Tag Archives: Israel Prize

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

In Memory of a “Once-in-a-Millennium Scholar”

Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz (1937-2020) was born in Jerusalem to parents who had made aliyah from Eastern Europe a decade earlier. His father was completely secular, and a devoted socialist who had fought in the Spanish Civil War on behalf of Communist International. Nonetheless, his father wanted his son to know what Judaism was all about, and made sure to have him tutored by a rabbi. Meanwhile, young Steinsaltz studied math and science at Hebrew University. He then took up rabbinical studies at Chabad’s Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim. After receiving semicha (rabbinic ordination), Steinsaltz tried to establish a neo-Hasidic community in the Negev, but was unsuccessful. He then became a school principal and, being just 24 years old, was the youngest principal in Israel’s history. In 1965, he embarked on a life-long journey to translate the Talmud into Modern Hebrew, along with composing a detailed commentary to explain its complexities. He finished the massive 42-volume set in 2010, after which it was translated into English, too, and shared freely online to make Talmudic learning accessible for everyone. Rabbi Steinsaltz also wrote profusely about topics that span the gamut of Judaism, including bestsellers on Kabbalah and Hasidism. Altogether, he penned over 60 books and some 200 other original texts of Jewish thought. (He even wrote an unpublished science fiction novel!) Meanwhile, Rabbi Steinsaltz helped found several yeshivas in Israel, as well as the Jewish University in Russia, with campuses in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He had spent several years in the former Soviet Union to help re-establish Jewish life there, and in 1995 was given the title of Russia’s duchovny ravin, the “spiritual head” of Russian Jewry. In 2004, a large gathering of rabbis in Israel sought to re-establish the ancient Sanhedrin. Rabbi Steinsaltz accepted the nomination to head the court, being given the title nasi, “president”. Before he suffered a stroke in 2016, he was known to regularly give classes until two in the morning. He spent time at Yale University as a scholar-in-residence, and received honourary degrees from five universities. Among his many awards is the prestigious Israel Prize. His motto was “Let my people know!” and he has been compared to a modern-day Rashi and Maimonides. Sadly, Rabbi Steinsaltz, one of the Jewish world’s most beloved public figures, passed away last Friday.

Words of the Week

The Bible is the record of when God talks to Man. The Talmud is Man talking to God.
– Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

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

Jew of the Week: Yuval Ne’eman

Quantum Physicist and IDF Commander

Yuval Ne’eman

Yuval Ne’eman (1925-2006) was born in Tel-Aviv. His grandfather Aba Ne’eman had made aliyah to Yaffo from Lithuania as an eighteen year old, and was later among the first 66 families which settled and co-founded the city of Tel-Aviv. His grandfather also set up the city’s first electrical generator, and built some of its first factories. This may be what inspired Yuval to study mechanical engineering. He enrolled at Technion at age 15. At the same time, he joined the Haganah, and would fight valiantly in Israel’s Independence War, rising to the rank of commander of the Givati Brigade. Having spent several years living in Egypt with his parents as a child, Ne’eman spoke Arabic fluently and served as a liaison to Israel’s Mizrachi Jews, helping to settle them in the new country. In the mid-1950s, Ne’eman played a key role in the IDF’s operational command, developed its reverse mobilization system, and wrote Israel’s first defense doctrine. Meanwhile, he joined Israel’s Nuclear Energy Commission and oversaw the development of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. While serving as IDF attaché in London, he earned his PhD in physics. The following year he published his classification system for hadrons, laying the foundation for the quark model of quantum physics (proposed by recent Jews of the Week Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig). Ne’eman returned to Israel in 1961 to direct the Soreq Nuclear Research Centre, one of the most important R&D facilities in Israel. He retired from the IDF with the rank of colonel, and founded Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy in 1965. Ne’eman directed it for the next seven years, then became president of he whole university. After this, he directed its Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies for nearly two decades. Ne’eman also co-directed the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas in Austin. A big believer in space exploration, he founded the Israel Space Agency in 1983 and chaired it until his death. He was chief scientist of Israel’s Defense Ministry in the 1970s, which opened the door for him to enter politics. Ne’eman founded the right-wing Tehiya party in response to Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. He was elected to the Knesset in 1981 and became the country’s first Minister of Science and Technology. He continued to serve in the Knesset for over a decade. Among his many awards are the Israel Prize, the Wigner Medal, and the Albert Einstein Prize. He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Ne’eman wrote a layman’s book on quantum physics called The Particle Hunters, which has been described as “the best guide to quantum physics at present available.”

The Red Cow: Quantum Physics in the Torah

Words of the Week

… Most of my people think as I do, but they’re afraid to say so… we suffer because of our Arab brothers, but we are also dependent on them. It’s a bizarre situation because the Arab countries don’t really care what happens to the Palestinian people. The only assistance that we have ever received from any country was from the ‘Zionist enemy.’
Muhammad Zahrab, Palestinian Arab scholar