Temple professor Leon Ehrenpreis, 80, a man of many talents

TALK ABOUT your renaissance man!

That would be a fair description of Eliezer "Leon" Ehrenpreis - mathematician, teacher, rabbi, researcher, scholar, author and marathon runner.


Dr. Ehrenpreis, mathematics professor at Temple University for 26 years, didn't just dabble in whatever he undertook.

He plunged in with a passion and mastered it.

Take marathon running. He didn't just do an occasional run, he participated in the New York City Marathon every year from 1970 to 2007, when he was 77.

But despite a list of accomplishments that would stagger lesser mortals, Ehrenpreis was a friendly, happy man, gentle and kind.

"I cannot remember a single time I was with him when he was not smiling," said Edward S. Letzter, chairman of Temple's department of mathematics.

"He seemed to approach everything, even difficult matters, with kindness, with gentleness, with humor - and in a perpetual state of childlike curiosity.

"He was soft-spoken, but people always stopped to listen to what he had to say."

Leon Ehrenpreis, who also had a passionate love of Israel and often taught there, died of heart failure Aug. 16 at the age of 80. He lived in Brooklyn.

At the height of the Intifada, the violent Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the early 2000s, he ran a marathon wearing an Israeli Defense Forces T-shirt and hat.

He joined the Temple faculty in 1984.

"Professor Ehrenpreis was a huge presence in our department," Letzter said.

"While most mathematicians are highly specialized, Leon could speak with expertise on a vast array of mathematical subjects.

"He made profound contributions to 20th-century mathematics in general, and played a fundamental role in the development of the research mission of the mathematics department at Temple. He counted some of the leading mathematicians of our time as his friends and peers."

Ehrenpreis was a leading scholar of Talmudic texts.

He received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a world-renowned Hebrew scholar, and served as an adviser on mathematical and scientific issues to Feinstein until his death in 1986.

Ehrenpreis grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

He graduated from Stuyvesant High School and received his bachelor's degree from City College of New York. He earned his doctorate in 1953 from Columbia University.

Before arriving at Temple, he was a professor at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and at Yeshiva University's Belfer Graduate School of Science.

He also held positions at Brandeis University, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, Yale and Harvard, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the University of Paris, and Kyoto University, in Japan.

He taught at Hebrew University and Bar-lian University on his frequent visits to Israel.

Ehrenpreis teamed up with Bernard Malgrange, of France, to prove the Malgrange-Ehrenpreis theorem, a foundation of the modern theory of differential equations.

He was the author of several volumes of mathematical research, including "Fourier Analysis in Several Complex Variables" (1970), and "The Universality of the Radon Transform (2003).

He is survived by his wife, the former Ahava Sperka, of Detroit; five daughters, Ann Scherzer, Naomi Voss, Yael Nachama Meyer, Kiki Beth Ehrenpreis and Yocheved Orlofsky; three sons, Raphael, Akiva and Saadya; a brother, Seymour Ehrenpreis; and 13 grandchildren.

Services: Were Aug. 17.