Science, Technology and Space Minister Ya’akov Peri expressed his sorrow on Monday over the death of onetime ministry director-general, publicist and philosopher Zvi Yanai at the age of 78.
He edited the influential Hebrew-language journal Mahshavot (Thoughts) and was a consultant and lecturer in the field of science, culture and philosophy, even though he was largely self-taught.
Born in Italy, as Sandro Toth, to a Jewish ballerina from Austria and a Christian baritone singer from Hungary, Yanai was raised as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism and studied to be a priest at the age of eight.
He immigrated to Mandatory Palestine at the age of 10 and was sent to a kibbutz. He later served in the Israel Defense Force and worked at IBM-Israel for many years.
Yanai became a self-described atheist, but nevertheless felt a strong connection to Jewish history and thought.
“Besides Zvi being a rare philosopher and author with an unusual life story, he was director-general of the ministry between 1973 and 1997.
Some of its current programs continue to function due to his initiatives. His then-innovative ideas to bring the general public closer to science will continue to be the basis for many of our activities in the future,” Peri said.
Yanai was a “pioneer who opened up the world of science to the layman. His work can still be identified in popular culture today,” he concluded.