BaṢĪr, Joseph ben Abraham Ha-Kohen Haro'eh al-

views updated


BAṢĪR, JOSEPH BEN ABRAHAM HA-KOHEN HARO'EH AL- (Yūsuf al-Basir ; first half of 11th century), Karaite halakhist and philosopher, who originated from Iraq or Persia. Because he was blind he was euphemistically called al-Basīr Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb "ha-Ro'eh" ("the Seeing"). Many Karaite authors confused him with Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqub al- *Kirkisani who lived 100 years prior to him. *Firkovich and later P. Frankl and *Harkavy have shown that he lived in the 11th century (he mentions in some of his works Samuel b. Hophni [d. 1013]). It is now known that he met Samuel b. Hophni in Baghdad. Though blind, he traveled extensively, probably as a Karaite propagandist. One of the most important Karaite scholars, he studied Talmud and rabbinic literature. He knew many languages and was well versed in Islamic philosophy. While in Baghdad he met also with Muslim theologians, with whom he had oral and written disputes. At the beginning of the 11th century he settled in Jerusalem, where he died around 1040.

In his philosophic views he followed the Basīran branch of the Muʿtazilites, notably ʿAbd al-Jabbār (see *Kalām). His teachings, with the additions and refinements of Yeshu'a b. Judah, became the recognized theology of Karaism for centuries to come. He strongly upholds the belief in the essentially rational character of ethics and gives priority to reason over revelation. He embraces the atomistic views of Islamic Kalām as the basis for the proof of the createdness of the world. Only reason can prove God's wisdom and omnipotence, which imply His existence. Other predicates of God are will, oneness and simplicity, incorporeality, and eternity. Of primary importance in al-Basīr's philosophy are the questions of God's justice, of the nature of good and evil, and of free will. God does good always because of His wisdom, not by necessity, and even if He inflicts pain it is for the good. Considering God's foreknowledge, al-Basīr has no doubt that man is free to determine his actions, though God knows beforehand how he will act. The commandments are God's means of guiding man in the right path and the obedient are eternally rewarded in the next world. If a sinner repents of his evil deeds, it is the duty of God to accept his repentance and remit his punishment. Al-Basīr authored two theological compendia, several theological and halakhic monographs and numerous epistles and response, some of which survived in manuscript fragments of various lengths in several libraries. His main works are the following:

(1) A concise work entitled al-Tamyīz ("The Distinction"), also al-Manṣūrī, consisting of 31 chapters. This work was translated with some additions by Tobiah b. Moses under the title Maḥkimat Peti (non-critical print Ashdod 2004). In a final chapter the author criticizes the esoteric book Shi'ur Komah and rejects the doctrine of Benjamin al-*Nahāwendī that the world was created by an angel.

(2) al-Muḥtawī ("The Comprehensive"). Divided into 40 chapters, the work tries to bring the main principles of the Muʿtazilite Kalām into agreement with the Karaite dogmas. The author polemicizes frequently against Christians, dual-ists, Magians, Epicureans, and other sects. A critical edition by Vajda was published with extensively annotated French translation (see bibl.). The book was translated from Arabic into Hebrew under the title Sefer ha-Ne'imot or Zikhron ha-Datot, probably by Tobiah b. Moses (non-critical print Ashdod 2004; individual chapters of the medieval Hebrew translation were published in critical editions, see Vajda).

(3) al-Istibṣār ("Careful Examination"), dealing with the precepts, includes also lengthy discussions of theological topics. It seems that the sections of the work had initially been composed as separate treatises and later compiled into one compendium. Several sections of the work are extant in the Russian National Library and the British Library. The section concerning the holidays, which contains a polemic in eight chapters against Saadiah, was translated by Tobiah b. Moses.

Several theological and halakhic works have been apocryphally ascribed to al-Baṣīr. The Karaites considered al-Baṣīr as one of their most important authorities. Judah *Hadassi, Aaron b. Joseph ha-Rofe, Bashyazi, and other Karaite authors often cite his halakhic views and his scriptural interpretations. His philosophic views were also esteemed by later Karaite scholars down to *Aaron b. Elijah in the 14th century, who often cites him in his Eẓ Ḥayyim. Of special significance is the reform, encouraged by him, of the Karaite law of consanguinity. This reform was developed further and made effective by his pupil *Jeshua b. Judah, who was likewise an important Karaite authority.


P.F. Frankel, Ein muʿtazilitischer Kalam aus dem 10. Jahrhundert (1872); Steinschneider, Arab Lit, 89–91; S. Poznański, Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon (1908), 46–48; Guttmann, Philosophies, 78–81 and passim; Husik, Philosophy, 48–55 and passim. add bibliography: G. Vajda, Al-kitab Al-Muhtawi de Yusuf Al-Basir / texte, traduction et commentaire, ed. D.R. Blumenthal (1985) (Reviews: H. Ben-Shammai, in: Kiryat Sefer, 62 (1988–1989), 407–426 (Heb.); B. Chiesa, in: Henoch, 10 (1988) 355–376); C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1990), 54–55; D.E. Sklare, in: H. Lazarus-Yafeh et al (eds.), The Majlis (1999) 137–161; idem, in: D. Frank (ed.), The Jews of Medieval Islam (1995) 249–270; idem and H. Ben Shammai, Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts in the Firkov-itch Collections: The Works of Yusuf al-Basir, (1997, Heb.); M. Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources, (2003), index, s.v. "Yūsuf al-Baṣīr."

[Isaak Dov Ber Markon /

Leon Nemoy]