ASCHER, SAUL (1767–1882), German author, philosopher, and pioneer of religious reform. Ascher was born in Berlin and was heavily influenced by the Kantian philosophy. His first work, Bemerkungen ueber die buergerliche verbesserung der Juden, veranlasst durch die Frage: Soll der Jude Soldat werden (1788), included a call to the Jews to relinquish their way of life and prejudices in order to obtain civic emancipation. Nevertheless he rejected military service as long as the Jews did not enjoy full emancipation and equality. In 1794 he published a polemical tract against the antisemitic opinions of Fichte, calling him a "second Eisenmanger" and criticizing some of his philosophical ideas. In his main work, Leviathan, oder: ueber Religion in Ruecksicht des Judentums (1792), in contradiction to Moses Mendelssohn Ascher considered religion a primary expression of human sentiment that leads to a specific world view and ideals. Judaism's uniqueness lies not in the practical commandments but in this specific world view, which he summed up in 14 dogmas basically corresponding to the 13 Articles of Faith of Maimonides. According to Ascher, the object of Jewish religious law is to stimulate the discernment of its philosophical kernel and should be reformed whenever necessitated by the social and spiritual conditions of the Jews.
C. Schulte, "Saul Ascher's 'Leviathan,' or the Invention of Jewish Orthodoxy in 1792," in: lbiyb, 54 (2000), 25–34; E. Schweid, Toledot Philosofiyat ha-Dat ha-Yehudit ba-Zeman he-Ḥadash, 1 (2001), 137–51; W. Grab, "Saul Ascher – ein jüdischdeutscher Spaetaufklaerer zwischen Revulution und Restoration," in: Jahrbuch des Instituts für Deutsche Geschichte, 6 (1977), 131–79.
[Jacob S. Levinger /
Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]