Polish-born Jewish novelist and playwright, who wrote in Yiddish.
Asch was born in Kutno, the fifteenth child of a dealer in cattle and sheep. He was educated in Hebrew schools before attending rabbinical college. His first successful novel, The Village (1904), about the life of Jews in rural Poland, staked his claim to be among the foremost of the writers of the Yiddish revival in eastern Europe. His controversial play The God of Vengeance (1907), one of several on religious themes, was widely performed.
In 1910 Asch moved to the USA, where he did most of his writing and became a US citizen (1920), but he also spent much time travelling; as a Zionist, his journeys frequently took him to Palestine. His novels fall into two main categories: those dealing with contemporary themes and those centred on major figures in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Major representatives of the former group are Three Cities (1933), about events prior to the Soviet revolution, and East River (1948), perhaps his best novel, about Jews and Roman Catholics in the poorer quarters of New York. His novels about New Testament figures won international acclaim: The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943) about St Paul, and Mary (1949). Among his other novels were Sabbatai Zevi (1930), Moses (1952), and The Prophet (1955), about Deutero-Isaiah. In 1953 Asch moved to England, where he died four years later.