Great Leaders of our People
Asher ben Yechiel - The “Rosh”
The commentary on the Talmud authored
by the Rosh, Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, is found in the back of nearly every
edition of the Babylonian Talmud. The popularity of his commentary reflect
his clarity of thought and expression, and his halachic authority as the
close disciple of the Maharam, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293). The
Maharam was the last of the German Baalei Tosafos. Thus, his student,
Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, assimilated and represented the Ashkenazic
tradition of Torah learning.
Because of the savage activities of the Crusaders, Rabbi Asher fled to
Spain in 1306. His first stop was Barcelona, where the Rashba gave him a
cordial welcome. He then moved on to Toledo, where he became Chief “Dayan,”
Judge in matters of Jewish Law, and Chief Rabbi of the community.
The Rosh was not pleased by the Spanish approach to Torah learning, which
he saw as attributing excessive value to philosophy and other secular
studies. He felt that the unavoidable consequence of the Spanish approach
would be the “watering down” of the focus on the Talmud, the true source
and repository of Jewish wisdom. Yet, by the sheer greatness of his Torah
ideas, the influence of Ashkenaz began to penetrate the Spanish Torah
The halachic opinions of the Rosh were binding upon Ashkenazic Jewry. But
Spanish Jewry also began to take into account his opinions in their
formulation of Jewish Law. Rabbi
Yoseph Karo (1488-1575) in the “Bais Yoseph” and in the “Shulchan
Aruch,” classics of Jewish Law, gave equal weight to the halachic opinions
of the Rosh as to the opinions of the Sephardic Torah giants the
Rif and the Rambam. His
method in those cases where the opinions of Ashkenaz and Sepharad
differed, was to decide the Law by “taking a vote,” as it were, among
those three opinions, and the Law would be in accordance with two out of
the three opinions.
The above graphic includes photographs that were provided by VERAfilm archives.