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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Einstein’

Hawking Rejects the Zionism of Einstein

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of Albert Einstein, an avowed Zionist who worked to create the State of Israel, and replaced him with the august company of Elvis Costello and other Israel boycotters?

I hosted Hawking for a lecture at Oxford in 1998 where I introduced him to 1000 Oxford students. He could not have been more humble and approachable. Aside from his lecture, delivered through his voice synthesizer, on string theory – little of which I understood but which my students assured me was “brilliant” – I remember his love of babies and practical jokes. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born and Hawking and his wife asked us if he could hold her. I can still picture in my mind how his wife took the baby, placed her on his lap, and then wrapped his enfeebled arms around the baby, which he stared at with a huge grin for minutes. He was enraptured.
After the lecture was over and as we walked Hawking to his car, he suddenly raced off in his wheelchair to Haagen-Dazs where he consumed an ice cream. His wife chuckled that he loved giving his hosts the slip as he indulged his childlike spirit.
All who heard and met him were deeply impressed with his humility and accessibility.
And now this, digging a knife publicly into Israel’s back.
Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional, and political life? Why would Hawking pounce on a nation who, with neighbors like Hamas that routinely murder gays on false accusations of collaboration, grants homosexuals every equal right? And why would he condemn a country whose Arab citizens are the freest and least afraid in the entire Middle East?
Could it be because Israel has still not settled the status of the West Bank [Judea and Samaria -.ed]?
But if that is the case, surely Hawking knows that Israel has seen thousands of its citizens slaughtered in gruesome terror attacks ever since it granted autonomy to the Palestinian authority to control 97% of the Palestinian population?
Could it be because Israel has yet to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state?
But then Hawking is a highly educated man and he knows that after Israel withdrew fully from Gaza – dismantling its communities and forcibly removing its settlers – that it lead to tens of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli hospitals and schools. And besides, Israel has practically begged the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions to discuss just that, the creation of a two-state solution, but the Palestinians have refused.
Perhaps its because Hawking believes the demonstrably false lie that Israel is an apartheid state. But then a scientist like Hawking would check facts before he would embrace such fraudulence and could easily discover that Arabs serve in the Israel Knesset – where they freely and regularly disagree with Israel – as well as the Israeli Supreme Court, the civil service, and every other area of Israeli life.
No, one must conclude that for all his academic brilliance Hawking might just be lacking in simple common sense.
In his statement embracing the boycott of the Jewish state, Hawking said, “I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this I must withdraw from the conference.”
One would think that Hawking’s response to these academics might be a call to, say, Hamas to start using the billions channeled to the Palestinians as the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid into building universities rather than buying bombs, or educating women rather than tacitly allowing the honor killings of young Palestinian women whose only crime is to have a boyfriend. No, Hawking decided instead to condemn the country whose scholars have won ten Nobel prizes, from a population of six million, while the entire Arab world, numbering in the hundreds of millions, have won two, outside the peace prize (another four).
Clearly, a knowledge of physics is no guarantor of a knowledge of foreign affairs.

Since Hawking is so often called the Einstein of his generation, it is worth reminding him that Einstein was a committed Zionist who traveled around the United States with Chain Weizmann to raise money for the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution that Hawking now refuses to even visit. In a 1921 letter to his friend Friedrich Zangger, Einstein wrote, “On Saturday I’m off to America – not to speak at universities (though there will probably be that, too, on the side) but rather to help in the founding of the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I feel an intense need to do something for this cause.”

Free Tay-Sachs Screenings at Philadelphia’s Einstein Center

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia is offering free Tay-Sachs disease screenings to those of Irish descent until the end of May.

The screenings, which involve a simple blood test, are free to those who are at least 18 years old and have at least three grandparents of Irish descent.

Screenings will take place at the following locations and times:

– Thursday (today), 4-6:00 pm at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, 559 W Germantown Pike, East Norriton;

– Saturday, April 20, 9:30-11 a.m. at the office of Dr. John L. Sabatini, PC at 301 Oxford Valley Road, suite 905A, Yardley, Pa.; and

– Monday, May 13 from 12:30 pm till 2:30 pm at the IrishCenter of Philadelphia (Commodore Barry Club) at 6815 Emlen Street, Mt. Airy, Pa.

Tay-Sachs Disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that can be passed on to children when both parents are carriers of an altered gene. Babies born with Tay-Sachs disease appear normal at birth, and symptoms of the disease do not appear until the infants are about four to six months of age when they begin to lose previously attained skills, such as sitting up or rolling over. Children then gradually lose their sight, hearing and swallowing abilities. These children usually die by the age of five.

In the past, Tay-Sachs was often thought of as a Jewish genetic disorder due to its large presence among Ashkenazi Jews. But, cases of Tay-Sachs have been identified in the Irish population in Philadelphia over the last few years, according to the Lansdale Reporter.

Dr. Adele Schneider, director of clinical genetics at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, and her team at Einstein are conducting a study to find out just how high the carrier rate is among people of Irish descent. The study, the only one done in the Irish population since DNA testing for the gene mutation has been available, aims to screen 1,000 people, and is funded by the Albert Einstein Society and the National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association of Delaware Valley.

President Obama Declares Jewish American Heritage Month

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared May “Jewish American Heritage Month”.

In a ceremony kicking off the month, the president praised Jewish Americans for bearing “hardship and hostility” with the “deep conviction that a better future was within their reach”.

He also noted the achievements and national contribution of Jewish Americans such as Supreme Court Jusice Louis Brandeis, physicist Albert Einstein, and writer and art collector Gertrude Stein.

“Our country is stronger for their contributions, and this month we commemorate the myriad ways they have enriched the American experience,” Obama said.

The first Jewish American Heritage Month occurred during the presidential term of George W. Bush.  It was introduced by Jewish Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D- FL) and passed in December 2005.

In Washington DC, events for Jewish American Heritage Month will take place at the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Gallery of Art, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Events will also take place in various locations throughout the United States.

The Positive Side of Autism: An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

            For many years, autism was considered to be a rare, mysterious and severely disabling condition. But in recent years, due at least in part to a broadening of its medical definition, the incidence of the diagnosis of autism and related disorders has risen to about 1 in every 150 babies born in this country.

 

            Today, classic childhood or infantile autism is grouped with at least four other conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders, (PDD), which are now referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). People suffering from ASD’s typically have difficulties with social interactions and communication, a severely restricted range of interests, and a tendency to engage in repetitive patterns of behavior.

 

            Severely autistic children cannot communicate at all verbally. They seem to be absorbed in a world of their own, and are unresponsive to most external stimuli.

 

            But ASD’s also includes higher functioning children who, with early intervention and intensive help from teachers, parents and therapists, may ultimately lead near-normal lives.

 

            Some of those diagnosed with the ASD known as Asperger’s Syndrome actually exhibit superior intelligence, and their autistic tendency to screen out external stimuli enhances their ability to concentrate all of their mental faculties on a particular task or problem. It has even been seriously suggested that some of the greatest giants in the history of science and the arts closely fit the current profile of those with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both exhibited conduct which is now associated with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, Einstein was a loner as a child, and a late speaker. As an adult, he would become so obsessed with physics problems that he acted as if he was totally oblivious to his surroundings and his own physical appearance. In fact, during his later years at Princeton, Einstein defined the stereotype for the “absent-minded professor.”

 

            Behavior patterns consistent with autism spectrum disorders have also been identified with authors James Joyce, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, philosophers Spinoza and Kant, composers Beethoven and Mozart, concert pianist Glenn Gould, and the author of the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

 

            But through most of the 20th century, the potentially positive intellectual side effects of autism went largely unrecognized. Little hope was held out for young children like Temple Grandin who were diagnosed with autism. Born in Boston in 1947, Grandin did not begin to speak until she was three and a half years old. Thanks to the devoted efforts of her mother and teachers, young Temple received the understanding, guidance and attention she needed to compensate for her autistic deficits, and find expression for her native intelligence and creativity. Encouraged to follow her natural affinity for animals, and exploit her heightened autistic sensitivities, Grandin won renown for devising more humane and efficient equipment for handling livestock on farms and in slaughterhouses.

 

            Today, Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She is a consultant for fast food chains Burger King and McDonald’s, and the livestock equipment that she has designed handles half of the cattle in the United States.

 

            Her unique insights into the feelings and reactions of animals, combined with a self-taught understanding of the basic concepts of shechita, have enabled her to develop a new way to position and restrain animals while being shechted, which has been widely adopted by kosher slaughterhouses in the US and Israel. Grandin innovations have helped to speed up the shechita process and reduce various halachic complications, while at the same time making the experience less painful and traumatic for the animal. She is widely recognized as an expert in the practices and technology of kosher slaughter, and a staunch defender of its humane character.

 

            Grandin is not Jewish, but her work with animals has deepened her faith in G-d and given her an enhanced sensitivity for Jewish traditions and beliefs. When she designed a new type of ramp to lead cattle into the slaughter pen, she named it, “The Stairway to Heaven.”

 

            Grandin attributes much of her success to the positive side of her autism. Her autobiographical book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” published in 1986, helped to explode the myth that all autistic people live in a world of their own, shrink from human contact, and are unintelligent. It tells how she was able to grope her way “from the far side of darkness” to become living proof that “the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled.” In her 1995 book, “Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” Grandin explained that words are just a second language for her, and that she tends to think in “full color movies, complete with sound, which run in my head.”

 

            These books, as well as her numerous speeches and articles on the subject, have turned Grandin into one of the leading advocates for adults and children with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            In a telephone interview with Grandin, I asked her what she would say to parents of young children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder. Her first recommendation was not to give in to despair. “Autism is a wide continuum, ranging from children who will never be able to talk all the way to geniuses like Albert Einstein,” she said.

 

            She also encourages parents of autistic children to begin aggressive remedial education as soon as possible. “Even if your child is just 2 or 3 years old, don’t let them sit in a corner. Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do for an autistic child. Get your child a really good educational program, of about 20-30 hours a week with a good teacher and a lot of 1 to 1 interaction.”

 

            Recalling her own strict upbringing in the 50′s, Grandin said, “autistic children do well in a highly structured environment.” She explained that children with autism do not instinctively, “understand social rules in the abstract. They must be taught all the rules of proper social behavior, one at a time, on a case-by-case basis. For example, they must be taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ When playing with others, they must learn how to take turns. When standing in line, they must learn not to push the child ahead of them. They must not eat with their hands, etc. These rules must be taught even to high- functioning autistic children, because they do not have natural instincts to guide their behavior in common social situations.”

 

            Grandin notes that autistic children are also often overly sensitive to sensory stimuli. “Some of them can’t stand noise. Others are distracted by too much starch in their clothes,” she said. She recalled meeting one autistic Jewish boy who was distracted because his yarmulka was too stiff, His behavior improved as soon as he was given a more comfortable yarmulka to wear on his head.

 

            Grandin also urges parents to encourage their autistic children to follow their natural interests. “Don’t focus on their deficits. Rather, enable them to make the most of whatever skills and interests they have, be they mathematics, music or computers. In my own case, as a young girl I loved riding horses and electronics lab, and I was ultimately able to pursue a profession which combined them both,” Grandin said.

 

            She even held out hope for the future of autistic children who remain non-verbal. “For example, if such a child has artistic ability, even without the ability to speak, he could still become a sofer [scribe],” Grandin said.

 

            Grandin believes that many of our leading scientists, mathematicians and computer “geeks,” with their “nerdy” lack of social skills, are actually high functioning people with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, whose success in their fields is at least partially due to their autism-enhanced ability to concentrate.

 

            Grandin’s life story carries a message of hope for the parents of every autistic child. It serves as an example of the kind of meaningful contributions that such children can achieve in their lives, if given the support, instruction, encouragement and understanding they need to take full advantage of the unique gifts that the Creator has given them.

New Autism Theory Inspires Hope For Future Cure

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

      Distant mothers. MMR vaccines. Genetic mutations. Contaminated drinking water. These are just a few of the many factors that scientists and doctors have attributed to the cause of autism throughout the last 50 years, since autism was first established as a separate diagnosis in the late 1960′s. In recent years the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in American children has risen to one in every one 150. Yet, despite these attempts none have proved successful in isolating a definite cause. In fact, from diagnosis to treatments, autism research is rife with uncertainties and trial-and-error theories, many of which have thus far been disproved and fallen to the proverbial wayside.

 

      Unfortunately, without a definite cause, the hope to cure autism is also hampered. While there is no known cure for autism, those diagnosed have the option of undergoing treatments that, at best, lessen the deficits associated with autism and improve the quality of life and functional independence. While the goal of these therapies is to correct the developmental disability that mostly affects a person with autism – the ability to communicate and interact with others socially – the key to completely eradicating the presence of autism altogether is in determining its origins.

 

      Attempting just that, research scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Yeshiva University) have proposed a new theory focusing on the neurological make-up of people with autism that could lead to groundbreaking changes in the treatment and overall knowledge of autism. The theory – co-authored by Dr. Mark F. Mehler, M.D., chairman of neurology and director of the Institute for Brain Disorders and Neural Regeneration at Einstein, and Dr. Dominick P. Purpura, M.D., dean emeritus and professor of neuroscience at Einstein – arose from an observational study of autistic children that illuminated a recurring phenomenon. The researchers noticed that during bouts of fever, children with the disorder displayed a behavioral improvement that suddenly reverts once the fever subsides. This observation has led the proposal that the brain of an individual with autism is normal, but “dysregulated,” and the symptoms can therefore be reversed.

 

      The theory pinpoints the locus coeruleus-noradrenergic (LC-NA) system as the part of the brain that is involved in causing autism. “The LC-NA system is the only brain system involved both in producing fever and controlling behavior,” Purpura said.

 

      The locus coeruleus-noradrenergic, a Latin name literally defined as ‘blue spot’ due to its shading, plays a key role in our concentration and focusing attention, skills that those with autism have great difficulty cultivating. Additionally, the LC-NA activates other areas of the brain related to complex cognitive tasks. In an autistic child, according to Mehler and Purpura, it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors (particularly stress while the fetus is in the later stages of development, a time that renders the fetal brain especially sensitive to disturbances) that causes the dysregulation in this area of the brain.

 

      Support for this theory came from a 2008 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that found a higher frequency of autism in children whose mothers were exposed to hurricanes during pregnancy. Fever activates the locus coeruleus, and the stimulation allows it to do its job, regulating reactions and centering attention. The fundamental element to this finding is that fever allows the autistic child to behave normally, “This could not happen if autism was caused by a lesion or some structural abnormality of the brain,” Purpura said.

 

      “If the locus coeruleus is impaired in autism, it is probably because tens or hundreds, maybe even thousands, of genes are dysregulated in subtle and complex ways,” Mehler said. “The only way you can reverse this process is with epigenetic therapies, which, we are beginning to learn, have the ability to coordinate very large integrated gene networks.”

 

      Epigenetics refers to gene changes that occur that have been hypothesized to be passed from parent to fetus. Epigenetics has largely been associated with diseases, and epigenetic theory seeks to correct these gene changes.

 

      The central theorists warn that this advance is no sudden cure to autism, a disease which has baffled the medical field for some time; it is, however, a door opening into better understanding autism and finding more effective treatment.

 

      Mehler and Purpura’s publication on their theory, entitled “utism, fever, epigenetics and the locus coeruleus” was featured in the March issue of the journal Brain Research Reviews.

Einstein’s Secret Spark

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Albert Einstein’s letter on God, in which he described the Bible as “pretty childish,” sold not long ago for more than $400,000. That letter is far from the definitive word, however, on Einstein and religion. In fact, there exists a vast library of personal letters and other archival material that reveal Einstein’s lifelong search for spiritual fulfillment.

This essay is meant neither as an apologia nor a critique of Einstein’s latent spirituality. It is merely a rumination on his frequent personal religious musings – musings that, had he subjected them to his usual rigorous scrutiny, may well have led him to discover the rest of the equation.

I embarked on my research into Einstein’s spirituality in the hope of finding allusive, little-known remarks by the father of general and special relativity that would perhaps provide a subtle whisper of regret or resolve about his lifetime of non-observance.

Like a thresher separating wheat from chaff, I plowed through a profusion of seemingly agnostic concepts and morally objectionable behavior on Einstein’s part in order to catch fleeting glimpses of his elusive pintele Yid (Jewish spark). What I extracted was an ephemeral spirituality that Einstein himself, and all his biographers after him, grappled to define.

*     *     *

Einstein was born in 1879 in the small town of Ulm, in Bavaria, to irreligious parents. His pious grandfather taught him Chumash, Rashi and some Gemara. A spiritual child, the budding genius thought much about God, writing little poems in His praise and singing songs to Him at home and as he walked the streets.

When he was 5, his parents enrolled him in a large Catholic school, with more than 2,000 students from all strata of society, which was closer to home and less expensive than the Jewish school. The only Jew among some 70 classmates, young Albert was frequently insulted and physically abused while making his way home from school. As he opened the door to his house, the stench of non-kosher wiener schnitzel would waft through the air, revolting and infuriating him.

Although the boy remained steadfast in his refusal to eat treif, his parents rebuffed his pleas to keep kosher. His father regarded the kosher dietary laws as “anachronistic, superstitious nonsense.” But what could young Albert have expected of freethinking Jews who were not fully comfortable with the citizenship they had been granted only eight years before his birth and who chose to cast off their Jewish identity?

As recounted by Robert N. Goldman in Einstein’s God (Jason Aronson, 1997), a book that proved invaluable to my research, a Jewish custom Einstein’s parents did retain was hosting a needy scholar at a weekly meal. But perhaps because Shabbos held no significance for the Einsteins or perhaps because the food was not kosher, the “guest day” came to be observed on Thursday and the invitee was not a yeshiva bochur but a medical student.

The steady caller at the Einstein residence was one Max Talmud. Albert admired and respected Max, who was eleven years his senior and assumed the role of his mentor. Max inundated the wunderkind with gifts of popular-science books. Such works, infused with atheism and revolutionary concepts, would not have been considered acceptable reading material for a youngster in a religious home but in the Einstein household they were revered above Judaica.

Young Einstein indulged himself to his heart’s delight and soon began to entertain doubts about his religious beliefs and the Bible stories he had previously cherished. He sought out additional sources of enlightenment in the writings of Darwin and others, and before long his outlook was no different from that of any emancipated Reform Jew.

The new secular knowledge shattered Einstein’s equilibrium, leaving him feeling betrayed and disillusioned, with no one interested enough in him to restore his equanimity. His religious fervor became totally invested in science, mathematics and violin lessons. As a result of Einstein’s being swept away by the sciences, his bar mitzvah, scheduled for the Sabbath following his thirteenth birthday, was aborted, along with any hopes of future Jewish scholarship. Because his bar mitzvah was canceled, he suffered a fair amount of shame as something of a community outcast.

Having lost confidence in his religion, he began from age 16 to describe himself as having no religious affiliation, extrinsically to ensure employment but intrinsically because of his disillusionment with Judaism.

At age 32 Einstein was confronted with a challenge that jarred his religious consciousness. He was lecturing at the University of Zurich when he learned he was being considered for a full professorship outside Switzerland, at the German University of Prague. He intensely aspired to that post, as the pay and prestige were infinitely promising. There was, however, one major problem: Prague at the time (1911) was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Emperor Franz Joseph had ordained that instructors register their religious affiliation.

Einstein had to weigh a choice between declaring no religion (and relinquish the position) or admitting he was a Jew. Under no circumstances would he say he was a non-Jew, as many others of Jewish birth had done. It was a critical decision, but, after wrestling with his conscience for some time, he pronounced himself a Jew. That symbolic step was a precursor to his rediscovering his Jewish roots in Prague.

*     *     *

There was something about majestic Prague, the city of a hundred towers and one of the first European Jewish settlements, that awakened Einstein’s soul: the ancient synagogues, dating from the 11th century; the town clock with its Hebrew lettering; the Yiddish-speaking townsfolk of diverse cultural backgrounds; the old Jewish cemetery.

Walking among the cemetery’s 12,000 tombstones dating back to 1439 and reading the Hebrew inscriptions, the names and epitaphs, reminded him of his religious heritage. When the Jewish community urged him to express himself about God, he said, “What we [physicists] strive for is just to draw our lines after Him.”

After teaching in Zurich and Prague, Einstein returned to Germany at the age of 35 and became a professor at the Prussian Academy in Berlin. His experience in Prague had imbued him with a sense of belonging to his people, and only five weeks after his arrival in Germany he proudly proclaimed his Jewishness.

It was after the First World War that Jews, escaping hunger, hardship and persecution in Russia and Poland, converged on Berlin. Their assertive demeanor aroused growing resentment among the native Jews, who were trying hard to conceal their origin. Nationalist German groups demanded their immediate deportation, but Einstein empathized with his uncultivated eastern European tribesmen and used his good offices to raise money for their support. He even wrote a newspaper article in their defense.

The assimilationist aspirations of mainstream Jewish Berliners seemed to Einstein nothing but “mimicry,” and he declared publicly, “I have always been annoyed by the undignified assimilation cravings and strivings which I have observed in so many of my German Jewish friends.”

Of the Germans he said, “I don’t love the Germans they’re not religious.”

In 1916, Jacob Grommer, an outstanding mathematician and scholarly yeshiva student pursuing the rabbinate, collaborated with Einstein (whose arithmetical skills were not exceptional) on his general theory of relativity. Einstein assumed the responsibility of providing for Grommer’s livelihood.

In 1923 Einstein was invited to deliver the inaugural speech at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the site were Alexander the Great first glimpsed ancient Jerusalem and where Titus mobilized his military for the destruction of the Holy Temple. He began with, “I am happy to read my address in the country whence the Torah and its light emanated to all the enlightened world…. I consider this the greatest day of my life. Hitherto I have always found something to regret in the Jewish soul, and that is the forgetfulness of its own people – forgetfulness of its being, almost…. This is a great age, the age of the liberation of the Jewish soul.”

Einstein sounded like a biblical prophet to many when, in 1930, he told a group of British Jews, “To you I say that the being and faith of our people depends less upon external factors than that we remain true to our moral traditions which have carried us through the centuries in spite of the heavy strains which broke in upon us. In the service of life, sacrifice becomes a grace. Within the traditions of the Jewish people exists a striving toward righteousness and understanding that should be of service to the rest of the nations both now and in the future. Do not bemoan the sadness of fate, but in this occurrence see rather a motive for both being and remaining faithful to the Jewish community.”

As the situation of European Jewry deteriorated in the years prior to World War II, Einstein, who had emigrated to America in 1933, sponsored Jewish refugees – so many, in fact, that immigration officials declined to honor his applications. They knew his income was inadequate to guarantee support for so many. Nevertheless, he continued his efforts to rescue Jews with affidavits and money.

*     *     *

When he retired in 1946, friends were aghast to find Einstein speaking as if he had a direct link with God. Actually, he had been referring to the Creator all his life. His close assistant, Leopold Infeld, said Einstein used the word “God” more often than a Catholic priest.

In fact, Einstein had always been enthralled by the word “God” and with the biblical stories of his childhood. The Nobel Prize-winning Russian physicist Peter Kapitza said of him, “Einstein loves to refer to God when there is no more sensible argument.” Einstein liked to proclaim that “the mathematician God smiles . He knows how far we are from real depth of understanding.”

He also said, “If I had been born in eastern Europe, I would probably have become a rabbi.” (In fact, a portrait of a bearded rabbi permanently graced the walls of Einstein’s book-laden study. Biographer Goldman suggests Einstein might have seen himself as that rabbi.)

When, at age 73, he was asked about creation, he said, “…We must be satisfied to acknowledge the ‘miracle’ without there being any legitimate way for us to approach it.”

In an article titled “Religion and Science” in the Nov. 9, 1930 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Einstein concluded that there was no conflict between the two but that religion was “the strongest and noblest mainspring of scientific research.”

Einstein’s friend and chauffeur noted that Einstein composed a number of songs to honor God, which he heard Einstein sing to himself many times. He also heard Einstein say that anyone who loves nature must love God, and that ideas per se stemmed from God.

About American Jews who put material values ahead of spirituality, Einstein said, “The dance about the golden calf was not merely a legendary episode in the history of our forefathers – an episode that seems to me in its simplicity more innocent than that total adherence to material and selfish values threatening Judaism in our own day.”

Three weeks before his death in 1955, he acknowledged, “To us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future has only the significance of a stubborn illusion.” At the same time, he sent Kurt Blumenthal, the man who had brought him into the Zionist fold in Berlin 35 years earlier, this message: “I thank you, even at this late hour, for having helped me become aware of my Jewish soul.”

Einstein’s obituary in The New York Times included his statement that “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

*     *     *

It would be a fundamental mistake to judge Einstein by pre-21st century standards (or even to judge him at all). The inescapable fact is that Einstein lived not in an ivory tower but in a time of war and conflict. And he faced up to those circumstances with a strong sense of humanitarian responsibility.

Although physics, the core of his identity, eclipsed his rudimentary Jewish training, it did not weaken (except in his early years) his identification with the Jewish nation or his loyalty to his brethren. In the wake of the Holocaust he forswore his allegiance to the country of his birth, forgoing all the glory he could have derived from it.

Although German remained his first language, after the Holocaust he took to calling it his “stepmother tongue.” He never forgave the Germans. When in 1946 he was invited to rejoin the Bavarian Academy, from which he had been forced to resign in 1933, he responded: “The Germans have slaughtered my Jewish brethren. I will have nothing to do with them .”

Beneath his surface there was unfathomable complexity. It is within that complexity that we find the spirituality we were seeking. A scientist of lesser fame would not have had the courage to entertain, much less to articulate, such profound spiritual thoughts, which may have inspired countless others.

That he did not redirect his life toward Torah and mitzvot after achieving a sense of belonging to the Jewish nation, after acknowledging the concept of God through the realm of physics and after having “become aware of my Jewish soul” remains a tragedy. But Einstein lived in the pre-baal teshuvah era. There were no kiruv professionals canvassing Berlin or, later, Princeton for potential returnees. Would he have been receptive had an Orthodox leader of his stature offered to guide him? Perhaps, though of course we will never know.

Equally significant are the lessons we learn from Einstein’s spiritual decline. Young Albert, the budding genius who might have blossomed into a Talmudic giant – the brave boy who, despite his Catholic schooling, clung to the teachings of his grandfather and clamored for religious observance in his home – succumbed to the influence of an assimilated Jewish friend.

Einstein’s life story should serve as an impetus for committed Jews to view our non-committed brethren with an attitude of altruism and benevolence: “What is my obligation to this floundering Jew? How can I help him or her discover, or rediscover, true Judaism?”

Einstein’s sporadic but sincere religious reflections point to the pintele Yid whose beseeching resounded within his conscience. Countless Jews are in a similar state of inner turmoil.

Sorah Shapiro, a journalist, is the author of “City on Fire,” an anthology on 9/11 and the Twin Towers; “Nation on Fire,” an anthology on terrorism in the Holy Land; and “Trials and Triumphs,” a collection of inspirational stories. Her new book, “Whither Thou Goest: The Jewish In-Law’s Survival Guide” (Devora Publishing) is available at all major Jewish bookstores and Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.com.

Even An Einstein Can’t Invent His Own Values

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

      It’s always a revelation when a world-renowned intellectual attacks religion as silly and juvenile only for us to discover that his or her own personal life might have greatly benefited from a commitment to the biblical values that they so casually dismiss.

 
      Such was the case recently when the news broke that Albert Einstein’s letter on God, in which he described the Bible as “pretty childish,” sold for more than $400,000.
 
      If history has taught us one thing about intelligent people, it is that even the most brilliant still need help when it comes to formulating and living with proper values. Paul Johnson’s 1990 book Intellectuals demonstrated just how warped were, and are, the values of some intellectuals.
 
      The principal purpose of the Bible is to impart values of right and wrong, to teach us of the infinite sanctity of human life, and to lend human existence spiritual purpose. This is something that is counterintuitive and often lost on intellectuals who can sometimes be such know-it-alls that they reject time-honored wisdom in favor of their own machinations.
 
      Such was, unfortunately, the case with Einstein, whose criticism of the Bible presupposes that he had such wonderful personal values that he did not need to receive them from some “childish” book. Sadly, though he was the smartest man of the twentieth century, his values were severely lacking. Readers of Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography Einstein: His Life and Universe will discover some of the dirty laundry of Einstein’s personal life that was already public knowledge – for example, his unfaithfulness to his wife and how he essentially left her to marry his cousin. What they will be shocked to discover, however, is a man whose personal failings were often justified by very questionable values.
 
      When, in 1917, his son Eduard got sick with lung inflammation, Einstein wrote to his best friend, “My little boy’s condition depresses me greatly. It is impossible that he will become a fully developed person. Who knows if it wouldn’t be better for him if he could depart before coming to know life properly.”
 
      As if this statement weren’t shocking enough, he then ruminated concerning Eduard to another friend about employing “the Spartan method” – leaving sickly children out on a mountain to die. One cowers in disbelief to witness a once-in-a-millennium intellect deliberating whether to discard his own child and allow him to be slowly devoured by the elements.
 
      If Einstein had instead looked to the values of the Bible, he would have discovered that every human life, whether healthy or diseased, beautiful or disfigured, is of infinite value and sanctity. Indeed, the Bible (Deuteronomy 12:30-31) attacks the ancient pagan practice of child sacrifice, in which children were seen as naught but the means by which to appease the angry gods, as an “abomination to the Eternal, which He hateth.”
 
      Einstein, for long periods of his life, was essentially a deadbeat dad. His son Hans Albert felt so neglected by his father – who when teaching in Berlin during the First World War visited only every few months – that in November 1917 the boy took to writing his father nasty letters telling him not to visit.
 
      Seemingly insensitive to the wounds harbored by a neglected eleven year old, Einstein followed the advice and stayed away. “The unkind tone of your letter dismays me very much. I see that my visit would bring you little joy. Therefore, I think it is wrong to sit in a train for two hours and twenty minutes” (the train time between Berlin and Zurich, where the boy lived with his mother).
 
      And Einstein, after getting his future wife Mileva pregnant, seems to have had the baby given up for adoption without ever having met her, a fact that did not come to light until approximately 30 years after his death.
 
      Personal life aside, an even greater indictment of Einstein concerns the misguided values inherent in the pacifism he championed through most of his life – until Hitler rose to power and it became clear to him that something had to be done to combat the beast, at which point Einstein not only dismissed his previous pacifism but actually wrote a famous letter to President Roosevelt in August 1939, encouraging him to beat the Germans to building an atomic weapon.
 
      Of course, the book Einstein dismisses as being so childish made it mandatory on all to fight evil and protect the innocent and oppressed even if it means going to war on their behalf. To be a pacifist when victims are slaughtered is to become passively complicit with evil.
 
      None of this means, of course, that Einstein was a bad person. What it does mean is that even Einstein would have to concede his morals were in need of serious realignment. You can be the smartest man alive but it doesn’t mean you will not do incredibly silly things based on seriously misguided ideas. Which is why Jews, however smart or learned, have always turned to the Bible as the source of their morality.
 

      Even Albert Einstein would be wise to remember the words of King David: “Never rely solely on your own understanding.”

 

 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of many books, including “Judaism For Everyone.” Visit his website at www.shmuley.com.

Einstein, The First Post-Zionist

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

“How long can a country survive if its intellectuals are working to undermine the very culture the country was built on?”

That was the question asked by Yoram Hazony, founder of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, a think tank dedicated to countering the influence of Israel’s “new historians” and post-Zionist academics, in his book The Jewish State (Basic Books, 2000), the first thorough – and critical – examination of post-Zionism available in English and still a must-read for anyone interested in Israeli history and politics.

Response to the book’s publication was overwhelmingly positive and came from all points along the political spectrum.

The late A.M. Rosenthal was quick to label the book a “classic,” while Philadelphia Jewish Exponent editor Jonathan Tobin praised it as “the most comprehensive account yet written about the phenomenon of post-Zionism, its origins and how it conflicts with the ideology of those who created Zionism and brought Israel to life.”

Martin Peretz, then-publisher and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, called Hazony’s book “a daring response to the challenge of the ‘new historians’ and post-Zionists…. a bracing text to read: provocative, unrelenting, surprising and tough-minded…. one does not have to agree with everything in the book to recognize the sheer intelligence exhibited on nearly every page.”

Peretz’s assessment was shared by William Kristol, publisher and editor of The Weekly Standard (and now a weekly New York Times columnist) who lauded the book’s “remarkable combination of intellectual history, political analysis and moral polemic.”

Columnist Gideon Samet, writing in Haaretz, bastion of the very thinking so forcefully opposed by Hazony, acknowledged that “What Mr. Hazony has to say about the internal processes that prompted what, in his view, are catastrophic concessions and weakness of character is worthy of close attention.”

In his book, Hazony went beyond the usual personal, ideological and political clashes that have characterized the history of Zionism – Jabotinsky vs. Ben-Gurion, Haganah vs. Irgun, Labor vs. Likud – to demonstrate how the real “struggle for Israel’s soul” (the book’s subtitle) has long been waged between those, like Ben-Gurion and his like-minded mainstream Zionist heirs, for whom Israel never made sense as anything other than an ethnically and (more or less) religiously Jewish state and those whose enlightened sensitivities cause them to recoil at the triumph of primitive tribalism over their ideal of a non-sectarian, binational state.

The book’s villains (not too strong a word in this context) are the coterie of German-Jewish intellectuals – a group that included Judah Magnes, Hannah Arendt, Gershom Scholem, Albert Einstein and Martin Buber – who vociferously opposed the establishment of Israel as a distinctly Jewish state and whose ideas found a welcome home at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, where they flourish to this day.

Einstein, because of his iconic status as the 20th century’s preeminent scientific genius, has largely escaped Jewish criticism for his antipathy to the notion of a Jewish state. But Hazony refused to let the old professor off easy, subjecting Einstein’s socialist/utopian hallucinations to unsparing – and inevitably unflattering – scrutiny.

Einstein was distancing himself from the aspirations of Jewish nationalism at least as early as 1929, stating in a letter to Chaim Weizmann that if the Jews are “unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering, and deserve all that will come to us.”

Nine years later, in a speech in New York, Einstein declared, “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state…. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period.”

In January 1946, Einstein traveled to Washington to tell the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, “The state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and a narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”

No wonder Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who offered the presidency of Israel to Einstein purely as a public-relations gesture, said to his personal secretary, “Tell me what to do if he says yes. I had to offer the post to him because it’s impossible not to. But if he accepts, we are in for trouble.”

Hazony’s critique of Martin Buber was an equally overdue scolding of a figure whose philosophical flimflam – existentialism made easy by a sugarcoating of religious phraseology – attracted those drawn to the writings of the French Marxist Jean-Paul Sartre but unprepared to accept the implications of Sartre’s godless, ultimately meaningless universe.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/einstein-the-first-post-zionist/2008/04/09/

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