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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Jacob ben Asher
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Hebrew Name(s): יעקב בן אשר; בעל הטורים
Other Names: Ba'al ha-Turim, Tur
Period: Rishonim — 13th–14th Century
Location: Spain
Dates: 1270–1343

Biography:
Jacob ben Asher was the son of Asher ben Jehiel (Yechiel) aka. ROSH.  Born in Germany, Jacob emigrated to Toledo with his father to escape persecution. While his father accepted a rabbinic appointment in Toledo, Jacob ben Asher preferred to depend upon a limited income from patrons for support.
 
Jacob ben Asher is renowned because of his law code Arba'ah Turim, so named for the "four rows" of precious stones on the breast plate of the High Priest (Ex. 28:17). The work is one of the very earliest Jewish works to be printed and is known by the abbreviation Tur. In halakhic literature both Jacob ben  Asher and his code are referred to as Tur. The Tur consists of "four rows" or sections: Oraḥ Ḥayyim (Path of Life) which deals with prayer, the sabbath, festivals and religious matters, Yoreh Deah (Teaching Knowledge) which treats dietary laws and other matters requiring rabbinic decisions, Even Ha-Ezer (Stone of Help) dealing with marriage and divorce, and Ḥoshen Mishpat (Breastplate of Judgment) which deals with civil law and jurisprudence.
 
Jacob ben Asher's Commentary on the Torah is noted for its playful asides which have been incorporated, owing to their popularity, in many additions of the Torah with the attribution, Ba'al Ha-Turim (Author of the Turim.)
 
Joseph Karo's Bet Yosef (House of Joseph) is a commentary to the Tur. Karo later used Bet Yosef as the basis for his own code, the Shulchan Aruch.
 
Jacob ben Asher quotes his elder brother, Yechiel (Jehiel), several times in the Tur and his younger brother Judah, and uncle Chaim, once.

Works:
Arba'ah Turim (Tur); Sefer ha-Remazim (Kitzur Pisḳe ha-Rosh); Rimze Ba'al ha-Turim; Perush 'al ha-Torah

Comments:
The Arba'ah Turim is considered one of the most important works of halakhah. It is a work on Jewish law laid out in "four rows" (arba'ah turim). The work is divided into four sections (each called a tur) a term alluding to the four rows of the High Priest's breastplate. This structure became the basis for Joseph Karo's Shulchan Aruch.
Rimze Ba'al ha-Turim is a commentary on the Pentateuch. This commentary consists of mystical and symbolic references in the text and makes use of gematria, acronyms, and the occurrences of words in other parts of the Torah.
Perush 'al ha-Torah is a lesser known commentary on the Pentateuch.
Sefer ha-Remazim, also known as Kitzur (Ḳiẓẓur) Pisḳe ha-Rosh, is an abridgment of Asher ben Yechiel's compendium of the Talmud and omits the casuistry.

 

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