August 09, 2013


Jewish physician, translator and political figure who helped inaugurate the golden age of Hebrew letters in Moorish Spain and who was a powerful statesman in a number of major diplomatic negotiations.

After becoming court physician to the powerful Umayyad caliph Abd ar-Rahman III he gradually gained eminence in the Arab world acting as vizier without title.

He used his linguistic talents (he knew Hebre, Arabic and Latin) and persuasive personality in delicate diplomatic missions between Muslim and Christian rulers.

On one ocassion he helped negotiate a treaty with the Byzantine emperor to the Caliph was a copy of pharmacological text by the Greek physician Dioscorides (flourished Ad 50); Hisdai helped translate into Arabic. On another occasion he paved the way for a peace treaty with the warring kingdoms of Navarre and León. After Abd ar-Rahman died in 961 Hisdai continued to perform important services al-Hakam II in whose reign he died.

Hisdai helped inaugurate the golden age of Spanish Judaism gathering under his patronage such major literary figures as Dunash ben Labrat (c. 920-c. 990) and Menahem ben Saruk (c. 910-c. 970) who helped establish scientific Hebrew grammar and a new mode in Hebrew poetry.

Hisday fostered the study of Jewish law and the Talmud (the rebinic compendium of law, lore and commentary) thereby making Spanish Jewry relatively independent of the Eastern Talmudic academies.

Hisdai´s correspondence (written by Menahem ben Saruk) with a Jewish Khazar king Joseph, a Turkic people dwelling in southern Russia had converted to Judaism in the middle of the 8th century Ad. Hisdai´s letter and the King´s response led a shadowy existence until their unexpected publication in the 16th century. After much controversy the authenticity of both letters and the accuracy of their information seem well established.

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