Last night I was trading emails with researcher and author Joseph McBride when he sent me this interesting piece of a video: an interview with Rabbi Hillel Silverman. That got me poking around, and the end result is this article, so he gets credit for that and no blame: if there are mistakes, they are mine.
Let's start with the video itself.
Zapruder, of course, took the most famous home movie in the world, recording the fatal shot that struck President Kennedy on 11/22/1963. He has his own unusual connections. Born in Russia, Zapruder worked for years with Jeanne LeGon, who would later marry George de Morenschildt, otherwise known as Lee Harvey Oswald’s best friend. We do know that George de Morenschildt was a good friend of George H. W. Bush, and wrote him a rather panicky letter in September of 1976 asking for help from his buddy.
Bush answered the letter but provided no help. In March of 1977 de Morenschildt decided to kill himself by blasting his own head off with a shotgun. With Bill O’Reilly listening, according to Bill O’Reilly. (And no one else.)
Anyway, back to Silverman.
The good rabbi appears in the record: Warren Commission Exhibit # 2281, in which he advised that sometime after the evening service on 11/22/1963, Ruby “appeared to be in shock” and spoke briefly to him, although not about the assassination.
Later, after Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald and was arrested, Rabbi Silverman made regular visits to Ruby. Silverman continues to insist (as he does in the video) that Ruby told him there was no conspiracy.
According to Philip Shenon, in his book A Cruel and Shocking Act, Warren Commission (and later Rockefeller Commission) attorney David Belin approached Rabbi Silverman during the time that he had been making these regular visits to Ruby. Belin asked Silverman to get Ruby to agree to a polygraph.
Although I don't endorse Shenon's ultimate conclusions in his book, this is interesting.
Two questions immediately arise: (1) Why did Belin think that he could convince Silverman to convince Ruby to get the polygraph? And (2) Why did Belin want Ruby to take a polygraph?
The answer to (1) is that Belin and Silverman knew each other. They had met in the summer of 1963 on a trip to Israel, and become friendly. Belin had a level of comfort with him.
We’ll come back to (2) in a minute. First let’s look at some biographical information on Rabbi Hillel Silverman.
As a young man, Hillel enrolled at Yale. However, in 1947, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group the Haganah. (Yizthak Rabin, incidentally, was also serving in the Haganah at this time.)
In 1950 the United States went to war with Korea and Hillel joined the Navy.
Although he remained in the Naval Reserves, in 1954 he needed a civilian job as a rabbi. At this time, something remarkable happened:
A friend and mentor from the great Warburg family of Wall Street whom he had worked for at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York put him in touch with a Dallas lawyer for Del Charro’s Clint Murchison, who arranged an interview with Shearith Israel, a prosperous conservative congregation that wanted to build a new synagogue in the burgeoning suburbs of North Dallas. He got the job. That’s where he would find himself face-to-face with Jack Ruby.
After Ruby shot Oswald, and Silverman delivered his testimony, he decided he needed a change of scenery.
He moved from Dallas out to Beverly Hills.
BACK TO (2)
Okay, so why would David Belin want Rabbi Silverman to convince Ruby to take the polygraph? For that, I think we need to go to the best description of this entire episode, which is in Jim DiEugenio’s Reclaiming Parkland.
DiEugenio notes that Ruby insisted on having the polygraph done to the Warren Commission, and Earl Warren still didn’t want to do it. Arlen Spector convinced Warren. The Commission then drew the polygraph operator from the FBI: one Bell Herndon. And it appears that Herndon did his utmost to get Ruby to pass his polygraph.
DiEugenio notes that the HSCA report that was done on Ruby’s polygraph is actually quite good, notable because this wasn’t always the case:
In order to get the full analysis, see pages 243-246 in Reclaiming Parkland.
The question becomes, is it possible that a fourteen-year special agent – a polygraph supervisor at the DC FBI lab – screwed up the most important lie detector test of the 20th century so badly? Or was he in fact doing his job – covering up the conspiracy?
I think part of the answer comes back to Belin. Belin always leaned on the polygraph and Rabbi Silverman’s testimony that Jack Ruby claimed no conspiracy, including in his own book, Final Disclosure. Belin also brought it up again when Oliver Stone’s film JFK released. Stone brought up (and countered) Belin’s use of Silverman’s testimony in his own response.
I draw no conclusions from this material, although I think it is interesting. In the main, researchers have generally treated Rabbi Silverman as a witness, and given him the deferential treatment reserved for the clergy and such. And perhaps that is warranted. However, there are enough nuggets of information to call that treatment into question.
He’s still alive, apparently, and still a part-time rabbi at a highly conservative synagogue. And he’s also the father of Jonathan Silverman, star of Weekend at Bernie’s and the even more immortal Weekend at Bernie’s 2. But I don’t think you should hold that against him.
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