Asher ben Jehiel (Hebrew: אשר בן יחיאל, or Asher ben
Yechiel, sometimes Asheri) (1250 or 1259 – 1327) 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 (רא"ש, literally
"Head"). His yahrzeit is on the 9 Cheshvan.
4 External links
The Rosh was probably born in Cologne, Holy Roman Empire, and died
in Toledo. His family was prominent for learning and piety, his father
Yechiel was a Talmudist, and one of his ancestors was
ben Nathan (the RaABaN). Asher had eight sons, the most prominent of
whom were Judah and Jacob, author of the Arba'ah Turim, a code of
Jewish law. His primary teacher was the Tosafist
Rabbi Meir of
Rothenburg, then in Worms. In addition to his studies, ROSH worked in
money lending, and according to his own statement, was independently
In 1286, Emperor
Rudolf I had instituted a new persecution of the
Rabbi Meir left Germany, but was captured and imprisoned.
The ROSH raised a ransom for his release, but
Rabbi Meir refused it,
for fear of encouraging the imprisonment of other rabbis. Thereafter
the Rosh assumed
Rabbi Meir's position in Worms. He was, however,
forced to emigrate (in all likelihood, a victim of blackmail by the
government, aimed at acquiring his fortune). After leaving Germany, he
first settled in southern France, and then in Toledo, Spain, where he
became rabbi on the recommendation of
Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham Aderet
(RaShBA). Rabbenu Asher's son Judah testified to the fact that he died
in poverty. Rabbeinu Asher died in Toledo on 9
Cheshvan 5089 (1328
CE). His known surviving children were said to have been killed in the
ensuing persecutions that affected
Spain in 1392.
Rabbenu Asher possessed "methodical and systematic" Talmudic
knowledge, and was distinguished for his ability to adumbrate long
Talmudic discussions. The ROSH, influenced by his teacher
was averse to lenient decisions in halakha, even when theoretically
justified. (Several of his rulings which may appear lenient, are
actually strictures: his decision against praying more than three
times a day is, in fact, limiting. Similarly, his assertion that the
phrase halacha le-Moshe me-Sinai—"an oral law revealed to
Sinai"—does not always bear a literal meaning but often signifies a
universally adopted custom, is not usually 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." (For instance, the ROSH ruled that
the liturgy of the
Geonim was not subject to the Talmudic rule against
change in the prayers.)
Rabbenu Asher was opposed to the study of secular knowledge,
especially philosophy. He held that philosophy is based on critical
research, whereas religion is based on tradition and the two are thus
"incapable of harmonization". He said that "none that go unto her may
return"—in fact, he thanked
God for having saved him from its
influence, and boasted of possessing no knowledge outside the Torah.
He attempted to issue a decree against the study of non-Jewish
learning. One effect of this attitude was to limit his influence on
secular Spanish Jewry. At the same time, within rabbinic circles, "he
transplanted the strict and narrow Talmudic spirit from Germany to
Spain", and this, in some measure, turned Spanish Jews from secular
research to the study of the Talmud.
Rabbenu Asher’s best known work is his abstract of Talmudic law.
This work specifies the final, practical halakha, 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 aggadic portions of the Talmud.
Asher’s 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. In yeshivot, this work is studied as a regular part of the
This work resembles the Hilchot of the Rif (
Rabbi Isaac Alfasi)—also
an adumbration—but differs in quoting later authorities: Maimonides,
the Tosafists and Alfasi himself. One theory states that the work is
actually not a commentary on the
Talmud but is rather a commentary on
the Rif, given that it always starts with the text of the Rif (see
Shach, as quoted in Kelalei HaRif, Rabbeinu Asher VeTur printed before
the Rosh on Shabbat, Klal 2). Some however dispute this (see Sdei
Chemed, Klalei HaPoskim, s.v. "Rosh").
Rabbenu Asher's work superseded 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
Isaac Alfasi as one of
the three major poskim (decisors) considered in determining the final
ruling in his Shulchan Arukh.
Rabbi Asher also wrote:
Orchot Chaim, an essay on ethics, written for his sons. It begins with
the comment, “Distance yourself from haughtiness, with the essence
of distancing.” Orchot Chaim is today an important work of musar
A commentary on
Zeraim (the first order of the Mishnah)—with the
exception of Tractate Berachot.
A commentary on
Tohorot (the sixth order of the Mishnah).
The Tosefot ha-Rosh, Tosafot-like glosses on the Talmud.
A volume of responsa; see History of Responsa: Fourteenth century.
There is a volume of responsa entitled 'Besamim Rosh' which is falsely
attributed to the Rosh. In fact it has been shown to be a forgery from
the 18th century, and contains controversial decisions which
contradict what the Rosh wrote in his (genuine) responsa. This
collection was published by Saul Berlin, Tzvi Hirsch Levin's son. It
was exposed as a forgery by
Mordecai Benet (amongst others)
^ Gedaliah ibn Jechia the Spaniard, Shalshelet Ha-Kabbalah, Jerusalem
1962, p. 268 (Hebrew)
Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Asher ben Jehiel".
Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel – The “Rosh”, ou.org
Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel- Rosh[permanent dead link] Nehora.com
Orchot Chaim Hebrew Fulltext, daat.ac.il
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