Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has paid tribute to Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, describing him as leading “a truly inspiring life.”
Professor Hawking, whose work on cosmology propelled him to international fame, died on Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, at the age of 76.
Rabbi Lord Sacks tweeted this morning: “Stephen Hawking, who died this morning at the age of 76, was a man who changed our understanding of the universe, demonstrating that the greatest human power of all is the power of ideas.
“Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given only two years to live, he also showed, for the next five and a half decades, the power of the mind over the body and the ability to create and communicate despite the most debilitating conditions.
“We shared the privilege of being Fellows of the same Cambridge College [Gonville and Caius], and he truly merited the blessing the rabbis coined on seeing a great non-Jewish scholar, thanking God for ‘giving of His wisdom to human flesh and blood’. His was a truly inspiring life.”
Prof Hawking’s political life, however, was not without its controversies. Despite having visited Israel on a number of occasions, from 2013 onwards he voiced his support for the academic boycott of the Jewish state, pulling out of a planned appearance at a Jerusalem conference at the urging of Palestinians.
The Israeli organiser of the conference called Prof Hawking’s adoption of the academic boycott “outrageous and wrong”.
The physicist was also accused of hypocrisy; due to his debilitating condition, in his last few decades of life he used computer-controlled voice technology in order to speak, and Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law centre representing victims of terrorism, pointed out that “his whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team.
“If he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet."