The Israel Academy of Sciences, an institution so cloistered that no president or prime minister since David Ben-Gurion has visited the premises, is inviting the public the celebrate its 50th birthday with an unprecedented event: the first-ever public showing of Albert Einstein’s 46-page original manuscripts of his General Theory of Relativity, handwritten in German.
Most of the public knows little about the General Theory of Relativity, regarded by Einstein Archives expert Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund as “the Magna Carta of physics – and a work of art.”
Developed by the German-born Jewish physicist between 1907 and 1915, it is a theory of gravitation that underlies important theories in modern cosmology, from the Big Bang to black holes, and is considered a cornerstone of modern physics.
Scientists consider it even more important than Einstein’s earlier Special Theory of Relativity, proposed in 1905 and popularly known for presenting the formula for the lightspeed constant, E=MC2.
The 131st anniversary of Einstein’s birth will be marked on March 14.
Gutfreund, a former president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, showed the documents to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday in a darkened room in the Academy. Each handwritten page is being kept in a separate illuminated, glass-covered box, with the complete text set in a rectangle around the exhibit room.
From there, visitors can enter another room to hear explanations about the text and view the sitting statue of Einstein in the academy’s garden.
Gutfreund said he already knows that the exhibit – organized jointly with Hebrew University – is a success because of the great interest already shown in Israel and around the world.
Ordinarily, the 70,000 other items that were bestowed by Einstein’s will to the university, to whom the physicist bequeathed his image, are kept under lock and key in a temperature-and-humidity-controlled basement on the university’s Givat Ram campus.
The General Theory of Relativity, he added, was the most important among all the items in the Einstein Archives, making it the academy’s and university’s choice for the anniversary display. The genius physicist gave the manuscript to the university, of which he was a founder, when it opened in 1925.
“This exhibit represents Einstein’s strong links with the university,” said Gutfreund. “In 1919, when it became clear to him that the Jews of the world were in a terrible situation and anti-Semitism was rampant, he joined the Zionist movement and devoted much of his time to the establishment of Hebrew University.
“The manuscript expresses one of the most important phases in modern science. It changed our understanding of space, time, gravitation and really the entire universe and cosmology. It is the basis for modern technologies such as satellites and global positioning systems that were developed much later.”
Gutfreund noted that the manuscript was previously kept on Mount Scopus. In 1948, when the Jordanians took over eastern Jerusalem and the original campus had to be abandoned except for bi-weekly visits by police guards, access to the manuscript became difficult.
Just last week, Gutfreund met a woman whose father, leading librarian Akiva Distenfeld, had dressed in a police uniform to bring the manuscript to west Jerusalem for deposit in the Terra Sancta monastery. The university shared space with the monastery until the opening of the Givat Ram campus.
Einstein, who turned down an offer to be president of Israel before his death in 1955, “had a strong connection to the Jewish people,” Gutfreund said, although his two sons from his first marriage were not Jewish and he had no children from his second wife, who was. One of the sons was mentally ill and the other was a professor in California.
Although he is an expert in Einstein’s personal life and his contributions to science, Gutfreund could not explain how the physicist got his genius or why he is even more popular today then during his lifetime.
“There were many people who had similar childhoods and environmental exposures. But no one else turned out to be an Einstein,” he said. The HU expert is not aware of any details in Einstein’s theories that have been proven wrong.
Academy president Prof. Menahem Ya’ari said that despite efforts by the academy to inform the public about its work in promoting scientific research, it is not well known, and even Israeli leaders don’t accept invitations to come.
“We don’t work with money; we work with intelligence, that’s the truth.
Society is anti-intellectual. Ben-Gurion was different, as he was very
interested and respected scientists,” he said.
The exhibit is open at the academy’s headquarters next door to Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem until March 25.
While presidents of 20 science academies from China and Japan to
Germany and Sweden will view it during a two-day conference next week,
members of the public can arrange a viewing by calling Rivka Gavriel at