Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was the first Jewish dignitary to serve the Arab caliphs.
Born into a wealthy family from Jaen, Hasdai studied medicine and had a deep love of languages. He was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. In fact, it was his knowledge of Latin that helped launch his phenomenal career. A diplomatic envoy from Byzantium brought a famous pharmaceutical text as a gift to the Ummayad Caliph. It was written in Greek, and a small committee was assigned to translate it into Latin. Hasdai was responsible for translating the Latin to Arabic. His feat launched his noble career. He was a patron of Jewish learning, supporting poets and Talmud scholars alike. He, more than anyone, laid the foundation for the post biblical Hebrew revival that took place in Cordoba. He kept alive national Jewish consciousness and reoriented Jewish scholarship from Babylonia, where it had declined, to Spain, where it flourished for several more centuries.
Writing about Hasdai, a Jewish poet quoted in Graetz's History of the Jews, said;
From off his people's neck he struck the heavy yoke;
To them his soul was given, he drew them to his heart;
The scourge that wounded them, he destroyed,
Drove from them in terror the cruel oppressor.
The Incomparable vouchsafed through him
Crumbs of comfort and salvation.
Sources: This material was originally published in Sparks! - an e-zine for Jewish families located on the Internet at http://www.sparksmag.com