Asher ben Jechiel
(Known called the Rosh). Ben Jechiel was known as a codifier of laws and leader of Jewish communities in Germany and Spain.
He was educated by his father and uncle, who were both well known
and highly respected thinkers. He spent some time in France, where he
met Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg. When Meir was imprisoned and held hostage,
Aszer took over as chief rabbi of the Ashkenazim (i.e., the Jews of
Germany and France). He worked on rebuilding the Jewish communities
after the pogroms of 1298, and tried to free Meir. Because his own life
was in danger, however, he fled Germany in 1303.
A year later, he arrived in Spain, where he became rabbi of a large
Community in Toledo. Although he lived and died in poverty there, he was
widely respected for his wisdom. He was often asked for advice, and he
was even supported at the royal court because of the important influence
he had on the Spanish Jews.
Asher took part in a dispute about the role
and use of the study of philosophy. He believed that the ban on
studying philosophy before the age of twenty-five that had been imposed
by Salomon ben Abraham Adret was too lenient. In his opinion, the study
of philosophy should be banned altogether. In the end, he supported
Adret, but noted that this was not to say that he supported the
philosophy behind his teachings.
Asher was involved in all aspects of rabbinical instruction. He
sometimes spoke out against customs prevailing in Spain, which he
considered to be the result of Christian influences. These included, for
example, a law that allowed women to receive inheritance in the same
proportion as men, the guarantee that the oldest sons receive all the
property, and the requirement that a man grant a divorce to his wife if
she has stated she no longer wants him as a spouse. Asher left over
1,200 "responses", i.e., answers to legal questions.
Asher also wrote commentaries to the Mishna and Talmud in which he
expounded on their legal intricacies, as well as discussions about
problematic passages from the Talmud, in which he notes the views of
various researchers (including, for the first time, the works of German
and Spanish authorities). This became the basis for the preparation of a
final version of the codex, the Tur, which was written by Asher's son,
Jakub ben Asher.