Asher ben Jehiel

From Academic Kids

Asher ben Jehiel (or Asher ben Yechiel) (1250? 1259?-1328) was an eminent rabbi and Talmudist best known for his abstract of Talmudic law. He is often referred to as Rabbenu Asher, our Rabbi Asher or by the Hebrew acronym for this title, the ROSH (literally "Head").


The Rosh was born in western Germany and died in Toledo, Spain. His family was prominent for learning and piety, his father was a Talmudist; one of his ancestors was Rabbi Eliezer ben Nathan, known also by his acronym as the RaABaN. Ben Jehiels primary teacher was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg. Asher had eight sons, the most prominent of whom were Judah and Jacob.

According to his own statement, he possessed considerable means while in Germany but was in all likelihood forced to emigrate from Germany as the victim of blackmail by the government, which desired to deprive him of his fortune. After leaving Germany, he settled first in southern France, then in Toledo, where he became rabbi on the recommendation of Rabbi Solomon ben Aderet (known by the acronym RaShBA). Rabbenu Asher's son Judah testified to the fact that he died in poverty.

Rabbenu Asher possessed vast Talmudic knowledge, methodical and systematic, and was distinguished for terseness in summing up long Talmudic discussions. Based on his teacher, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, he was averse to lenient decisions in halakha, even when theoretically justified. Thus his decision against praying more than three times a day must be seen as really on the side of religious orthodoxy. Similarly, his assertion that the phrase halacha le-Moshe me-Sinai ("an oral law revealed to Moses on Sinai") does not always bear a literal meaning but signifies a universally adopted custom, must not be taken as a liberal interpretation. The ROSH was, however, known for his independent legal reasoning: "We must not be guided in our decisions by the admiration of great men, and in the event of a law not being clearly stated in the Talmud, we are not bound to accept it, even if it be based on the works of the Geonim." He declared, for instance, that the liturgy of the Geonim does not fall under the Talmudic rule forbidding change in the wording of the traditional prayers.

He was opposed to the study of secular knowledge, especially philosophy - philosophy is based on critical research, whereas religion is based on tradition and the two are thus incapable of harmonization. He said of philosophy that "none that go under her may return"; in fact, he thanked God for having saved him from its influence, and boasted of possessing no knowledge outside the Torah. His attitude toward secular knowledge narrowed his influence on Spanish Jewry. He espoused the cause of the anti-Maimonists, even becoming their leader, and desired the synod to issue a decree against the study of non-Jewish learning. Together with his sons, he thus transplanted "the strict and narrow" Talmudic spirit from Germany to Spain. It is said that this, in some measure, turned Spanish Jews from secular research to the study of the Talmud.


Rabbenu Ashers best known work is an abstract of the Talmudic law. This work specifies the final, practical Jewish law, leaving out the intermediate discussion and concisely stating the final decision. It omits areas of law limited to Eretz Yisrael (such as agricultural and sacrificial laws) as well as the haggadic portions of the Talmud. As an adumbration, this work thus resembles the Hilchot of the Rif (Rabbi Isaac Alfasi). The ROSH differs from Alfasi, though, in quoting later authorities: Maimonides, the Tosafists and Alfasi himself. Rabbenu Asher's work superseded Rabbi Isaac Alfasi's within a short time and has been printed with almost every edition of the Talmud since its publication. This work was so important in Jewish law that Yosef Karo included the ROSH together with Maimonides and Isaac Alfasi as one of the three major poskim (decisors) considered in determining the final ruling in his Shulkhan Arukh. Ashers son Jacob compiled a list of the decisions found in the work, under the title Piskei Ha-ROSH (decisions of the ROSH). Commentaries on his Halachot were written by a number of later Talmudists.

Rabbi Asher also authored an ethical treatise called Orchoth Chaim for his sons. It begins with the comment, Distance yourself from haughtiness, with the essence of distancing.

The ROSH also wrote a commentary on Zeraim (the first order of the Mishnah) - with the exception of Tractate Berachot; a commentary on Toharot (the sixth order of the Mishnah); Tosafot like glosses on several Talmudic topics, and a volume of responsa.

External links

he:אשר בן יחיאל


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