The pre-eminent American rabbi during four decades, Abba Hillel Silver was one of the earliest great liberal Jewish activists and perhaps the most widely sought after Jewish speaker in America in his day. For forty-six ears, he served as spiritual leader to the largest Reform Jewish congregation in the United States, the Temple, in Cleveland, long known for its non-Zionist orientation. In the 1920s and '30s , he was an outspoken advocate of the closed shop, unemployment insurance, and other progressive causes. Still later, he became a leader of the American Zionist movement and a persuasive lobbyist for Jewish and Zionist causes in Washington and at the United Nations. Silver's writings and activities had a profound influence on American life, both religious and secular. Like William James, he believed the business of religion was to unlock people's inner resources. "Judaism's central and unique property" he wrote, "is the power to release faith and courage for living, to produce spiritual vitality and fruitfulness, and by that that it ultimately stands or falls." For Silver, this power functioned two ways--as a support during crises and as a stimulus to high endeavours.
This, of course, raises the question of whether religion is purely psychology or also philosophy, whether it can distance itself from the supernatural and remain, in fact, religion. Raphael deals with these questions in this challenging and provocative study.