Tag Archives: Latin

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

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: William Sidis

The Smartest Man That Ever Lived?

Genius.

William James Sidis (1898-1944) was born to Ukrainian Jews who fled to America because of the pogroms. Sidis was quickly recognized as a child prodigy. His parents were geniuses in their own right – doctors, polyglots and professors – but Sidis would outdo them both. At 1.5 years, he was already reading the New York Times. At age 4, he wrote his first book (in French). By 8, he spoke fluently in English, Russian and Hebrew, as well as Latin, Greek, French, Russian, German, Armenian and Turkish. He later invented his own language called Vendergood. At age 11, William enrolled in Harvard, becoming the youngest person in history to do this. A year later, he was lecturing at the Harvard Mathematical Club. At 17, he had a teaching job at Rice University, where he wrote a geometry textbook in Greek. At 21, he was thrown in prison for participating in violent Communist rallies. After his release, he lived in seclusion and isolation until his death of a brain hemorrhage at age 46. He spoke 40 languages. New York’s Aptitude Testing Institute placed his IQ between 250 and 300, giving him the highest intelligence quotient in history (in comparison, Einstein’s was around 170). Despite his genius, he appears to have left no legacy. Much of his life remains clouded in mystery.

Boston Herald Headline – 1909

Words of the Week

A person is forbidden to eat before he feeds his animals.
– Talmud, Brachot 40a