A Jerusalem Yankee in the King of Sweden’s Court

Motzei Shabbat 9 bKislev

Luckily for Jews, Alfred Nobel passed away on December 10 and not during the summer over a century ago. The King of Sweden awards the Nobel Prizes annually on December 10 in Stockholm in memory of Nobel and this can pose a problem for a Sabbath-observing Jew who wins the prize during those years when December 10th falls on Saturday. If the Prize were awarded during the summer, it would be impossible to attend when the ceremony would fall on Shabbat, since Shabbat in Stockholm is not over until about midnight. But since the awards are always given in December, Shabbat in Stockholm is over by 4 pm, and because the ceremony begins at 4:30, an Orthodox Jew can make it to the ceremony .

Robert Aumann applauds fellow laureate SchellingFor two Israeli Orthodox Jewish Nobel laureates, December 10 indeed fell on Shabbat. It happened in 1966 with S.Y. Agnon, and again this year. Robert Israel Aumann was awarded the Nobel Prize and I wrote about the various conflicts & challenges in a Jerusalem Post article titled “When the Nobel meets the Sabbath”, in the Opinion section of the Dec. 9 Magazine.

There you can read about how Robert Israel Aumann’s entourage (his children, 19 grandchildren, 2 greatgrandchildren and colleagues) solved the problems involving keeping Shabbat, avoiding Shatnez (forbidden wool and linen combo in clothes), and getting kosher substitutes for the turtle soup and other delicacies at the banquet.

Aumann was born in 1930 in Frankfurt to Orthodox German-Jewish parents who fled eight years later to NY where he went to Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva. After MIT studies, he made aliyah to Israel in 1956, settling in Jerusalem. This Jerusalem Yankee taught at Hebrew University and made breakthroughs in game theory and mathematical economics. You can see videos of the ceremony and lecture by Aumann on

the Nobel website. Particularly moving and original is his short banquet speech in the presence of the king on that site.

You can also learn which 3 brachot to recite in case you become a laureate, by reading the delightful Nobel speech of S.Y. Agnon.

In an interview, you can read how Aumann got started in his research decades ago when studying the topology of bagels. This interview also gives insight into his scientific work and how he relates to Jewish tradition.

A number of good articles about different facets of this noble Jew are also available.

Yasher koah and mazel tov to Robert Israel Aumann.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via www.cross-currents.com.

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5 Responses

  1. Joshua Nathan says:

    Its nice that something can be written here that doesn’t knock anyone or the State of
    Israel. Keep up the good work.


  2. Moshe Hillson says:

    “Luckily for Jews, Alfred Nobel passed away on December 10 and not during the summer over a century ago”
    When December 10th falls on a Friday, it’s unlucky for Jews, for the exact same reason ….

  3. Shira Schmidt says:

    12 b Kislev
    Moshe Hillson,you are absolutely right. I should have written:

    Luckly for Jews, the December 10 yahrzeit of Alfred Nobel, did not fall on Friday this year. It fell on Shabbat, and that was difficult enough. The Nobel Prizes are awarded yearly late in the afternoon on Dec. 10th in Stockholm, In the winter Shabbat begins there about 2:30 pm Friday and ends Saturday about 4 pm. So this year, the Orthodox Jewish Prize winner from Israel, Professor Robert Israel Aumann, could just about make it to the ceremony that started at 4:30. In fact, he and his 35 children, grandchildren and colleagues walked over to the ceremony and made it only minutes before the arrival of the King. Had the Dec. 10 ceremony fallen on Friday late afternoon, Professor Aumann might not have been able to attend.

  4. MP says:

    Particularly moving and original is his short banquet speech in the presence of the king on that site.
    You can also learn which 3 brachot to recite in case you become a laureate, by reading the delightful Nobel speech of S.Y. Agnon.

    NB that Aumann didn’t follow in the steps of Agnon’s “And now that I have come so far, I will recite one blessing more, as enjoined upon him who beholds a monarch: «Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who hast given of Thy glory to a king of flesh and blood.»” The reason, as quoted from a message sent by an e-mail acquaintance, was that “Dr. Aumann asked Rav Aaron Lichtenstein whether he was mechuyav to recite the bracha «she’natan michvodo l’basar va’dam» when he shakes the hand of the Swedish king but was told «no» since the king had no formal powers.”

    As another e-mail acquaintance said in response, “This is reminiscent of ROY’s [Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s] psak to the person attending the Aqaba summit in 1994 where he saw at the same time Bill Clinton, King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin. He asked whether he needed to make the berakha of «asher halak m’kvodo» upon seeing any or all of these leaders. R. Ovadia paskened as follows: Clinton – No; Rabin – No; Hussein – Yes. Reason: Of the three, only Hussein
    had the power to summarily execute any of his citizens without due process.”

  5. Charles B. Hall says:

    For a really inspiring take on this I recommend Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo’s essay which was just added to his web site:


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