Ash, Abraham Joseph

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ASH, ABRAHAM JOSEPH (1813–1887), preacher, Talmud scholar. Ash was born in Semyatitch, Grodno region, Polish Russia, and immigrated to America around 1852. He was one of the founders of the Beth Hamidrash, New York's first Russian-Polish congregation.

Ash was often in disputes with fellow congregants and rabbis. Judah Mittelman, a learned Talmud scholar and founding member of the Beth Hamidrash, had gained the consent of several Galician rabbis to grant Aaron Zvi Friedman a permit to become a shoḥet. Ash disapproved of Friedman's appointment and refused to honor his permit to slaughter kosher animals. As a consequence, Mittelman and his followers seceded from the Beth Hamidrash in 1855 and started their own congregation, the Kalvarier Beth Hamidrash. A few years later, as a result of lingering disagreement with the president of the Beth Hamidrash, Ash led a group of his followers to secede from the Beth Hamidrash. In 1859, they established a new congregation, named the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol.

One of the few Talmud scholars in New York at the time, Ash taught advanced Talmud classes. He granted shoḥetim permits to slaughter animals for kosher meat and inspected their performance at several New York abattoirs. He prepared religious documents of divorce (gittin), which at times created problems for him with the civil courts. The Hebrew text for identifying the city of New York – on the Hudson River but not the East River – developed by Ash for documents of divorce set the standard for subsequent rabbis for more than a generation. He was frequently consulted on issues of practical Jewish law and periodically corresponded with European rabbis.

In the early 1870s, Ash started a business importing kosher wine from California. But Moses *Aaronsohn claimed that the wine Ash was importing was not kosher. As a consequence, Aaronsohn was excommunicated by both Rabbis Ash and Mittelman. When the business met with little success, Ash returned to his responsibilities as religious leader of the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol.

A staunch defender of Orthodox tradition, Ash not only opposed Reform Judaism but engaged in polemics against Reform notables regarding matters of Jewish theology. In particular, he criticized Orthodox synagogues that offered a platform to Reform spokesmen. He censured the Beth Midrash Anshei Suvalk, which in 1884 permitted Kaufman *Kohler, a well-known advocate of Reform, to address the congregation. In 1886 he wrote a satiric polemic against Kohler entitled Male-Shor ha-Mazik be-Reshut ha-Nizuk ("Regarding the Goring Bull on the Premises of the One Damaged"). On May 6, 1887, Ash died in New York City.


Jewish Messenger, 61:19 (May 13, 1887), 2; J.D. Eisenstein, "The History of the First Russian-American Jewish Congregation," in: Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 9 (1901), 64–71; B.Z. Eisenstadt, Dorot Aḥaronim, vol. 1 (1913), 43.

[Moshe Sherman (2nd ed.)]