Tag Archives: Mathematics

Jews of the Week: The Minkowskis

Three Renowned Scientists

Hermann Minkowski

Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909) was born in what is now Lithuania, then part of Russia, and previously a part of Poland, to a wealthy Jewish family. His father was a merchant who paid for the construction of the famous Kovno Synagogue. In 1872, the Minkowskis fled the persecutions of the Russian Empire and settled in Germany. Hermann Minkowski went on to study mathematics and physics. In 1883 he won the Mathematics Prize of the French Academy of Sciences. He got his PhD two years later and taught at the Universities of Bonn, Konigsberg, Gottingen, and Zurich (where he was Albert Einstein’s teacher). Minkowski solved a number of big math problems, and actually improved upon Einstein’s theory of relativity, coming up with what is now called “Minkowski space-time”. He gave the mathematical proof for unifying space and time into a singular space-time continuum. Sadly, Minkowski met an untimely death at a young age from sudden appendicitis.

Oskar Minkowksi

His older brother was Oskar Minkowski (1858-1931), who studied biology and medicine. He went on to become a professor at the University of Breslau. (Since Jews were barred from holding such positions at the time, Minkowski had to nominally convert to Christianity.) In 1889, Minkowski did a number of operations on dogs and showed the link between the pancreas and diabetes. Together with Josef von Mering, Minkowski discovered how the pancreas controlled blood sugar levels, which later led to the discovery of insulin. Today, the Minkowski Prize is awarded each year for breakthroughs in diabetes research. His son was Rudolph Minkowski (1895-1976), who studied astronomy. He did important work dealing with supernovae, and later became the head of the famed Palomar Observatory, where he discovered a number of asteroids and nebulae. He also made important contributions in astrophysics, and won the Bruce Medal in 1961 for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field. The Minkowski Crater on the moon is named after him.

Can Jewish Homes Have Christmas Trees?

Words of the Week

In God there is no time or beginning to start, for He always existed and is
everlasting and in Him there is no beginning or end at all.
Rabbi Chaim VitalEtz Chaim

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

“The Angel”

HaRav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Yitzchak Feivish Ginsburgh (b. 1944) was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He was recognized as a math prodigy when still a child. While spending a year in Israel as a teenager, Ginsburgh began learning Torah and becoming more religiously observant. He went on to study philosophy and mathematics, and got a Master’s degree in the latter. He left his Ph.D studies to go yeshiva in Jerusalem instead, becoming a rabbi. After the Six-Day War, he was one of the first people to move into the newly-liberated Jewish Quarter. Around this time, he met the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time and became his disciple, eventually resettling in Kfar Chabad. During the Yom Kippur War, he served as the Rebbe’s emissary to the IDF, and even delivered a lulav and etrog to Ariel Sharon on the front line for Sukkot. After this, Ginsburgh founded the first Chabad House in the Sinai, which was later destroyed when Israel gave up the area in its peace treaty with Egypt. The rabbi went on to head the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva near Joseph’s Tomb. He has written over 120 books on a variety of subjects, in both Hebrew and English. He is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Hasidism and Kabbalah, as well as gematria (Jewish numerology), Torah and science, Jewish psychology, and meditation. He is a pioneer of “Hasidic psychotherapy” and is the dean of the Torat Hanefesh School of Hasidic Psychology. Rabbi Ginsburgh is also an avid musician and has composed dozens of popular songs. He has met some controversy in the past for his passionate support of Jewish settlement across all of Israel’s ancestral lands, and for his opposition to government concessions to Israel’s enemies. Despite some of the negative press he has received from the mainstream media, Rabbi Ginsburgh is well-known for his humility, righteousness, profound wisdom, and gentle demeanour. Many refer to him as HaMalakh, “the angel”. Rabbi Ginsburgh has thousands of devoted students around the world, and still presides over a network of Jewish schools in Israel. He is undoubtedly among the greatest contemporary Jewish scholars and religious leaders. Today is his 77th birthday.

Words of the Week

Ours is the first generation in modern times to understand the truly universal human condition and to seek to bring all peoples of the earth together in peace and harmony.
– Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Jew of the Week: Avraham bar Chiya haNasi

The Rabbi Who Discovered the Quadratic Formula

Avraham bar Chiya (c. 1070-1145) was born in Barcelona to a Sephardic Jewish family. It appears that his family was persecuted by its Christian rulers, so they fled to the neighbouring Arab kingdom of Zaragoza. Bar Chiya came from a long line of rabbis, and was also extensively trained in science, math, and astronomy. Famed for his wisdom, he became the court astronomer of Al-Musta’in II. Eventually, he was appointed minister of police and given the title sahib al-shurtah, “city governor”. This is why he was known in the Jewish community as HaNasi, “the prince” or “the president”. Al-Musta’in II was unable to defend his domain from the Christians, who soon took over. Bar Chiya moved to southern France for a while and lived in Narbonne and Provence. There he composed some of the most important scientific texts of the Medieval era. He translated a number of Arabic works into Latin, opening their study for Europeans, and played a key role in introducing the Hindu numerals we use today (by way of Arabia) to Europe, and thus to the rest of the world. Bar Chiya also synthesized ancient Greek wisdom with contemporary Arabic knowledge, and published new discoveries in number theory, arithmetic, geometry, optics, astronomy, and music theory. His Treatise on Measurement and Calculation inspired later greats like Plato of Tivoli and the world-famous Fibonacci. Meanwhile, Bar Chiya also served as the chief rabbi of the Jewish communities he presided over, and composed two important Jewish commentaries and texts. He is credited with being the first person to write a scientific book in Hebrew, and played an instrumental role in the development of the Hebrew language. His disciples included both Jews and non-Jews, among them the great Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, and the Flemish astronomer Rudolf of Bruges. The first historical appearance of the quadratic equation (with a complete solution of x2 – ax + b = c) appears in one of Bar Chiya’s works! He is also referenced in many philosophical works as “Abraham Judaeus”. All in all, his impact on the development of science, mathematics, and human history is unparalleled.

Jew of the Week Turns 10 Years Old Today!

What I Learned from 10 Years of Writing Jew of the Week

Words of the Week

The mind of man plans his way, but God directs his steps.
King Solomon (Proverbs 16:9)