Physics in Perspective

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 336–380 | Cite as

The Genesis of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

  • Issachar Unna


The creation of a good physics department in the newly established Hebrew University in Jerusalem (opened in 1925) was an important goal for Chaim Weizmann, President of the Zionist Organization and founder of the University (and chemist, by profession). A. H. Fraenkel, the mathematician, and L. S. Ornstein, the physicist from Utrecht, invested a lot of effort in achieving this goal. Albert Einstein was consulted on an almost day-to-day basis. Serious attempts were made to bring a first-rate theoretician to Jerusalem. After 1933, the chances for getting such a physicist were actually very good. George Placzek worked in Jerusalem during the academic year 1934–1935. Felix Bloch, Eugene Wigner, and Fritz London were offered positions as theoretical physicists in Jerusalem and considered the offers favorably. The discussions and correspondence with these great physicists are illuminating. Budget limitations, the problem of the teaching language (Hebrew) and the seclusion of Jerusalem from science centers in Europe or the United States undermined all these efforts. A solution was found when Giulio Racah from Italy finally was appointed.

Key words. Hebrew University of Jerusalem; A. Einstein; C. Weizmann; A.H. Fraenkel; L.S. Ornstein; S. Sambursky; E. Alexander; G. Wolfson; R. Samuel; G. Placzek; F. Bloch; E. Wigner; F. London; M. Schiffer; G. Racah. 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Issachar Unna
    • 1
  1. 1.Racah Institute of Physics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel, e-mail:

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