Tag Archives: Arabic

Jew of the Week: Avraham bar Chiya haNasi

The Rabbi Who Discovered the Quadratic Formula

Avraham bar Chiya (c. 1070-1145) was born in Barcelona to a Sephardic Jewish family. It appears that his family was persecuted by its Christian rulers, so they fled to the neighbouring Arab kingdom of Zaragoza. Bar Chiya came from a long line of rabbis, and was also extensively trained in science, math, and astronomy. Famed for his wisdom, he became the court astronomer of Al-Musta’in II. Eventually, he was appointed minister of police and given the title sahib al-shurtah, “city governor”. This is why he was known in the Jewish community as HaNasi, “the prince” or “the president”. Al-Musta’in II was unable to defend his domain from the Christians, who soon took over. Bar Chiya moved to southern France for a while and lived in Narbonne and Provence. There he composed some of the most important scientific texts of the Medieval era. He translated a number of Arabic works into Latin, opening their study for Europeans, and played a key role in introducing the Hindu numerals we use today (by way of Arabia) to Europe, and thus to the rest of the world. Bar Chiya also synthesized ancient Greek wisdom with contemporary Arabic knowledge, and published new discoveries in number theory, arithmetic, geometry, optics, astronomy, and music theory. His Treatise on Measurement and Calculation inspired later greats like Plato of Tivoli and the world-famous Fibonacci. Meanwhile, Bar Chiya also served as the chief rabbi of the Jewish communities he presided over, and composed two important Jewish commentaries and texts. He is credited with being the first person to write a scientific book in Hebrew, and played an instrumental role in the development of the Hebrew language. His disciples included both Jews and non-Jews, among them the great Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, and the Flemish astronomer Rudolf of Bruges. The first historical appearance of the quadratic equation (with a complete solution of x2 – ax + b = c) appears in one of Bar Chiya’s works! He is also referenced in many philosophical works as “Abraham Judaeus”. All in all, his impact on the development of science, mathematics, and human history is unparalleled.

Jew of the Week Turns 10 Years Old Today!

What I Learned from 10 Years of Writing Jew of the Week

The Hebrew-Obsessed Pilgrims Behind Thanksgiving

Introducing Muslim Zionism

The Xenobot Future Is Coming—Start Planning Now

Israeli Team Finds Method to Reverse Aging

The Plastic Fibers in Your Clothes That Destroy the Environment

Israelis Off to Ethiopia to Save Country from Locusts

Words of the Week

The mind of man plans his way, but God directs his steps.
King Solomon (Proverbs 16:9)

Jew of the Week: Yuval Ne’eman

Quantum Physicist and IDF Commander

Yuval Ne’eman

Yuval Ne’eman (1925-2006) was born in Tel-Aviv. His grandfather Aba Ne’eman had made aliyah to Yaffo from Lithuania as an eighteen year old, and was later among the first 66 families which settled and co-founded the city of Tel-Aviv. His grandfather also set up the city’s first electrical generator, and built some of its first factories. This may be what inspired Yuval to study mechanical engineering. He enrolled at Technion at age 15. At the same time, he joined the Haganah, and would fight valiantly in Israel’s Independence War, rising to the rank of commander of the Givati Brigade. Having spent several years living in Egypt with his parents as a child, Ne’eman spoke Arabic fluently and served as a liaison to Israel’s Mizrachi Jews, helping to settle them in the new country. In the mid-1950s, Ne’eman played a key role in the IDF’s operational command, developed its reverse mobilization system, and wrote Israel’s first defense doctrine. Meanwhile, he joined Israel’s Nuclear Energy Commission and oversaw the development of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. While serving as IDF attaché in London, he earned his PhD in physics. The following year he published his classification system for hadrons, laying the foundation for the quark model of quantum physics (proposed by recent Jews of the Week Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig). Ne’eman returned to Israel in 1961 to direct the Soreq Nuclear Research Centre, one of the most important R&D facilities in Israel. He retired from the IDF with the rank of colonel, and founded Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy in 1965. Ne’eman directed it for the next seven years, then became president of he whole university. After this, he directed its Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies for nearly two decades. Ne’eman also co-directed the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas in Austin. A big believer in space exploration, he founded the Israel Space Agency in 1983 and chaired it until his death. He was chief scientist of Israel’s Defense Ministry in the 1970s, which opened the door for him to enter politics. Ne’eman founded the right-wing Tehiya party in response to Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. He was elected to the Knesset in 1981 and became the country’s first Minister of Science and Technology. He continued to serve in the Knesset for over a decade. Among his many awards are the Israel Prize, the Wigner Medal, and the Albert Einstein Prize. He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Ne’eman wrote a layman’s book on quantum physics called The Particle Hunters, which has been described as “the best guide to quantum physics at present available.”

The Red Cow: Quantum Physics in the Torah

Words of the Week

… Most of my people think as I do, but they’re afraid to say so… we suffer because of our Arab brothers, but we are also dependent on them. It’s a bizarre situation because the Arab countries don’t really care what happens to the Palestinian people. The only assistance that we have ever received from any country was from the ‘Zionist enemy.’
Muhammad Zahrab, Palestinian Arab scholar 

Jew of the Week: Dennis Prager

The World’s Most Popular “University”

Dennis Mark Prager (b. 1948) was born in New York City to an Orthodox Jewish family. He attended religious schools, and during his time at the Yeshiva of Flatbush met the future renowned rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Prager majored in history and Middle Eastern studies at Brooklyn College before spending several years at Columbia University studying both the Middle East and Russia, followed by a stint at the University of Leeds learning Arabic and comparative religions. In the mid-70s, Prager teamed up with Rabbi Telushkin to co-author The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism. The bestselling book was a huge success and shot Prager into the spotlight. Shortly after, he was hired to be the director of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute of the American Jewish University. (He would later teach Hebrew Bible at the University between 1992 and 2006.) In 1982, he met an executive of Los Angeles’ KABC Radio who was struck by Prager’s impressive knowledge, and instantly hired him to host a Sunday radio show called Religion on the Line. It was so popular that Prager was soon doing radio shows every day except Friday and Saturday (because of Shabbat). Meanwhile, he co-authored another bestseller with Rabbi Telushkin, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. By 1999, Prager’s radio show was nationally syndicated, as was his newspaper column. He was called “One of America’s five best speakers”, as well as “one of the three most interesting minds in American Jewish Life”, and was described by the LA Times as “An amazingly gifted man and moralist”. All in all, Prager has published seven books (including The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code) and produced five films (including Israel in a Time of Terror, and the forthcoming No Safe Spaces about the extremes of political correctness). He continues to host one of America’s most popular radio shows, and is among the most sought-after political commentators in the world. Today, Prager is perhaps most famous for his Prager University, which he co-founded in 2009 in response to the growing trend of squashing conservative voices in the media and on campus. PragerU’s concise and informative five-minute videos have become hugely popular. To date, they have garnered over 1 billion views, with hundreds of millions of followers across social media sites. The videos have been so successful that PragerU has been called “the right-wing YouTube empire that’s quietly turning millenials into conservatives.” Perhaps because of this, Google recently started blocking some of PragerU’s videos, perplexingly citing them as “inappropriate”. Regardless of whether one agrees with Prager’s views or not, the blatant suppression of free speech sets a dangerous precedent. For this reason, Prager has launched a lawsuit against Google and YouTube, together with a campaign to draw support for the preservation of free speech (see their video, Who Will Google Silence Next?) Although Jew of the Week also disagrees with some of PragerU’s content, we nonetheless stand in solidarity with them (having had one of our own YouTube videos inexplicably flagged for “inappropriateness”). Below we present some of PragerU’s most popular videos:

Does Science Argue For or Against God?

Why I Left the Left

Why Isn’t There a Palestinian State?

Are the Police Racist?

There is No Gender Wage Gap

An Arab Muslim in the Israeli Army

Why I Left Greenpeace

Words of the Week

My politics are exactly what they were when I was a liberal and a Democrat, but that’s now considered conservative.
– Dennis Prager