Standing Room-Only Crowd Attends Nobel Prize-Winning Mathematician’s Lecture on “Modern Economic Theory in the Talmud” at Touro College’s Lander College for Men

Date: December 05, 2008
Dr. Robert J. Aumann delivering his lecture last week.
Dr. Robert J. Aumann delivering his lecture last week.
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Barbara Franklin
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New York, N.Y. - Nobel Prize-winning mathematician Dr. Robert J. Aumann recently spoke on “Modern Economic Theory in the Talmud” to a standing room-only crowd at Touro College’s Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, NY.

The lecture dealt with such economic issues as price controls, market intervention, moral hazard theory, and the application of game theory to the division of contested property, all based upon extensive readings from the Talmud and its commentators.

Dr. Bernard Lander, founder and president of Touro College, had high praise for Dr. Aumann: “Professor Aumann is that rare person in whom the very highest ideals of Torah study and academic scholarship are united."

An Israeli mathematician and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Aumann is a professor at the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He helped found the Center in 1990, and has taught at the Hebrew University since 1956, when he joined the mathematics department. Dr. Aumann also holds a visiting position at Stony Brook University on Long Island and is one of the founding members of the Center for Game Theory in Economics at Stony Brook.

In his remarks, Dr. Aumann referred to various texts from the Talmud and explained how they relate to today’s economic climate. “It is nothing short of remarkable that the Talmud and its commentators anticipated so many principles of modern economic theory many centuries before they were proposed and developed by leading economists,” he said.

For example, Dr. Aumann cited text from The Rashbam to illustrate a point about doing away with price control. The passage stated that if a merchant is selling an expensive item, another merchant eager to make money might sell that item for less money, causing buyers to flock to him. As a result, the first merchant may be forced to lower his price as well. Dr. Aumann also referred to text from Baba Batra 89a that illustrated how inspectors should be appointed for weights and measures of goods but not for prices, which should be dependent on what the market will bear.

Dr. Aumann received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2005 for his work on conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis. He shared the prize with Thomas Schelling, an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy and arms control at The School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1930, Dr. Aumann and his family fled Nazi persecution in 1938, settling in New York. He earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955.

Dr. Aumann is the author of more than 80 research papers and six books and has held visiting positions at Princeton, Yale, University of California at Berkeley, Louvain, Stanford, Stony Brook and New York universities. Dr. Aumann is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences (USA), British Academy, and the Israel Academy of Sciences. He holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Chicago, Bonn, Louvain, City University of New York, and Bar Ilan University, and has received numerous prizes in addition to the Nobel Prize in 2005.