Tag Archives: Hebrew University

Jew of the Week: Martin Buber

Father of Spiritual Zionism

Mordechai Martin Buber (1878-1965) was born in Vienna to a religious Jewish family. His parents got divorced when he was just three years old, so Buber was raised in what was then Poland by his grandfather. Despite growing up in a richly Hasidic home, Buber began reading secular literature and returned to Vienna as a young man to study philosophy. Around the same time, he became active in the Zionist movement and soon became the editor of Die Welt, the main newspaper of Zionism. It wasn’t long before Buber became dissatisfied with the secularism and “busyness” of Zionism and returned (partially) to his Hasidic roots. He saw in Hasidic communities the right model for a new Israel, and a better alternative to the entirely-secular kibbutz. Buber ultimately saw Zionism not as a nationalist or political movement, but as a religious movement that should, first and foremost, serve to spiritually enrich the Jewish people—along with the rest of the world. He would later be credited with being the father of “Hebrew humanism” and “spiritual Zionism”. In 1908, he was invited to address a group of Jewish intellectuals known as the “Prague Circle”, and to “remind them about their Judaism”, as the group’s leader had requested. Among the members of the Circle was (former Jew of the Week) Franz Kafka, who was greatly influenced by Buber. During World War I, Buber established the Jewish National Committee to provide relief for Jews, especially those suffering in Eastern Europe. Throughout all these years, Buber wrote penetrating works on a vast range of themes, including philosophy and psychology, mythology, mysticism, and Hasidism. He co-produced a new translation of the Tanakh into German, and published his most famous essay, “I and Thou”. In 1930, Buber became a professor at the University of Frankfurt. He resigned in protest three years later when Hitler came to power. The Nazis forbade Jews from participating in public adult education classes, so Buber founded the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education. In 1938, he made aliyah and settled in Jerusalem, becoming professor of anthropology and sociology at the Hebrew University. Several years later, he was a founding member of the Ihud party, which prioritized making peace with neighbouring Arabs and worked to establish a bi-national state. Buber was nominated for a Nobel Prize a whopping 17 times (ten times for Literature, and seven times for Peace), though he was never awarded one. He did win the Israel Prize and the Bialik Prize, among many others. Today, the 13th of Sivan, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.
– Martin Buber

Jews of the Week: Edmund Landau and Lev Landau

Two Math Wizards

Edmund Landau

Edmund Georg Hermann Landau (1877-1938) was born in Berlin. As a young boy, he was recognized as a math prodigy, and earned his Ph.D from the University of Berlin by 22. He immediately received a teaching position at the university, where he taught for the next ten years. Meanwhile, Landau married the daughter of Nobel Prize winner (and past Jew of the WeekPaul Ehrlich. In 1812, Landau presented four complex math problems at the International Congress of Mathematicians. The problems remain unsolved to this day. After over a decade teaching at the University of Göttingen, Landau joined the new Hebrew University. He was a co-founder of its math department, and played a key role in the construction of its Mathematics Institute. He taught himself Hebrew so that he could present a novel math lecture at the University’s grand opening in 1925. Two years later, Landau and his family made aliyah. He taught at the Hebrew University for several years before returning to Göttingen. After being removed from his position by the Nazis, Landau settled back in Berlin and occasionally traveled outside Germany to teach. He died four years later. Landau is renowned for his work on distribution of prime numbers, and on what is now called Landau Prime Ideal Theorem. It was once said that “no one was ever more passionately devoted to mathematics than Landau.”

Lev Landau

Edmund Landau is not to be confused with another Jewish math prodigy, Lev Davidovich Landau (1908-1968). Born in Azerbaijan (then part of Russia), Lev Landau started university at 13, published his first paper at 18, and got his PhD in math by 26. He received a scholarship from the Soviet government as well as the Rockefeller Foundation to travel and study abroad. He was soon fluent in German, French, Danish, and English. Much of his time was spent working in the lab of Nobel Prize winner (and past Jew of the WeekNiels Bohr. After returning to the Soviet Union, Landau was put at the head of the physics department at Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology. He taught at the University of Kharkiv, and at the same time worked with his student Evgeny Lifshitz on a ten-volume textbook. The Course of Theoretical Physics is still one of the most popular graduate physics textbooks used today. In 1938, Landau was arrested for comparing Stalin to the Nazis. After the intervention of other physicists, he was freed. Ironically, he won the Stalin Prize in 1949 and again in 1953, for his work on building the first Soviet nuclear bomb. Landau is famous for, among many other things, his theory of superconductivity, theory of Fermi liquid, for plasma physics, quantum electrodynamics, and most of all for his theory of superfluidity, which won him a Nobel Prize in 1962. Unfortunately, he couldn’t personally collect the prize because he was in a severe car accident and spent two months in a coma. He ultimately died from his injuries in 1968. Several years before this, his students established the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics near Moscow. It is still one of the most prestigious physics labs in Russia. Landau was featured in the latest Google Doodle. There is a crater on the moon named after him.

The Torah: A Comprehensive Overview

Words of the Week

Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.
– Max Planck

Google Doodle for January 22, 2019, the birthday of Lev Landau.

Jew of the Week: Amos Oz

Israel’s Greatest Writer

Amos Oz (Credit: Michiel Hendryckx)

Amos Klausner (1939-2018) was born in Jerusalem, the only child of Lithuanian- and Polish-Jewish parents. Although his family was entirely secular, Amos was sent to a religious school because the only other option was a socialist school that his parents vehemently opposed. At 14, he decided to go off on his own, changed his last name to “Oz”, and joined a kibbutz. He wasn’t fit for kibbutz work, and was made fun of constantly. Oz found solace in writing, and was eventually given permission by the kibbutz to have one day off a week to do so. After three years of military service, the kibbutz sent him to study literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University. He graduated in 1963, returning to the kibbutz to work as a teacher, and continuing to write once a week. Two years later, he published his first book, a collection of short stories. It was his third publication, the novel My Michael, that became a bestseller and thrust him into fame. (Even after this, his kibbutz only allowed three days a week to write!) Oz would follow that up with 13 more popular novels, four more collections of prized short stories, and another twelve of essays on various topics, along with two children’s books. The most famous of these is his 2002 memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, which was adapted into a film by Natalie Portman. All in all, he produced some 40 books and 450 essays, with his work translated into nearly 50 languages – more than any other Israeli writer. Oz served in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. In 1987, he came a professor of Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University, a post he held until 2014. While often seen as the face of the Israeli left, Oz defended Israel in its military campaigns, explaining their necessity and never failing to point out the evils of the terrorist enemy. He was one of the first to speak of a two-state solution (penning an essay immediately after the Six-Day War) and was opposed to Israeli settlements, but supported the West Bank barrier wall. He admitted that Israelis have always been willing to work for peace while Arabs not so much, and said that it takes “two hands to clap”. He remained a staunch Zionist his entire life and vocally opposed non-Zionists. In these ways, he mitigated the Israeli left, trying to keep them from falling into extremes, and from getting into the habit of blaming Israel for everything. Oz worked tirelessly for peace, and some of his actions in doing so were severely criticized (like the recent letter he sent to imprisoned Palestinian activist/terrorist Marwan Barghouti). Among his long list of awards is the Israel Prize, the French Legion of Honour, the Spanish Order of Civil Merit, and the South Korean Park Kyong-ni Prize for Literature. Sadly, Oz passed away last week. The man who has been called Israel’s greatest writer was laid to rest in the kibbutz that was his home for over three decades.

Words of the Week

The story of modern Israel, as many have noted, is a miracle unlike any… It is a robust and inclusive democracy, and is at the leading edge of science and technology… What hypocrites demand of Israelis and the scrutiny Israel is subjected to by them, they would not dare make of any other nation.
– Salim Mansur