Top Israeli professor reflects on meeting ‘great human being’ Stephen Hawking

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Top Israeli professor reflects on meeting ‘great human being’ Stephen Hawking

Barak Kol of Hebrew University’s Racah Institute of Physics remembers meeting the world-famous scientist

Professor Stephen Hawking has died aged 76

Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire
Professor Stephen Hawking has died aged 76 Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire

A top Israeli professor has paid tribute to Stephen Hawking following his death, as he recalled how a debate with between the British academic and a Jerusalem physicist led to a breakthrough theory on the thermodynamics of black holes.

Barak Kol, who heads Hebrew University (HU)’s Racah Institute of Physics, spoke about Hawking’s debate with Jacob Bekenstein, a HU physicist, which led to the groundbreaking change in thought.

Paying tribute to the scientist, Kol said: “We in Israel, like all over the world, were saddened by the news.

“Hawking was one of the leading scientists of our time, and also a great human being. Struggling with his illness in a way that let him lead a meaningful life, that’s what made him a celebrity and someone who was known in every household.”

Prof. Barak Kol

Kol met Hawking several times, adding that the time it took for him to reply meant communication was usually one-way, either by listening to a pre-prepared lecture of his, or by him listening in to the scientific conversation of others.

“Hawking was known for his contributions on Einstein’s theory of gravity, black holes and cosmology, to the very beginning of the universe, and quantum mechanics, but his single most important contribution was on the radiation of black holes,” said Kol.

When he met Bekenstein in the 1970s, Kol said, the two debated. “Before then, we thought nothing could escape from a black hole, not even light,” said Kol. “But Bekenstein showed that black holes had what I’ll call ‘heat,’ in other words that they were cold but not freezing, as you might expect.”

Picture of Jacob D. Bekenstein in his office at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

Hawking initially opposed Bekenstein’s idea on the grounds that a black hole could not radiate energy and therefore could not have entropy, but in 1974, the British don recalculated and aw that particles could in fact emit from black holes.

Hawking, who visited Israel four times, was known for his support for the Palestinians and in 2013, drew Israeli anger for his decision to join the academic boycott of Israel.

The physicist cancelled his participation in a Jerusalem conference sponsored by then-president Shimon Peres, according to Times of Israel.

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank,” Hawking wrote in a letter at the time.

Hawking also encouraged support for investment in Palestinian science in 2017.


Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.

We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.

Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”

read more: