Yom Kippur and the Nobels

On Monday, the Karolinska Institute will announce the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, kicking off a week of science Nobel announcements. And millions of Jews around the world will be in synagogue, observing the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews, and even some Conservative Jews, like my family, don?t answer the phone on the holiday, even if they?re home. So that begs a question: What if an observant Jew is among the winners of the Physiology or Medicine pri

Ivan Oransky
Sep 27, 2006
On Monday, the Karolinska Institute will announce the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, kicking off a week of science Nobel announcements. And millions of Jews around the world will be in synagogue, observing the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews, and even some Conservative Jews, like my family, don?t answer the phone on the holiday, even if they?re home. So that begs a question: What if an observant Jew is among the winners of the Physiology or Medicine prize? It?s not a purely academic question. Between 1901 and 1990, 160 of all 660 Nobels (science and non-science) were won by Jews. I don?t have any stats since then, but a spot-check: 2000 Physiology or Medicine prize winner Eric Kandel is Jewish, and in fact fled the Holocaust, having been raised in Vienna. Elie Wiesel got the 5 a.m. call about his Nobel Peace Prize...
nd millions of Jews around the world will be in synagogue, observing the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews, and even some Conservative Jews, like my family, don?t answer the phone on the holiday, even if they?re home. So that begs a question: What if an observant Jew is among the winners of the Physiology or Medicine prize? It?s not a purely academic question. Between 1901 and 1990, 160 of all 660 Nobels (science and non-science) were won by Jews. I don?t have any stats since then, but a spot-check: 2000 Physiology or Medicine prize winner Eric Kandel is Jewish, and in fact fled the Holocaust, having been raised in Vienna. Elie Wiesel got the 5 a.m. call about his Nobel Peace Prize the day after Yom Kippur in 1986. At least one winner in recent years received the news on the day itself: Howard Pinter, for literature, last year. Another one, Avram Hershko, who shared the 2004 chemistry prize, was in the mountains celebrating another Jewish holiday, Sukkot, with his family when the call came. I contacted a press officer at the Royal Academy of Sciences, which chooses the chemistry, physics, and economics prizes, to find out whether they had any contingency plans, should the winner turn out to be an observant Jew who wouldn?t answer the phone on the holiday. Of course, religion plays no part in the prize work, Jonas Forare told me via Email, after checking with the secretary at the Karolinska to make sure they had the same procedures. If a winner is out or unable to be reached for whatever reason, ?they?ll probably hear about it,? the press officer said. Maybe in a sermon.

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