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Transcending Tradition

 "Transcending Tradition " - Jewish Mathematicians in German-Speaking Academic Culture

​A new exhibition titled "Transcending Tradition" opened at the National Library on Sunday, February 12, 2012. The exhibition traces the impressive contributions of Jews to the development of mathematics in German-speaking countries, from the 19th century until the rise of the Nazis to power.


Through photographs and documents, some of which are being revealed for the first time, the exhibition sheds light on this "golden age" of Jewish mathematicians in German-speaking countries.


Alongside the mathematical contributions, the exhibition presents moving life stories of important researchers, among them two prominent female mathematicians – Hilda Geiringer (1893-1973) and Emmy Noether (1882-1935) – as well as noted mathematicians such as Hermann Minkowski, Edmund Landau, Richard Courant, Felix Hausdorff, Abraham Halevi Fraenkel, and many others who helped shape modern mathematics and physics.  

Transcending Tradition











The exhibition is taking place with the cooperation of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt and the German "Telekom" Trust, and is divided into nine parts: the first two parts are a general introduction, while the remaining parts summarize the persecution and exile, and examine the rates of return of Jewish scientists and researchers to Germany after 1945.


The exhibition focuses on the mathematicians in the various locations of their activity - among them Berlin, Goettingen, Bonn, and Frankfurt - and displays photographs, publications, and more. In addition, on display are textbooks and manuscripts, some of which represent the most important mathematical works of that time. The exhibition also surverys the surprising efforts, most of them futile, of Jewish mathematicians to return to German universities following the fall of the Nazi regime and the end of the war.


One item on display which is of particular interest is Abraham Halevi Fraenkel's letter of refusal to an invitation he received to return and teach at the University of Kiel following the war. The letter was intentionally written in Hebrew, despite the fact that German was Fraenkel's mother tongue. At the end of the letter, he writes:


"I think it would be even from a purely objective point of view, an impossible idea for any Jew to live again in a country whose population – to a large extent actively and for the rest almost entirely passively – has been responsible for the extermination of more than five millions of Jews, the third part of my People, under conditions of cruelty not experienced for thousands of years. It would be intolerable to live among such a nation."


The exhibition, which also deals with the legacy left by the mathematicians for future generations, has been displayed in different parts of Germany in cooperation with the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, and has been recognized with an award by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Due to its great success, it was decided to make "Transcending Tradition" into a roaming exhibition, and its international edition has recently arrived in Israel.


The exhibition has appeared in Israel once before, but the National Library has added its own unique exhibit that includes original manuscripts, photographs and documents of some of the premier German mathematicians whose archives are located at the National Library. Among these are Lazarus Bendavid, Zvi Hermann Schapira, Hermann Minkowski, Edmund Landau, and Abrahan Halevi Fraenkel. Among the items to be premiered at the exhibition is a letter by Edmund Landau written in perfect Hebrew, in which he recommends appointing Fraenkel as  Head of the Institute of Mathematics; photographs of Abraham Halevi Fraenkel as a young soldier in the German Army during the First World War, the document appointing Zvi Hermann Schapira as a professor at Heidelberg University, signed and stamped by Duke Friedrich, and more.


The exhibition will open with a special event on the evening of Sunday, February 12, 2012. The Israel Contemporary String Quartet will accompany the event, and speakers will include Professor Leo Corry from Tel-Aviv University and Professor Aviva Chalamish from the Open University.


On opening night, the exhibition will open to the public at 7 p.m.. 

The exhibition will be open to the public, free of charge, from Sunday, 12.2.2012 until Friday, 2.3.2012.

Opening hours:  Sunday - Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7:30 p.m. and Friday - 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.


The exhibition has a complete catalogue in English. ​

  • Fraenkel's letter of refusal to the invitation to return and teach in Germany after the war
  • Fraenkel's letter of refusal to the invitation to return and teach in Germany after the war
  • Fraenkel was the Head of the Institute of Mathematics.
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    Abraham Halevi Fraenkel, an important mathematician who arrived in Israel in 1929
  • Fraenkel was the Head of the Institute of Mathematics.
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    A page from Fraenkel's draft dealing with measurements in Jewish Sources
  • Pages from Minkowki's notebook
  • Document appointing Schapira professor at Heidelberg University
  • printed by Lebanon Publishing in Warsaw.
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    Photograph of Dr. Hermann Schapira, in the framework of the "Magenei David"
  • as professor at Heidelberg University. Schapira was the first to suggest a Jewish National Fund.
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    Stamp of Duke Friedrich on the appointment letter of Zvi Hermann Schapira