Leading with science
President Reuven Rivlin accepts honorary PhD
The Weizmann Institute of Science bestowed an honorary doctorate on Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, one of eight individuals to receive the PhD honoris causa in a festive ceremony on November 12, during the 71st Annual General Meeting of the International Board. An excerpt from President Rivlin’s keynote speech is below.
On the third of April 1934, a festive ceremony took place to inaugurate the Sieff Research Institute.
In honor of the celebration, (as they reported it in the newspaper at the time), the British flag and the Hebrew flag flew above the building.
Fourteen years before the establishment of the State of Israel, at the time of the British Mandate, the leaders of the Jewish settlement—which at the time numbered about 300,000 men, women and children—succeeded in founding an institute for scientific research, the third in line after the Technion in Haifa, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among those who attended the ceremony was Professor Richard Martin Willstätter.
In 1915, this Jewish-German chemist was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In 1924, he retired from his work at the academy in Munich because of the anti-Semitism of some members of the faculty. In 1938, he escaped from the Nazi threat to Switzerland, where he died in 1942.
But for one moment in time, between retiring due to anti-Semitism and his escape to Switzerland, at the height of the darkness that had overcome Europe, he stood here and very precisely defined the mission of the new Institute. And I quote: “In my vision, I see above the gates of the Institute, neither in bronze nor in writing, yet nevertheless clearly, these three inscriptions: ‘Work for the development of science! Work for the prosperity of the Land of Israel! Work for the benefit of humanity!’”
This is what he wrote.
Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the scientist, the statesman, and the President, pushed for the establishment of the Sieff Institute because he believed that “Torah shall go forth from Zion” with science, with research, with invention, with creativity, with innovation and with enterprise. Eight-five years later, one can say with confidence that the Weizmann Institute has realized not only Chaim Weizmann’s vision, but also the vision of Professor Willstätter.
And not just the Weizmann Institute.
Our little ‘start-up nation’ is acclaimed in many parts of the world; our academia is considered to be a beacon of knowledge, both theoretical and practical. Our entrepreneurial thinking, our scientific inventions, the technology that is developed here—all of these have become a focal point for pilgrimage.
I meet many leaders from all over the world who want to learn from us and collaborate with us for the development of science, for the benefit of all mankind. And this is a significant part of the prosperity of Israel—of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel.
Distinguished guests—science, as we are taught in school, is something that is very accurate, linear, clear, understandable, distinct. Sequential. Cause and effect. But whoever is accepted into the world of science for his or her higher education—whether it is in biology or chemistry, physics or mathematics, biochemistry, or even computer science—is aware of the fact that science is not just a linear process.
The most complex discoveries, the most surprising, the most amazing, have resulted from a breaking down an accepted concept, from breaking through the standard thought process, which we think of as being a measured pace, step by step.
The leaders of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel established educational institutions for the children of the settlement long before there was a country here. They did so with the same attention and concern with which they invested in the livelihood of the inhabitants and the pioneers of the Aliya.
They invested in building the infrastructure of higher education, culture and research, with the same concern they had when establishing communities, developing dairy farms, and planting agricultural crops. They understood that basic needs are also dependent on fulfilling spiritual needs. They realized that a nation is not built along one linear line, but in parallel.
And it is precisely here the Weizmann Institute which for many years has been known as—and rightly so—“The MIT of the Middle East,” that I want to remind us all that the economic future, as well as the social strength and security, of the State of Israel, lies in its capacity to realize its scientific and technological potential. That investment in higher education, in science and research, is an essential component of building the national home in Israel, the construction of which is not yet complete.
And meanwhile, the State of Israel must promote and nurture the humanities, which are—and which Professor Nussbaum, who wrote a book about it, will testify—a necessary and irreplaceable piece of the infrastructure for every culture, for every country, for the social strength and vitality of every society.
The spiritual treasures of the Jewish people—and Rabbi Steinsaltz will undoubtedly explain this better than I—are the wind beneath our wings. It is thanks to them that we have been able to maintain an unbroken dynasty of generations. Without them we would not have survived for thousands of years as a people without a home.
Without them, we would not have been able to establish a state, and turn it into the prosperous country that it is.
“If there is no flour, there is no Torah. And if there is no Torah there is no flour.”
Without literature, the Bible, and history, no matter how many study units of mathematics and science are taught in schools, this will not be the worthy society that our Zionist fathers and mothers dreamed of establishing.
This will not be the worthy society that we want to bequeath to our children.
I thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me, both for the title itself, and for receiving this alongside such wonderful men and women.
God bless you all.