Ascherman grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and attended Harvard University. Though he planned to attend rabbinical seminary immediately after graduation, he was not accepted, and encouraged to reapply after gaining some real life experience. He joined Interns for Peace, a coexistence project which sent him to the Israeli Arab city of Tamra and the Israeli Jewish city of Kiryat Ata to work from 1981 to 1983. After that, he returned to the United States to complete his rabbinical training. He immigrated to Israel in 1994. He attributes his interest in activism on behalf of universal human rights to the rabbinic concept of tikkun olam (lit. "repairing the world"), referring to universal human rights and social justice.
Ascherman actively takes the side of Palestinian citizens and farmers against Israeli police and settlers. In an incident in 2002, for example, he intervened in the questioning of two Muslim women representatives of the International Women's Peace Service in the Palestinian village of Haris, and accompanied them when they were taken to an Israeli police station and accused of obstructing police activities and incitement to riot after they questioned Israeli soldiers who had fired live ammunition into the village. Ascherman translated documents for them and drove them back to Jerusalem after their release eight hours later.
Ascherman and Rabbis for Human Rights were known for dispatching volunteers to act as human shields to protect the Palestinian olive harvest from vandalism and assault by settlers living on nearby land; every year, clashes are reported between settlers and Palestinian farmers. In 2008, the volunteer effort encompassed 40 villages. The effort was launched in 2002 when a Palestinian peace activist solicited RHR's help to protect olive pickers against attacks by settlers living near the village of Yassuf.
According to Nicholas Kristof, writing in The New York Times, Ascherman’s car has been stoned by Palestinian youths and he has been arrested and beaten up by Israeli security forces and settlers. In 2004 to 2005 he was tried for civil disobedience after obstructing a bulldozer as it was demolishing houses in East Jerusalem. In March 2005, he was convicted and sentenced to 120 hours of community service. He was arrested again in March 2008 after witnessing an attack on Palestinians in Silwan. When he went to give testimony, he found himself accused of "inciting Palestinians to oppose the police" near the ongoing archaeological dig in the City of David.
In 2006, Rabbis For Human Rights, the Association For Civil Rights In Israel and five Palestinian local councils won a landmark Israeli High Court case requiring Israeli security forces to allow and protect the access of Palestinian farmers to all of their agricultural lands. As a result, many Palestinian farmers today work lands that settlers and/or the army had prevented them from working for many years.
Rabbi Ascherman casts his position as a moral and religious one rather than a political one, as he stated at his 2005 trial:
"That moral inheritance tells us that the policy of home demolition is immoral. It may be technically legal according to Israeli law narrowly interpreted. However, not everything that is legal is just. The policy is certainly illegal according to international law and tramples on the Torah, which I as a rabbi am sworn to uphold. The Torah commands us to love those different to us, not to have double standards and to have one law for all".
During his tenure at Rabbis For Human Rights, the organization expanded into the field of socioeconomic justice for all Israelis. RHR led efforts that ended of the "Israeli Wisconsin Plan" in 2010, was active in the social protest movement of 2011, and was instrumental in creating the "Public Housing Forum." RHR also began to teach in pre-army academies and created "human rights yeshivas" at Israeli universities and colleges. RHR also began to advocate for African asylum seekers in Israel.
In August 2016, Rabbi Ascherman and two additional RHR senior staff people left Rabbis For Human Rights to found an interfaith human rights organization, "Haqel (The Field) - Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights. Currently, Haqel is working to defend endangered Palestinian communities such as Susya, attempting to prevent or reverse the takeover of Palestinian land, ensuring the safe access of Palestinian farmers to their lands, and advocating for Israel's Negev Bedouin citizens. Rabbi Ascherman continues to be active in "HaMaabarah," a public housing advocacy collective he helped found in 2011.
2002 Torch Lighter in the Yesh Gvul Alternative Israeli Independence Day Ceremony 2005 Abraham Joshua Heschel Award of the "Jewish Peace Fellowship" 2006 Humanitarian Achievement Prize by the " Wholistic Peace Institute" 2009 Keter Shem Tov Prize awarded by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
In 2009, he was co-recipient (with Alice Shalvi) of the Leibowitz Prize, presented by the Yesh Gvul.
In 2011, he was co-recipient (with Rabbi Ehud Bandel, a co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights) of the Gandhi Peace Award, "for their nonviolent methods of resolving human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Territories".
2014 Honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR
2015 Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary
2016 Tikun Magazine Award
Under Rabbi Ascherman's leadership, Rabbis For Human Rights won the Niwano Peace Prize in 2006.
"Born with a Knife in Their Hearts: Children and Political Conflict" in Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World's Religious Traditions edited by Yust, Sasso, Johnson and Roehikepartain, 2005
" On the Human Rights of the 'Other" in Judaism: The Israeli Context" (Hebrew) in Human Rights and Social Exclusion in Israel edited by Ya'ir Ronen, Israel Doron, Vered Slonim-Nevo, 2008
"Does Judaism Teach Universal Human Rights" in Abraham's Children edited by Kelly Clark, 2012
Ascherman is married to Dr. Einat Ramon, the first Israeli-born woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi. They and their two children reside in Jerusalem.