A famous Jewish family of Hebrew translators from the Arabic of philosophical, linguistic, and scientific treatises by Jewish and Arab scholars. It flourished in Provence (southern France) during the 12th and 13th centuries. The prodigious efforts of the members of this family made available to non-Arabic-speaking Jews (and through renditions of their translations, to non-Jews) works previously inaccessible and established Hebrew as a useful vehicle of scientific expression by embellishing the language with new words and an appropriate style. Among the more notable representatives of the family are Judah ben Saul, Samuel ben Judah, Moses ben Samuel, and Jacob ben Makhir.
Judah ben Saul. The family patriarch; b. Granada, Spain, c. 1120; d. Marseilles, France, c. 1190. He fled his birthplace in 1150 because of the Almohade persecution of the Jews and settled in Lunel, France, where he practiced medicine. The pioneer of Hebrew translators, he was especially suited for his avocation by virtue of a thorough knowledge of Arabic, a resourcefulness in adapting Hebrew to new and intricate terminology, and a very precise and pedantic approach to his work, the last characteristic a source of criticism for a style deemed overly literal. In the preface to his translation of ibn paqŪda's Duties of the Heart, he expressed some doubts concerning his Hebrew competence, excused his invention of new vocabulary, criticized those who failed to adhere to the original by interpolating their interpretations of the text, and recommended a literal rendering as the basis for an original revision. Among his other translations are Ibn Gabirol's (Avicebron's) Improvement of the Moral Qualities, Judah ben Samuel ha-Levi's Kuzari, sa’adia's Beliefs and Opinions, and the grammar and lexicon of Ibn Janah (Jonah Marinus). He appears to have composed a treatise on grammar and rhetoric and possibly a commentary on Proverbs ch. 31.
Judah ben Saul's character, outlook, and concerns are revealed in his ethical will, A Father's Admonition, in which he reproved and counseled his son, Samuel, regarding the latter's course and purpose in life. In the Admonition he extolled the usefulness and care of books, commended the pursuit of scientific studies (with emphasis on medicine), advised meticulousness in handwriting and language, and urged respect for the son's wife.
Samuel ben Judah. Physician and scholar; b. Lunel, France, c. 1150; d. Marseilles, France, c. 1230. Although the recipient of a very thorough education in medicine, Talmud, Arabic, and philosophy under the compulsive supervision of his father (whose material support he enjoyed), he early rebelled against his parent's overbearing control and influence. But following a period of independence marked by failure in various business ventures, he applied for Judah's help and resumed his studies, destined to excel the father, who had despaired of his son's chances for success.
Samuel's most notable accomplishment was the translation of the Guide of the Perplexed by maimoni des, with whom he corresponded for advice on difficult passages. Very much influenced by the teachings of the great philosopher, he was attacked by the anti-Maimonists for contributing to the dissemination of the latter's rationalistic approach. He translated also Maimonides's treatise on resurrection, the introduction to the mishnah, and the commentary on its ethical tract, pirkeavoth. Other translations include Ibn Ridwan's commentary on Galen's Ars Parva, works of Averroës, and the Arabic version of Aristotle's Meteora. Among his original works are philosophical commentaries on Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which evidence a reliance on Maimonides's allegorical method. He also compiled glossaries of the philosophical terms and foreign words in the Guide of the Perplexed.
Moses ben Samuel. Prolific translator of Arabic versions of Greek works; b. Marseilles, France, c. 1240; d. there, c. 1283. He translated Euclid's Elements, alfara bi's Book of Principles, Avicenna's digest of his Canon of Medicine, and Averroës's commentaries on Aristotle. He added to his father's translations of Maimonides's works with renditions of the Book of the Commandments, essays on logic, hygiene, and poisons, and the commentary on the Mishnah.
His original works include commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles and the Pentateuch, and Sefer haPe’ah, an allegorical interpretation of Haggadic (see haggadah) portions of the talmud and Midrash (see midrashic literature) in which he polemicized against the Christian contention of anthropomorphism in these writings. He also wrote a commentary on Avicenna's Canon.
Jacob ben Makhir. Known also as Don Profiat Tibbon and Profatius Judaeus, physician, noted astronomer, and grandson of Samuel; b. Marseilles, France, c. 1230;d. Montpellier, France, c. 1312. He headed the medical school of the University of Montpellier and was a leader of the Jewish community. A strong exponent of scientific studies, he led the struggle against the anti-Maimonists who attempted, under the direction of Solomon ben Adret of Barcelona, to impose a ban on philosophical interpretation and speculation in Provence.
His translations include Euclid's Elements and Data, Averroës's Compendium of Logic and his commentaries on Aristotle, Costa ben Luka's treatise on the sphere, and Ibn al-Saffar's on the astrolabe. He composed astronomical tables and wrote a description of a new quadrant that he had devised, which came to be known as Quadrans Judaicus. Both works were rendered into Latin and quoted by Copernicus and Kepler.
Bibliography: m. schloessinger et al., The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer, 13 v. (New York 1901–06) 6:544–550. Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 v. (New York 1939–44) 5:530–531. h. h. graetz, History of the Jews, ed. and tr. b. lÖwy, 6 v. (Philadelphia 1945) 4:30–34, 40–42. i. abrahams, ed. and tr., Hebrew Ethical Wills, 2 v. (Philadelphia 1926; repr. 1948) 1:54–92.