Albert Einstein, the greatest of Jewish scientists, came to speak at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1923, when it consisted of but a single building on Mt. Scopus and hadn't officially opened. Einstein was to speak on the theory of relativity, and he wanted to do so in French, but some of the lecturers as well as activists for the Hebrew language protested. Einstein acceded, opened with greetings in Hebrew, and then apologized before announcing that the scientific lecture would have to be delivered in French. Ninety-five years later, a similar conflict has resurfaced at the leading university in Israel.
At various meetings and conferences, Hebrew University President Asher Cohen has said that the emphasis during his tenure would be on internationalism, on boosting student exchange programs, receiving faculty from abroad and sending Israeli faculty to universities in other countries. In conjunction with this focus, the university administration would be examining the possibility of transitioning to instruction in English for courses toward advanced degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral studies in the sciences, as well as adding one or two required courses in English for a bachelor’s degree.