Rabbi Joseph Asher was born on January 7, 1921, in Germany. He lived there until 1938 when he fled with his family to London, where he began his rabbinical studies. He later moved to Australia where he served in the army during World War II. After the war, he served as a colonel while stationed in Germany, where he assisted displaced persons. He then accepted a position as assistant rabbi of a Melbourne synagogue, where he met his wife, Fae. In 1949, he moved to the United States in order to pursue further studies.
Asher's first rabbinical appointment was in Florida; he then served a congregation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during the time the University of Alabama was battling desegregation attempts. In 1958, he moved to Greensboro, where he served the congregation of Temple Emanuel until 1968. While in Greensboro, Rabbi Asher worked with black clergy and community leaders, including Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr., towards desegregation and tolerance. In 1965, he wrote an article in Life entitled Isn't It Time We Forgave the Germans.
After leaving Greensboro in 1968, Asher served as the senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco until his retirement in 1985. In 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany conferred the Grand Cross of Merit upon him for his service to humanity. On May 29, 1990, Rabbi Asher died of cancer at age 69.