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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Obituary: Tzvi Yehuda Victor Saks / Math professor, Kabbalah teacher

Died Nov. 16, 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tzvi Yehuda Victor Saks, a mathematics professor, computer software engineer, topologist and popular teacher of Kabbalah, died yesterday at his Squirrel Hill home from pancreatic cancer. He was 60.

Dr. Saks combined a love for mathematics and Jewish learning in papers he published in the English-Hebrew journal B'Or Ha'Torah and in Wisdom, a publication of the Torah Science Foundation. In writings such as "Different Levels of Infinity in Torah and Mathematics" and "On the Nature of Truth in Mathematics," he sought to explain the relationship of mathematical axioms and the unlimited supra-rational power of God.

His background as a topologist -- a mathematician who studies qualitative questions about geometric structures -- and several years of study at yeshivas in Brooklyn, N.Y., gave him a unique preparation for teaching Jewish mysticism.

His classes drew an eclectic mixture of people, from observant Jews to the simply curious.

Dr. Saks earned a master's degree in computer science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a doctorate in mathematics in 1972 from Wesleyan University. He taught at several colleges, including the University of Costa Rica and SUNY.

After moving to Pittsburgh in 1985, he conducted research and development in applications of artificial intelligence to solve real world problems with the Carnegie Group company.

Dr. Saks continued with Transarc, a software development firm that was acquired by IBM in 1994. He was an advisory software engineer with IBM.

Thomas M. Sukitsch was Dr. Saks' manager for several years at IBM, and they had lunch together once a month. Three years ago, Mr. Sukitsch was diagnosed with colon cancer. A short time later, while on a trip to New York City before beginning his treatment, he saw a museum exhibit about the Lubavitch Hasidim, an international Orthodox Jewish movement. One of the exhibit photos showed people praying at the grave of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch leader who died in 1994.

The photo's caption explained that in the Talmud, the Jewish compendium of laws and customs, it is written that prayers said at the grave sites of righteous individuals can result in physical and spiritual blessings.

When Mr. Sukitsch, who is not Jewish, returned to Pittsburgh he mentioned to Dr. Saks that "it would be really cool if someone would do that for me."

"[Tzvi] said to me, 'I've already done that,' " recalled Mr. Sukitsch, who is in full remission. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the prayers of Dr. Saks."

"Tzvi was involved in the world but steeped in spirituality," said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, head of Lubavitch Center in Squirrel Hill and a close friend.

"I meet people who say to me, 'Do you know Dr. Saks? Wow! The impression he made on me.' In his quiet way he affected many people out there."

He is survived by his wife, Rivka, of Squirrel Hill; five daughters, Rachie, of New York City, Chani Gray, of Hanover, N.H., Devoray, of New York City, Gitty, of Squirrel Hill, and Shaini, of Jerusalem, Israel; two sons, Chanani, of Monsey, N.Y., and Yossi, of Squirrel Hill; his mother, Henny, of Boynton Beach, Fla.; a brother, David, of Ridgefield, Conn.; and two grandchildren.

Burial service will be at 1:30 p.m. today at Homewood Cemetery in Point Breeze.


(Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.)

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