Math & Judaism

EXECUTIVE SUMMARYOn connections between Judaism and mathematics, Professor Lesser has written several articles and co-led an international funded 2021 speaker series (for which he gave the opening talk and moderated the others). His journey spans nearly every stream of Judaism, helping him engage diverse attendees at talks/concerts, and yielding an award-winning Jewish album.

speaker series

An award-winning Professor at The University of Texas at El Paso (same 31.76oN latitude as Jerusalem!), Dr. Lesser conducts research in statistics/mathematics education.  He served as a supporting faculty member throughout the respective periods of existence of the UTEP Inter-American Jewish Studies Program (2005-2018) and Jewish Education El Paso (2009-2012), and several of his 120 scholarly papers connect math/statistics with Judaism. This led to being the lead scientist and co-grantwriter for Temple Mount Sinai’s competitively-selected proposal to present local and international speakers in the 2021 series “Higher Meanings: Exploring Connections Between Religion and Mathematics“, as part of the national Scientists in Synagogues program funded by Sinai and Synapses (supported by CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, the John Templeton Foundation, and individual donors, in consultation with the DoSER program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society). Lesser gave the opening presentation (on infinity, viewable here or here, and also given as a KEDMA talk at U. of Maryland and coming up for New Lehrhaus) and moderated the subsequent presentations for this series (with transcripts and speaker papers) for this series, which has generated coverage on TV (e.g., ABC-affiliate KVIA), radio (e.g., NPR station KTEP-FM), and print media (e.g., Jewish Herald-Voice), as well as a podcast.

papers

In May 2006, he published in Journal of Mathematics and Culture (JMC) the first juried comprehensive classroom-oriented article on Jewish mathematics, based on his years creating curriculum integration as a full-time mathematics teacher at a pluralistic community Jewish high school.  The article offers scholarly background and diverse classroom-tested examples of not just the obvious area of gematria, but also quotations, mathematical firsts, counting (permutations, marking time, etc.), infinity, pi, mathematical modeling, geometry, logic, and connections to Jewish text/customs.  These enhancements connected to school culture/activities and helped motivate some students towards broader appreciation and deeper engagement. Lesser published a second paper (with a randomized experiment) and both JMC papers also appeared in the book Culture that CountsLesser also had a short Pi Day piece in The Jewish Educator, had a 2015 paper in Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics that explored language/culture parallels between math education and Judaism, and contributed to the 2015 ethics module commissioned by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.

presentations/projects

As mentioned above, Lesser co-led an international funded 2021 speaker series on math-and-religion (for which he gave the opening talk and was moderator/discussant for the rest) and is giving a related June 26, 2022 invited talk for New Lehrhaus. Lesser makes material engaging and accessible for audiences of varied (religious or mathematical) backgrounds. He has also given presentations for the UTEP Religious Studies program on his songs based on Jewish text/culture and his album SPARKS was a Finalist for Best Album in the 2021 New Mexico Music Awards, with its approach yielding articles in NewCAJE The Jewish Educator and The Israeli Journal of Humor Research. These experiences led to his being named (one of 46 from well over 200 applications worldwide) a Hadar 2021 Jewish Wisdom Fellow (see related subsequent talk).

Since 1997, Lesser has used his award-winning pedagogical skills to give (for varied multi-congregational settings, audiences, and formats) engaging interactive math-and-Judaism presentations for the International ALEPH Kallah, citywide Yom Limmud or Tikkun Leil Shavuot events (e.g., Houston, El Paso), individual congregations (from Modern Orthodox to post-denominational; for example, here), pluralistic day schools or Sunday schools (e.g., Ft. Collins, El Paso, Houston, Albuquerque, Austin). Talks have included:  “How We Count” (how Jewish values are embedded in the very way Jews mark time, count in holy texts, and count themselves), “Lots and Lotteries” (Jewish texts and views on chance — from ancient to modern), and “Who is Wise?” (secular and Jewish perspectives on wisdom). After a talk at El Paso’s Temple Mount SInai, Rabbi Ben Zeidman wrote: “His talk was both meaningful and accessible. All who were present had an uplifting and thought-provoking opportunity to learn. And on top of that, we all laughed with Dr. Lesser a great deal.”  He has also made many educational contributions to his local community ranging from dozens of newspaper columns to a supporting role with