate Professor May 2024

Page by Arnold Berger  last updated May 27, 2024