Hellenica World

Selig Brodetsky (10 February 1888, Olviopol, Russia-20 May 1954) was a British Professor of Mathematics, a member of the World Zionist Executive, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the second president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Brodetsky was born in Olviopol (near Odessa), Ukraine, the second of 13 children born to Akiva Brodetsky (the beadle of the local synagogue) and Adel (Prober). As a child he witnessed the murder of his uncle in a pogrom. In 1894 the family followed Akiva to the East End of London, to where he had emigrated a year earlier. Brodetsky attended the Jews' Free School, where he excelled at his studies. He was awarded a scholarship, which enabled him to attend the Central Foundation School of London and subsequently, in 1905, Trinity College, Cambridge.

In 1908 he completed his studies with highest honours being Senior Wrangler, to the distress of the conservative press, which was forced to recognise that a son of immigrants surpassed all the local students. The Newton scholarship enabled him to study at Leipzig University where he was awarded a doctorate in 1913. His dissertation dealt with the gravitational field. In 1914 he received a position as lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Bristol. During the First World War he was employed as an advisor to the British company developing periscopes for submarines.

In 1919 he married Manya Berenblum, whose family had recently emigrated from Belgium, where her father had been a diamond merchant in Antwerp. She bore him two children, Paul and Adele, in 1924 and 1927.
Academic career

In 1919 he received an appointment as lecturer at the University of Leeds, and five years later he was appointed a full professor there. Much of his work concerned aeronautics and mechanics of airplanes. He was the chairman of the mathematics department of the University of Leeds from 1946-1948.

Brodetsky became the second president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1949, at a time when the University was going through a rocky period, eventually having to abandon its campus on Mount Scopus. He attempted to overhaul the structure of the University but he soon became embroiled in bitter struggles with the University Senate, which interfered in his academic and bureaucratic work. Apparently, Brodetsky thought that he was going to take up a position similar to that of Vice-Chancellor of an English university but many in Jerusalem saw the position as essentially an honorary one, like the Chancellor of an English university. This struggle affected his health and in 1952 he decided to resign his post and return to England.


In 1928 he became a member of the World Zionist Executive and head of its political department in London. In 1940 he became president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the lay head of British Jewry.

For the last few years of his life, Brodetsky led a quiet life, in contrast to the hectic lifestyle he had led for most of his life. He died in his home on Cromwell Road in London on May 20, 1954 and was buried in the Willesden Jewish cemetery.

One of the dormitories of Tel Aviv University in Israel is named the "Brodetsky building". Before serving as a dormitory, the building served as living accommodations for new immigrants to Israel. In addition, a Jewish primary school in Leeds was named after him.


Jews' Free School (JFS), London (where there is now a Brodetsky House in his honour)
Central Foundation School, London
Trinity College, Cambridge (senior wrangler, 1908)
Leipzig University (PhD)


Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Bristol, 1914–1919
Reader, 1920–1924; Professor, 1924-1948 then Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of Leeds
President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Chairman of its Executive Council, 1949–1951

Other posts

Member of the Executive, World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency for Palestine
Honorary President, Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland
Honorary President, Maccabi World Union
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews (1940 - [1])

He was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Aeronautical Society and Institute of Physics.

His sister Rachel married Rabbi Solomon Mestel; their son is Leon Mestel.


^ [1]

Biography at MacTutor
Who was Who
Dictionary of National Biography

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