Israeli professor with ties to Palo Alto wins Nobel Prize

Part of the library at Congregation Emek Beracha, otherwise known as the Palo Alto Orthodox Minyan, is named in memory of Shlomo Aumann, an Israeli soldier who was killed in the Lebanon War.

That soldier was the son of Robert J. Aumann, a professor at Hebrew University, who Monday, Oct. 10 learned that he and fellow scientist Thomas C. Schelling of the University of Maryland had won the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics for their game theory analysis.

Aumann, who is called Jonny by his friends, has spent significant amounts of time during sabbaticals at Stanford University, and whenever there, has been very active with Emek Beracha.

According to Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman, spiritual leader of Emek Beracha, Aumann spent a year at Stanford in the mid-’70s, a crucial time in the shul’s history. While at Stanford, Aumann got very involved in the local Orthodox community, frequently hosting an Orthodox minyan in his home.

“That was an important year in terms of the decision to make this place,” said Feldman. “It was a combination of the Stanford Hillel Orthodox minyan, which had gotten together many years, and some people who had left the Conservative shul. Jonny was part of knitting those two groups together.”

In fact, Feldman said that when he was in Jerusalem in the mid-’90s and considering whether to come to Palo Alto, Aumann was the first person he spoke with, as someone who was familiar with the community.

Stan Sussman, a member of Emek Beracha, added that Aumann’s daughter met her husband at Stanford.

Feldman added that Aumann once wrote a widely published paper using game theory to solve a popular problem in the Talmud, sparking a greater interest in Talmud study among mathematicians.

Aumann was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but holds U.S. and Israeli citizenship.

He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1950 from the City College of New York and continued his education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1955.

Aumann has been a member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mathematics Department since 1956, and has been a professor emeritus since 2001. In 1991, he became a member of the Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Rationality.

For over 30 years, Aumann has been a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He serves on the editorial board of many academic publications in the fields of mathematics, economics and game theory.

In 1994, Aumann was awarded the Israel Prize in Economics.

Aumann is not the first Israeli to win the Nobel Prize in economics. In 2002, Daniel Kahneman, who also is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Rationality, received the prestigious award.

Hebrew University President Menachem Gidor said he learned from reporters that Aumann had won the prestigious prize.

“We believe that Professor Aumann deserved the prize for many years,” Gidor told Israel Radio, saying Aumann’s work is “original” and “ground-breaking.”

Science and Technology Minister Matan Vilna’i sent his congratulations to Aumann. The minister described the Hebrew University professor as “a world leader in game theory, one of the most gifted mathematicians in the world who developed new theories in basic science with practical applications.”

He is “one of the most talented minds to grow in Israeli science,” Vilna’i said.

The minister also said that Aumann’s winning of the prize “proves that the state of Israel continues to stand at the forefront of science and that we must continue to preserve this status. Investment in scientific infrastructure is the basis for development and from it, new discoveries will emerge.”

Rebecca Stoil writes for the Jerusalem Post Service. Alexandra J. Wall is a staff writer for j.