Beloved math professor Eliezer Ehrenpreis passed away in mid-August.
Eliezer “Leon” Ehrenpreis, a mathematics professor at Temple for 26 years, was known as “the kindly superman” among mathematicians for his remarkably diverse accomplishments, according to the Israel National News.
On Aug. 16, the 80-year-old professor died of heart failure in New York.
In addition to his research and instruction of graduate seminars and courses, Ehrenpreis was a Torah scholar, a rabbi and a marathon runner who completed the New York City Marathon every year from its inauguration in 1970 until 2007.
“Because his greatness in his mind, personality and his emotional stability, I thought, ‘How can he die?’ I knew he was sick, but I was still shocked when he died,” said mathematics professor Marvin Knopp, who was a close friend of the late professor throughout his tenure.
When Ehrenpreis was in his early twenties, he worked independently with Bernard Malgrange, of France, to prove the Malgrange-Ehrenpreis theorem in 1954. The theorem became known as a foundation of the modern theory of differential equations.
Without the theory of partial differential equations, technology would be impossible, Knopp said. He explained that there is “a lot of theoretical work that has to be done,” before technological innovation can exist.
As soon as Ehrenpreis joined the faculty in 1984, he had an impact on the mathematics department.
“He taught me a lot about my field,” Knopp said. “You could make a case that this guy was a mathematical genius.”
Boris Datskovsky, a professor in the mathematics department, said Ehrenpreis was an “intellectual stimulant” in seminars and that many speakers and professors in the field visited Temple because of his international reputation.
“He had no ego, he was very kind and always willing to talk to people,” Datskovsky said. “You could never really tell that you were talking to a world-class mathematician.”
When Ehrenpreis joined the department’s Number Theory Seminar, he brought the seminar to a “different level,” Knopp said.
According to his colleagues, Ehrenpreis had expertise in a variety of mathematical areas, which is rare for mathematicians.
“He proved fundamental results that got him attention of some of the leading mathematicians of the 20th century,” Edward Letzter, department chairman of mathematics, said.
Knopp said he once complained to Ehrenpreis about being stuck on a problem he could not solve, to which the late professor responded with: “Great, that’s great. If everything you try works out, that means you’re not doing anything. The stuff you’re doing is trivial, so you shouldn’t have too much success.”
Ehrenpreis commuted from Brooklyn while he taught at Temple, taking the train to Philadelphia daily. He commuted because he wanted to be with his family at night, Knopp said.
“He was an extremely, gentile, soft-spoken man,” Letzter, who knew Ehrenpreis for 10 years, said. “He always was smiling. I cannot remember a time I saw him when he was not smiling.”
Earlier in his life, Ehrenpreis received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a world-renowned Hebrew scholar. Ehrenpreis also served as an adviser to Feinstein on mathematical and scientific issues.
Ehrenpreis had the opportunity to marry two of his daughters and a cousin. He even ran a marathon prior to conducting a wedding ceremony, all on the same day.
The professor taught at several national and international institutions prior to instructing at Temple. He was an associate at Yeshiva University in New York (1959-1961) as well as at Brandeis University (1957-1969). He was a professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (1962-1968) and at Yeshiva University’s Belfer Graduate School of Science (1968-1984).
Ehrenpreis also served as a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the University of Paris, and Kyoto University in Japan.
Ehrenpreis was raised in New York and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from City College of New York in 1950 and his master’s and doctorate from Columbia University in 1951 and 1953, respectively.
During the Korean War, he was a member of the New York Army National Guard.
Ehrenpreis is survived by his wife, formerly Ahava Sperka, of Detroit, five daughters, three sons, a brother, Seymour, and 13 grandchildren. Funeral services were held Aug. 17 at Shomrei Hachomos Chapel in Brooklyn.
Connor Showalter can be reached at email@example.com.