Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Professor Herman Branover & The Rebbe

While many Jews might eschew Western science, the Rebbe saw its enormous potential and its amazing compatibility with Torah thought. The Avner Institute would like to present a dialogue, recorded 20 years ago, with Prof. Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, famed scientist and refusenik, who relied on the Rebbe’s professional guidance and sophisticated knowledge.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a charming photo of the Rebbe distributing lekach (honey cake) during the month of Tishrei 5734/1973. With special thinks to Mendy Heyward.

Good Shabbos

Professor Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, born in Riga, Latvia, is a world-renowned authority on magneto-hydrodynamics. While in Russia, Professor Branover's research in this field had won him an international reputation. When Professor Branover applied for an emigration visa to Israel his career in the Soviet Union ended. He was dismissed from the Academy of Sciences in Riga and prevented from continuing his research.

During this time, he was exposed to Chasidic philosophy by members of the Lubavitch underground. When he finally emigrated from the USSR to Israel in 1972, he was a fully observant Jew.

After making aliyah, Professor Branover was in constant demand as a lecturer on the subject of science and Torah. Campus audiences around the globe flocked to hear an acclaimed scientist reconcile his belief in the Torah with the supposed conflicts in modern science.

"In the winter of 1973," relates Professor Branover, "I was on a lecture tour in the United States. Shortly before I lectured at the University of Pennsylvania, I was privileged to have a private meeting with the Rebbe, Among other matters, I mentioned the trip to Philadelphia. The Rebbe commented: 'During your stay in Philadelphia, introduce yourself to a local professor who has an interest in your field.'

"The Rebbe's statement baffled me. I was well acquainted with the names of American scientists involved in magneto-hydrodynamics. I was certain there was no one in my field in Philadelphia.

"I traveled to Philadelphia and the emissary there convinced me that we should visit two universities and check the faculties. After hours of searching, we were introduced to Professor Hsuan Yeh, who was clearly knowledgeable in magneto-hydrodynamics.
"Professor Yeh told me: 'In six weeks there will be a Magneto-Hydrodynamic Energy Convention at Stanford University in California. I will insist that you be added to the list of lecturers.'

"I appreciated the professor's offer, but declined; we were anxious to return to Israel. I returned to New York. Just before leaving, I wrote the Rebbe a report of our trip to Philadelphia, mentioning my encounter with Professor Yeh. The Rebbe advised me to reschedule my plans and to accept the invitation, for the convention presented an important opportunity.

"My wife and I were taken by surprise. However, we were acquainted enough with the Rebbe to value his advice. I called Professor Yeh, who was happy to arrange for me to deliver a lecture.

"The significance of my participation became rapidly clear. I met two representatives of the Office of Naval Research who had read about my work and were prepared to finance further research. They added, 'We understand that you want to establish your laboratory in Israel. We are willing to provide you with funds for your work there.'
"As a result, I set up a laboratory in Beersheva, which has enjoyed worldwide recognition for its magneto-hydrodynamics research. My contract with the Navy has been renewed six times. I couldn't have imagined how far-reaching the Rebbe's advice would be. This year marks 20 years since the Stanford convention. My project has been awarded a 15-million dollar grant by the U.S. government for further research and development of this energy technology."

Professor Branover frequently briefs the Rebbe on his various research projects. In one report, he presented a very sophisticated study built upon extensive calculations that had been prepared by computer. As he reviewed the details, the Rebbe remarked:
"Two numbers here are inconsistent."

Professor Branover was stunned. "But all the calculations were done by computer and the program used is based on the most advanced theory we have."

The Rebbe smiled. "With all due respect to the experts, you will see that there is an error."

It took Professor Branover's research team six months to discover that some of the data entered in the computer's database was faulty.
"In the spring of 1985, I received word that the Rebbe requested to speak to me," relates Professor Branover. "I arrived at 770 as soon as I could. The Rebbe greeted me and informed me of his desire that I relay the message to various persons in Russia.

"The Rebbe unraveled the precise details of the unbelievable change that was going to take place in Russia. With Mikhail Gorbachev's ascent to power, a new era of openness and freedom would begin, the Rebbe prophesied. And waves of Russian Jews would emigrate to Israel.

"If I had heard these words from anyone but the Rebbe, I would have dismissed them as fantasy. As such, I was neither surprised nor offended when the various people in Russia whom I contacted were skeptical. 'Are you sure this is exactly what the Rebbe said?' they asked. And, may I add, these were people who were directing all the Lubavitch underground activities in Russia.

"It was simply that the Rebbe's prediction seemed so far-fetched. In the spring of 1985, newspapers had published front-page articles predicting that Gorbachev's government would follow a Communist hard-line. This was felt even more powerfully by people who were living in the then Soviet Union.

"When I related the response from Russia to the Rebbe, he requested that I contact them once again, assuring them that these changes would indeed take place. The realization of the Rebbe's words is now history.

“In 1992, when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Israel, we were introduced and I told him what the Rebbe had said seven years earlier.

“Gorbachev was stunned. 'When I assumed power in 1987,' he told me, 'I myself did not have the slightest idea which direction this would take. I had no concrete plan. I would like to meet this man who knew so much about the direction I and my country would follow.'"

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