Einstein: The Jew and the Genius

The journal Science and the Spirit has a gem of an article about Albert Einstein in the December 2005 edition, entitled...The Jew and the Genius: "At the age of twelve, Einstein abandoned Judaism, refused to become a bar mitzvah, and vowed never again to set foot in a synagogue."

Karen C. Fox describes the man: "The world's greatest scientist possessed perhaps the world's least predictable mind. Over the course of his lifetime, Albert Einstein consistently demonstrated the maddening ability to challenge convictions, embrace contradictions, and see the error of everyone else's ways."

One passage indicates how complex was his Zionism:
"This is very awkward, very awkward," Einstein muttered to himself as he paced the floor of his Princeton, New Jersey, home. It was 1952, and Einstein had been offered the presidency of Israel following the death of Chaim Weizmann.

Meanwhile, 5,700 miles away, many Israeli leaders were equally distraught. "What will we do if he accepts?" they whispered. For better or for worse, they were never forced to find out. Einstein turned down the offer, telling the Israelis that he didn't have the skills for politics, but explaining to his stepdaughter Margot, "If I were to be president, sometimes I would have to say to the Israeli people things they would not like to hear."

Indeed, he regularly did tell Israelis things they didn't want to hear, specifically, criticisms of Israel's hostilities toward its neighbors. When Einstein decided to leave Germany in 1932, many in what is now Israel were angry that he chose to move to the United States rather than take a position at Jerusalem's Hebrew University; Einstein cited the Israeli treatment of Arabs as one of the reasons for his decision. Later, in the fall of 1948, Einstein went so far as to include his signature on an open letter, printed in The New York Times, that compared the tactics used by Menachem Begin's political party to those of the Nazis. This was one of the harshest comparisons Einstein could have made, and yet he still claimed to love Israel deeply.
In the same issue Katharine Dunn write about Faith-Based Space saying that, "Some of the world's leading cosmologists believe they will solve the biggest mysteries of the universe with the laws of physics and the lens of the telescope. Others cast their eyes to the heavens and cite God as an explanation for what we cannot prove or understand. All of them agree: The truths of life will reveal themselves - if only we're observant." She goes on,
"Professor!" Kerr reportedly called out to Einstein as discussion heated up. "I hear that you are supposed to be deeply religious." To that, the story goes, Einstein replied: "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious."

"Religious," but without a traditional God. Einstein did not pray, nor did he have faith in a deity who interfered in day-to-day life. Rather, as he told Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue in 1929, he believed in "Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists." By the time he was fifty, Einstein's view of God had been so greatly influenced by the seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza - who had altogether rejected the Judeo-Christian personal God - that he, too, believed it was the universe that was ultimately divine.

repost from 11/14/05


Anonymous said...

What this article failed to mention is that although many institutions approached Einstein, asking him if they could take his name as the name of their institution, the only one he gave permission to was Yeshiva University's medical school (although by the time the school opened its doors Einstein had already passed away). If that doesn't show his connection to Judaism then I don't know what does.

Danny said...

Why this preoccupation with Einstein position on Zionism? Ok, he spoke against Zhabotinsky. Who cares? We don't expect pronouncements on physics from Sharon. Politics wasn't Einstein's field.