BAR HIYYA Adam—philosopher, astronomer, and mathematicians, b. in 1065 in Soria in Spain, d. 1136.
Little is known of bar Hiyya’s life. He worked in Barcelona. It is also known that he visited France (probably Provence). Since he was called “Savasorda” (a deformation of the Arabic “sahib al- shurta”—chief of police), it is supposed that he held an position of honor in the court of Alphonse I of Aragon and among the nobles of Barcelona. He also bore the title of “nasi” (prince), which means that he had the function of a judge in the Jewish community. Bar Hiyya was the first Jewish philosopher to write works in the Hebrew language. For this reason his views were much echoed among Jewish scholars, including those in France and Germany. He was known primarily as an astronomer and mathematician. He also collaborated with the Christian, Plato of Tivoli, in translating scientific works from Arabic to Latin.
He wrote works on mathematics, astronomy (he presented for the first time Ptolemy’s system in Hebrew), geography, optics, and music. Bar Hiyya’s philosophical and theological thought is contained in two works: Megillat ha-Megalleh (The book of the revealer, ed. A. Poznanski, B 1924) and Hegyon he- Nefesh ha-Azuvah (Meditation of a sad soul knocking on the gate of conversion, ed. G. Wigoder, J 1971; English translation, idem, The Meditation of a Sad Soul, Lo 1969). Bar Hiyya’s philosophical views were borrowed from old non-Jewish sources, but their origin cannot be established. In both works, bar Hiyya links characteristic neo-Platonic assertions with Aristotelian thought.
The work, The Meditation of a Sad Soul served practical ends. According to some it was intended for reading during the days of penance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The philosophical thought it contains was only a means for religious teaching. Although bar Hiyya emphasized the importance of scientific knowledge, he states that the knowledge that enables the soul to return to the heavenly fatherland cannot be learned from philosophers, because the philosophers did not possess the Torah. Knowledge is the inheritance of Israel—the wise men of all nations derived their knowledge from the Torah (this view often appears in Jewish philosophy).
The Meditation begins with a description of the creation of the world according to the account in the Book of Genesis. Bar Hiyya accepts the idea of creation ex nihilo; before the act of creation all things were nothing and non-beings (efes ubelima). Before the pure Thought of God decided to create the world, they already existed in potency as matter, form, and non-being (in God’s thought). In creation God removed non-being and joined matter with form as he called the world into actual existence. According to bar Hiyya, creation did not occur in time, since time also existed before creation in potency together with matter and form. This way of the coming-into-being of earthly things—by the connection of two pre-existing principles—was according to bar Hiyya in agreement with the teaching of the Book of Genesis, which says that the Earth was first “Tohywabohu” (according to bar Hiyya, “Tohu” means matter, and ”Bohu” means form). Matter is too weak to exist on its own, and so it needs form in order to become a concrete thing. Form, although it can exist apart from matter, needs matter in order to be perceived by the senses. Bar Hiyya also distinguished two parts in both matter and form: matter may be either pure (it enters into the composition of celestial bodies), or dirt and scum (this creates the substratum of bodies on earth). Form has an open part (with the ability to join with matter), and a closed part. The closed part is also so pure that it does not join with matter, and for this reason is it not perceptible to the senses (it produces the form of angels and souls). In creation (which occurred in stages), the emanation of light played an important role (a neo-Platonic doctrine that bar Hiyya connected with the Aristotelian theory of matter and form is presented in detail in the Book of the revealer). The higher world above the firmament is divided into five worlds of light, and the highest corresponds to the Divine Throne. The first stage of creation consists in the emergence of light from a pure form that is close to God. In the second stage the splendor of closed form illuminates open form so that open form can pour on matter. One part of form is joined inseparably with pure matter, and the other part is joined with dirty matter. In the third stage, the light of sealed form causes the creation of the stars, which on the following day of creation influence the creation of living things.
The apex or culmination or the process of creation is man. Unlike the other three kinds of forms mentioned, the human soul is a form that can exist either in the body (joined with matter) or without the body. It comes from the world of pure forms, and after death it returns to the world of angels. According to bar Hiyya, man has three souls or three faculties of soul (for bar Hiyya, both formulations seem to be equivalent). The two lower souls share the fate of plants and animals and perish when the individual dies. The third soul, the intellectual soul, sets man apart from the rest of the creatures. It is endowed with intelligence and is by its essence eternal, since it comes from a higher world. Between the rational soul and the animal soul there is a constant battle—the purpose of human life is to make the two lower souls (or faculties) subordinate to the higher ones—to the rational soul. The merits or demerits of the intellectual soul also determine man’s fate after death.
In his eschatology, bar Hiyya says that the human soul—immediately after this life—may be either alive and healthy, or sick and dead. Bar Hiyya distinguishes five kinds of men: the completely just saint; the man who must struggle to subordinate the inclinations of the body; the man who has sorrow for his sins and sins no more; the man who has sorrow, but again falls into depravity; and the sinner who never has sorrow. The saint, the representative of the highest group of true faithful, is separated from this world and completely dedicated to the future world. Bar Hiyya describes his life as a constant Sabbath. In Meditation of the Sad Soul, bar Hiyya favors the theory of the transmigration of souls and says that only the just man achieves permanent happiness—after his death he is separated from the body and returns to the higher world where he is joined with pure form; the soul of the hardened sinner cannot become free of the body and perishes with the body as does the soul of a beast. The soul of a pious but stupid man after becoming free of the body must return to the world of matter and create a new man, a process that repeats itself until he possesses wisdom. In the Book of the revealer, bar Hiyya firmly rejects the theory of metempsychosis.
According to bar Hiyya, the order of the world is established for the sake of the nation of Israel. The ultimate purpose of the world is not man as such, but Israel—the history of Israel gives meaning to the history of the world. Judah Halevi developed this line of thought. Bar Hiyya, unlike Judah Halevi, had some doubts as to whether Israel was superior to the rest of mankind. In this work (especially in the messianic treatise of the Book that reveals), bar Hiyya is the first person in Jewish thought to consider a philosophy of history.
G. Vojda, Les idées théologiques et philosophiques d’Abrahman bar Hiyya, AHDLMA 15 (1946), 193–223; L. Stitskin, Judaism as a Philosophy. The Philosophy of Abraham bar Hiyya, NY 1960; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, C 1985, 97–104; H. and M. Simon, Geschichte der jüdischen Philosophie, B 1984 (Filozofia żydowska [Jewish philosophy], Wwa 1990, 79–83); D. H. Frank, O. Leaman, History of Jewish Philosophy, Lo-NY 1997, II 164–167.