This Day in Jewish History

1979: The Man Who Invented Diet Spaghetti Dies in Plane Crash

Itzhak Bentov helped develop Israel’s first rocket before heading for the U.S., where he worked on medical devices - and wrote about human consciousness.

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On May 25, 1979, Itzhak Bentov, a Czech-born, Israeli-American inventor and spiritualist, died when his commercial airline flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, killing all on board. He was 55.

Itzhak Bentov was born on August 9, 1923, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Both of his parents were murdered in the Holocaust, but he managed to escape deportation, and made his way to Mandatory Palestine.

Bentov’s first home in Palestine was Kibbutz Shoval, in the Negev. Although he had no university-level education, Bentov’s mechanical and scientific talents led to his being recruited into the predecessor to Hemed, the Science Corps of the Israel Defense Forces. Hemed later became Rafael, the company that develops advanced-technology weapons systems for Israel.

He is said to have been among the leaders of the project to develop Israel’s first rocket, during the 1948-49 War of Independence.

In 1954, Bentov emigrated from Israel to the United States, settling in Massachusetts. In Belmont, outside Boston, Bentov set up a laboratory in the basement of the rectory of the town’s Catholic church. Years later, John Abele, who was Bentov’s business partner and later the cofounder of the biotech firm Boston Scientific, described that lab, in an interview with MedCity News: “[Bentov] had a chemistry lab, he had an electronics lab he could mill and shape steel or wood or plastic ... He would literally make his own polymers or at least mix different polymers in order to get what he wanted. As a result, he was kind of a renaissance person, technologically as well as intellectually.”

In 1967, Bentov patented the first flexible heart catheter, and four years later invented a catheter that could be operated remotely, something he did at the request of a number of doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center.

Bentov set up a company called Medi-Tech to produce his steerable catheters, and this was bought by Abele and another partner, Peter Nicholas. The latter two later created Boston Scientific, to serve as a holding company for Medi-Tech; eventually, Boston Scientific became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of interventional medical devices.

Other inventions Bentov is credited with include diet spaghetti, electrodes and pacemaker leads, and a design for auto brake shoes.

By the time of his death, however, Bentov was better known to the public for his writing and teachings about human consciousness. Here, he crossed the line from science to the paranormal, in his attempt to understand the connection between an individual’s mind and the external universe. By hooking himself up to an electrocardiograph while doing meditation, he was able to demonstrate that the human heartbeat could be slowed and entered into synch with the alpha rhythms of the brain, and also of low-level magnetic pulsations of the earth.

Bentov became a popular lecturer and writer on these subjects, and was the author of “Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness” (1977) and “A Brief Tour of Higher Consciousness: A Cosmic Book on the Mechanics of Creation,” published posthumously in 2000.

Bentov was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 191 when it took off from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, headed for Los Angeles. Shortly after takeoff, one of its engines disengaged from the plane’s left wing, causing a series of events that resulted in the crash of the DC-10 aircraft. All 258 passengers and 13 crew members onboard were killed, along with an additional two people on the ground.

In 2005, Bentov’s daughter, Sharona Ben-Tov Muir, a poet and university teacher, published a memoir about her father, “The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father’s Lives.”