Jacob ben Asher
JACOB BEN ASHER
JACOB BEN ASHER (1270?–1340), halakhic authority. Jacob was the son of *Asher b. Jehiel (the Rosh), under whom he studied. In 1303 he accompanied his father from Germany to Toledo, where he lived in great poverty, shunning rabbinical office and devoting all his time to study. In his learning, he avoided verbosity and casuistry. Typical of his style is his first halakhic work, Sefer ha-Remazim, in which he gave the halakhic rulings deduced from his father's work, Ha-Asheri (under the title Kiẓẓur Piskei ha-Rosh, Constantinople, 1515).
Jacob's enduring fame rests upon his major work, the Arba'ah Turim, as a result of which he is commonly referred to as "the Ba'al ha-Turim." Perceiving that "reasoning had become faulty, controversy had increased, opinions had multiplied, so that there is no halakhic ruling which is free from differences of opinion," he decided to compile a work to embrace all halakhot and customs incumbent upon the individual and the community. The work is divided into four sections (Turim, "rows"; first complete edition, Piove di Sacco, 1475): Part i, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, contains 697 chapters and deals with blessings, prayers, the Sabbath, festivals, and fasts; Part ii, Yoreh De'ah, 403 chapters commencing with Issur ve-Hetter, the laws of Kashrut, such as sheḥitah and terefot, and ending with usury, idolatry, and mourning; Part iii, Even ha-Ezer, 178 chapters on laws affecting women, particularly marriage, divorce, ḥaliẓah, and ketubbah; Part iv, Ḥoshen Mishpat, 427 chapters on civil law and personal relations. The arrangement of the book, its simple style, and its wealth of content, made it a basic work in Hebrew law. It opened a new era in the realm of halakhic codification (see *Codification of Law; *Shulḥan Arukh). The style and target population of each section of the Tur are not the same. Ḥoshen Mishpat and Even ha-Ezer are meant more for dayyanim (judges) than for community rabbis or laymen. Yoreh De'ah was meant for community rabbis, while Oraḥ Ḥayyim is a guidebook for both rabbis and laymen. Jacob invariably quotes the text of the Talmud and its commentaries as well as the opinions of authorities who preceded him, and then lays down the halakhah, mainly following *Maimonides and his own father. The Tur also served to apprise Spanish Jewry with the opinions of the French and German rabbinate. On questions of faith and belief, however, he does not hesitate expressly to oppose Maimonides. He was aware of the views of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, whose influence is discernible particularly in the Oraḥ Ḥayyim. The excellence of the work soon led to its dissemination throughout the Diaspora. Its authority has been recognized and accepted by all Jewish scholars throughout the generations, many of whom (including Joseph *Caro, Moses *Isserles, Isaac *Aboab, Jacob ibn *Ḥabib, Joel *Sirkes, and Ḥayyim *Benveniste) wrote commentaries on it, and made précis of it. When Caro wrote his major work, the Beit Yosef (published with the Turim ed. of Wilmersdorf, 1720–27), he decided to "base it upon the Turim… because it contains most of the views of the posekim." In writing the Tur, Jacob broke with the German traditions of his father. The German rabbis did not compose comprehensive halakhic codes because they did not attach universal authority to their legal responsa, viewing them as answers to individuals, and because of the numerous minhagim (customs) associated with each and every German Jewish community, which were often contradictory. After moving to Spain, Jacob discovered that the communities there were less learned and more centralized. These factors made the writing of a comprehensive code both necessary and easier to accomplish. Jacob prepared himself for the writing of the Tur by first editing his father's responsa, thus giving them universal authority, and by creating a halakhic summary of his father's talmudic commentary, Kiẓẓur Piskei ha-Rosh.
Jacob also wrote a comprehensive commentary on the Pentateuch (Zolkiew, 1806), containing the best expositions of the peshat ("literal meaning") by earlier Bible commentators, such as *Saadiah Gaon, *Rashi, Abraham *Ibn Ezra, David *Kimḥi, and others, in particular abstracting "the straightforward explanations" from the commentary of *Nahmanides and disregarding the kabbalistic ones, since "my soul has not entered its secret" (cf. Gen. 49:6). When Jacob added his own opinions it was usually to explain the reason for a Torah law or mitzvah. To the beginning of each section, he added "as a little appetizer, *gematriot and explanations of the *masorah, in order to attract the mind." Ironically, it was just these "appetizers" that were published (under the title Perush ha-Torahle-R. Ya'akov Ba'al ha-Turim (Constantinople, 1500 and 1514)) some three centuries before the main part of the work, and it was this portion only which was widely known for many generations. The modern edition titled, Perush ha-Tur ha-Arokh al ha-Torah, was published in Jerusalem in 1981.
Jacob neither served in any rabbinical post nor received any remuneration from the community but was involved in communal activities. He appended his signature to a sentence of death upon an informer (Judah b. Asher, Responsa Zikhron Yehudah (1846), no. 75). His ethical will to his children (first published Pressburg, 1885) reflects his high spiritual and cultural level. A late tradition, mentioned by Ḥ.j.d.*Azulai, relates that Jacob set out for Ereẓ Israel but died on the journey.
Graetz, Hist, 4 (1894), 87–88; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 270–4; Weiss, Dor, 5 (19245), 118–28; Ḥ. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 2 (1947), 199–220; Freimann, in: jjlg, 12 (1918), 286, 301–8; Waxman, Literature, index. add. bibliography: Y.D. Galinsky, "Arba'a Turim ve-ha-Sifrut ha-Hilkhatit shel Sefarad be-Me'ah ha-14" (Dissertation, 1999); Y. Shaviv, in: Mahana'yim, 3 (1992), 170–79; A. Ahrend in: ibid., 180–87; I. Ta-Shma, in: Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, 3 (2000), 179–96; L. Jacobs, in: Jewish Law Annual, 6 (1987), 94–108; A. Steinberg, in: Assia Jewish Medical Ethics, 1:1 (1988), 3–4; E.E. Urbach, in: paajr, 46:7 (1980), 1–14.
[Ephraim Kupfer /
David Derovan (2nd ed.)]