Today, February 17, is the birthday of Adolf Abraham Halevi Fraenkel, a mathematician best-known for his work on set theory. However, Fraenkel, who was born in Munich in 1891, also published work on the history of mathematics and on Judaism. Additionally, he was known for his ardent Zionism, which led to his eventual prominence as Hebrew University’s first Dean of Mathematics (and acting as Rector of Hebrew University from 1938-1940).
Like many Europeans, Fraenkel attended several universities and eventually received his doctorate summa cum laude from the University of Marburg in January 1914. Although he intended on entering an academic career, the outbreak of World War I delayed any such action. Instead, Fraenkel served in the German army for the duration of the war, most of the time in either the medical or meteorological corps. He then began teaching at the University of Marburg and eventually switched schools in 1928 when he accepted a professorship at Christian-Albert University of Kiel.
One year later, Fraenkel decided to accept an invitation for a professorship at Hebrew University, which had opened four years earlier. Due to numerous challenges, especially financial, Fraenkel returned to Kiel in 1932. But, it was not long before the Nazis began moving into power. Fraenkel took a leave of absence and returned to Jerusalem - permanently.
In addition to his straight mathematics, Fraenkel was excellent at using his knowledge. He wrote books making complex concepts approachable and applied his skills to helping assess Jewish calendar issues (like the international dateline). He also wrote and talked about Jewish thought and philosophy.
Fraenkel also involved himself in politics. During the British Mandate, he was a member of the Jewish National Council and the Jewish Assembly of Representatives. Within Israeli politics, he was a member of the Mizrachi religious party.
Abraham Fraenkel passed away unexpectedly on October 15, 1965.
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