Bar Ḥiyya’s theorem in a copy of the Talmud. | (c)

Knowledge is meant to be shared. A deeper understanding of the world is something that can benefit many, not just a few. In the course of human history, there were many advancements in science, infrastructure and technology that have made life easier. Such advancements weren’t created in a vacuum. The knowledge to create and proliferate such technology often comes in the form of equations, the fruit of many centuries of trial and error. On our previous glatt kosher tours, we have explored the lives and historical contexts of many influential Jewish figures. One of them, Abraham bar Hiyya, is responsible for the proliferation of Arabic algebra in Europe.

Of Numbers and the Stars

The exact details of Abraham bar Hiyya’s life are not well documented. While some scholars said that he was the student of Moshe haDarshan of Narbonne, this fact was contested. What’s certain is he lived in Barcelona, and may have even held a position as a civic official there, hence his title Savarsorda (taken from the Arabic word “ṣāḥib-al-shurṭa.”) Before his death circa 1136, Abraham bar Hiyya wrote many works on mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. Along with other scholars, he helped bridge the gap between the scientific traditions of the Arab world with the rest of Europe, providing the latter with knowledge that kickstarted its own scientific development in the future. Ḥibbur ha-Meshiḥah ve-ha-Tishboret, or Liber embadorum, as it was translated in Latin, was a work of his that inspired Fibonacci himself.

An Equation Across the Centuries

Aside from providing Europe with the quadratic equation x2 – ax + b = 0, Abraham bar Hiyya was also conscious about his responsibilities for his people. He would translate Arabic and Judeo-Arabic scientific works into Hebrew so that such enlightening knowledge could be accessed by Jewish readers who were not already familiar with such things. His treatises on geometry and philosophy would embolden and influence the efforts of others, long after his time on Earth.

Knowledge is meant to be shared. A deeper understanding of the world can be gained by the exchanging of wisdom across borders, across cultures. Our kosher tours have explored such exchanges in the past, and even today, we can see the influence of Abraham bar Hiyya’s research in modern-day mathematical studies.