Who has not heard of Albert Einstein? Who has not heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity and the role this theory played in developing the atom bomb?
But who has heard of Bruria Kaufman? Do you know that without her input into the mathematical formula, Einstein would not have been able to develop his theory? Did you know that with Bruria Kaufman’s cooperation Albert Einstein wrote two major scientific papers that promoted his global fame, and it was Bruria Kaufman’s co-authorship that produced Einstein’s famous textbook about the meaning of relativity?
Who was this brilliant woman and how did she become Einstein’s assistant?
Bruria Kaufman was the daughter of a Jewish family that had immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union. Already in her youth Bruria showed a keen interest in mathematics.
In the year 1926 the family made aliyah to the then British Mandate for Palestine. They made their home first in Tel Aviv, later moving to Jerusalem. It was in the Holy City that Bruria flourished. Enrolling at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she studied her favorite subject, mathematics, graduating in 1938 with a B.Sc. degree.
The following year she left for the United States to continue her university studies. By 1948, she concluded her studies, earning a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University, and become a research associate at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. It was there that she met Albert Einstein and became his assistant.
During her years of study, Bruria met and married a noted linguist, Zellig S. Harris. Together they returned to Israel and, in 1960, they settled on Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek, where they adopted a daughter, Tamar.
Bruria became a professor of mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, and later on at the University of Haifa. In 1965, when the Hebrew University received Einstein’s estate, Bruria Kaufman was a leading member of the team that published his scientific writings.
Bruria had an illustrious ancestry. Her father, Yehudah Even-Shmuel Kaufman, was an outstanding Hebrew Biblical scholar who won the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies in 1973. Fifteen years earlier he had won the Rabbi Kook Prize for Biblical Studies for having translated into Hebrew Yehuda Halevi’s Kuzari and composed a comprehensive commentary on Maimonides’ The Guide for the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim).
When their daughter Tamar grew into adulthood, Bruria and Zellig left the kibbutz and returned to the US. Zellig Harris had been invited to be a professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, while Bruria served as a visiting professor of mathematics at Columbia University and at the University of Arizona.
In 1992, Professor Harris died in Arizona. Four years later, Bruria married Nobel laureate Willis Eugene Lamb. When this marriage ended in divorce, she returned to her beloved Israel.
She spent her last remaining years in the North of Israel, at a nursing home in Kiryat Tiv’on, not far from Haifa. Bruria Kaufman died in January 2010 at the age of 92 at Carmel Hospital in Haifa, the last of the 20th century’s brilliant Jewish physicists.