Math & Judaism

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Professor Lesser has several articles on connections between Judaism and math/statistics.  His journey has spanned nearly every stream of Judaism, giving him a foundation to connect with the diverse Jewish and mixed audiences at his local and international presentations.  Most recently, he is co-organizing an international funded 2021 speaker series on math-and-religion (for which he gave the opening talk).

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 was listed as a supporting faculty member throughout the existence (2005-2018) of the UTEP Inter-American Jewish Studies Program and several of his 115+ scholarly papers connect mathematics/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, and 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) for this series on Zoom on Thursday, March 18, 6:30pm Mountain Time, which has generated coverage from TV (e.g., ABC-affiliate KVIA), radio (e.g., NPR station KTEP-FM), and print media (e.g., Houston’s Jewish Herald-Voice).

papers

In May 2006, he published in Journal of Mathematics and Culture the first juried comprehensive education-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 both scholarly background as well as 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/holidays/games (e.g., dreidel).  These enhancements connected to school culture/activities and appeared to help motivate some students towards broader view and deeper engagement. Lesser published a related 2013 short piece in The Jewish Educator and a longer followup 2016 paper in Journal of Mathematics and Culture (JMC). Adapted versions of the JMC papers appeared as chapters in the 2019 White Plum Publishing book, Culture that Counts: A Decade of Depth with the Journal of Mathematics and Culture.  Also, Lesser explored language/culture parallels between math education and Judaism in a 2015 paper in Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics and contributed (with Steve Varela’s team commissioned by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission) to the 2015 ethics module Integrating Ethics from Thought to Action.  Lesser has also published a paper on contemplative pedagogy (not specific to Judaism) in the fall 2017 issue of Journal of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

presentations

Since 1997, Lesser has given math-and-Judaism presentations in forums including 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). 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 Jewish songs based on Talmud, Torah, Midrash, and culture.)  Lesser has used his award-winning pedagogical skills to give (for varied multi-congregational settings, audiences, and formats) engaging interactive talks, such as:  “How We Count” (an engaging exploration of how Jewish values are embedded in the very way we mark time, count in holy texts, and count our fellow Jews), “Lots and Lotteries” (an engaging exploration of Jewish texts and views on chance — ranging from the ancient casting of lots to modern playing of lotteries), and “Who is Wise?” (secular and Jewish perspectives on wisdom).

“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.” – Rabbi Ben Zeidman, Temple Mount Sinai, El Paso