Friday, May 15, 2015

Math and Science

Born in Bialystock on March 31, 1810, Hayyim Selig Slonimski completed writing his first textbook on mathematics when he was only 24 years old. Alas, finances were so tight that the young scholar was only able to publish half of the textbook. The next year, however, he managed to release a collection of scientific essays - including one on Halley’s Comet. These, and his future works, were all written in Hebrew and brought many newer scientific concepts to the Orthodox population of Eastern Europe (where he was accepted because of his known strictness in his observance of Jewish law).

In 1838, Slonimski moved to Warsaw and became acquainted with Abraham Jacob Stern (1768-1842), who was a mathematician and inventor. Slonimski later married his mentor’s youngest daughter, Sarah Stern.

Slonimski’s first invention, a calculating machine, was presented publicly at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences* and was awarded the Demidov Prize and received 2,500 rubles. The Slonimski Theorum behind the machine significantly influenced many future mathematical developments. Slonimski also invented a chemical process for plating iron vessels with lead, as well as a device for sending quadruple telegrams, which had a profound effect on the fledgling telegraphic communication industry.

In 1862, Slonimski opened a weekly Hebrew scientific newsletter, Ha’tsefirah. Six months later, however, Slonimski accepted the position of principal of the rabbinical seminary in Zhitomer (while also serving as a government censor of Hebrew books). When the seminary was closed by the government in 1874, Slonimski resumed the publication of Ha’tsefirah.

Hayyim Selig Slonimski passed away on May 15, 1904.

*There is some speculation that the calculating machine was Stern’s, who had passed away a few years earlier.

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