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ASHER

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 731 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ASHER, a tribe of Israel, called after the son of Jacob and Zilpah, Leah's maid. The name is taken by the narrator of Gen. xxx. 12 seq. (J) to mean happy or propitious, possibly an allusion to the fertility of the tribe's territory (with which cf. Gen. xlix. 20. Deut. xxxiii. 24); on the other hand, like Gad, it may have been originally a divine title. The district held by this tribe bordered upon Naphtali, and lay to the north of Issachar and Zebulun, and to the south of Dan. But the boundaries are not definite and the references to its territory are obscure. Asher is blamed for taking no part in the fight against Sisera (Judg. v. 17), and although it shares with Zebulun and Naphtali in Gideon's defeat of the Midianites (Judg. vi. 35, vii. 23), the narrative in question is not the older of the two accounts of the event, and the incorporation of the name is probably due to a late redactor. Lying as it did in the closest proximity to Phoenicians and Aramaeans, its population must have been exceptionally mixed, and the description of the occupation of Palestine in Judg. i. 31 seq. shows that it contained a strong Canaanite element. In the Blessing of Moses it is bidden to defend itself—evidently against invasion (Deut. xxxiii. 25). Even in the time of Seti I. and Rameses II. (latter half of 14th cent. B.C.) the district to the west of Galilee appears to have been known to the Egyptians as Aser(u), so that it is possible to infer either (a) that Asher was an Israelite tribe which, if it ever went down into Egypt, separated itself from its brethren in Egypt, and migrated north, " an example which was probably followed by some of the other tribes as well " (Hommel, Ancient Hebrew Tradition, p. 228); or (b) it was a district which, if never closely bound to Israel, was at least regarded as part of the national kingdom, and treated as Israelite by the genealogical device of making it a " son " of Jacob. It is possible that some of its Israelite population had followed the example of Dan and moved from an earlier home in the south. Two of the clans of Asher, Heber and Malchiel, have been associated with Milk-ili and Habiri, the names of a hostile chief and people in the Amarna Tablets (Jastrow, Journal Bibl. Lit. xi. pp. 118 seq., xii. pp. 61 seq., Hommel), but it is scarcely probable that events of about 1400 B.C. should have survived only in this form. This applies also to the suggestion that the name Asher has been derived from a famous Abd-ashirta of the same period (Barton, ib. xv. p. 174). Some connexion with the goddess Ashir(t)a, however, is not unlikely. See further H. W. Hogg, Ency. Bibl. col. 327 seq.; E. Meyer, Israelite'', pp. 540 sqq. (S. A. C.) 'ASHER BEN •YEHIEL (known as Rosh), Jewish rabbi and codilier, was born in the Rhine district C. 1250, and died in Toledo 1327. Endangered by the persecutions inflicted on the German Jews in the 13th century, 'Asher fled to Spain, where ASHEVILLE 731 he was made rabbi of Toledo. His enforced exile impoverished him, and from this date begins an important change in the status of medieval rabbis. Before the 14th century, rabbis had obtained a livelihood by the exercise of some secular profession, particularly medicine, and received no salary for performing the rabbinic function. This was now changed. A disciple of Meir of Rothenburg, 'Asher's sole interest was in the Talmud. He was a man of austere piety, profound and narrow. He was a determined opponent of the study of philosophy, and thus was antipathetic to the Spanish spirit. The Jews of Spain continued, nevertheless, devotees of secular sciences as well as of rabbinical lore. 'Asher was the first of the German rabbis to display strong talent for systematization, and his chief work partook of the nature of a compendium of the Talmud. Compiled between 1307 and 1314, 'Asher's Compendium resembled, and to a large extent superseded, the work of 'Al-phasi (q.v.). 'Asher's Compendium is printed in most editions of the Talmud, and it differed from previous Compendia in greater simplicity and in the deference shown to German authorities. 'Asher's son Jacob, who died at Toledo before 1340, was the author of the four Turim, a very profound and popular codification of rabbinical law. This work was the standard code until Joseph Qaro directly based on it his widely accepted Code of Jewish law, the Shulhan `Arukh. (I. A.)
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