Skver (also Skvir or Skwere; סקווירא) is the name of a Hasidic dynasty founded by Rebbe Yitzchok Twerski in the city of Skver (as known in Yiddish; or Skvira, in present-day Ukraine). Followers of the rebbes of Skver are called Skverer hasidim.
There are currently two off-shoots of the Skverer dynasty. One is led by Grand Rabbi Duvid Twersky, and is headquartered in New Square, New York. The other group, identified as Skver-Boro Park, is led by Grand Rabbi Michael Twersky , son of the late Grand Rabbi David Twersky of Skwer-Boro Park.
The first Skverer Rebbe was Rabbi Hershele of Skver (Reb Hershele Skverer), a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov. When Reb Hershele settled in Skver (Skvira) he was elected to become the town rabbi in the shtutishe shil (שטאטישע שול = main shul in the city). Reb Hershele's daughter later married Yitzchok Twerski, called Reb Itzikl, the seventh son of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl.
Rabbi Itzikl was married three times. He married his first wife, who was a daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok of Radvil and a granddaughter of the Apter Rov, in 1783. They had two sons—Avrohom Yehoshua Heshil and Menachum Nochum of Shpykiv. His second wife Chaya Malka was a daughter of Rebbe Yisroel Friedman of Ruzhin. His third wife Chana Sima was the daughter of Rabbi Hershele (Naftoli Tsvi) of Skver
Unlike his father Rabbi The Chernobyler Magid, Reb Itzikl was a reticent sort and did not deliver public discourses as was common among other Hasidic rebbes. His successors generally did the same. The philosophy of general reticence and understatement in devotional behavior chracterisitic of Skver can be traced to this practice.
While Reb Itzikl was not a preacher, people traveled from afar him to discuss their personal matters privately with Reb Itzikl. He established his Hasidic court in the center of the city, occasionally traveling to other towns in Ukraine.
Reb Itzikl is known in Hasidic legend as the filozof eloki, the Godly philosoper. He is said to have studied the works of Maharal extensively. There is evidence that he also studied medieval and pre-medieval works of Jewish philosophy, in departure from the common Hasidic practice to shun philosophical studies of fundamental faith issues.
The Haskala movement (the Jewish Enlightenment, not to be confused with the more general Age of Enlightenment), was sweeping through Eastern Europe in the late eighteenth century, and Reb Itzikl frequently attempted to debate and confront the Maskilim. A well-known tale relates that Reb Itzikl engaged in a fierce debate with a Maskil, and won the debate after citing an argument from Sefer Haikarim.
There are no published works by Reb Itzikl himself, although a collection of oral teachings (name needed) has been published by Skverer chasidim in recent years under the imprint of Mechon Mishkenos Yakov.
In 1914 Rebbe Dovidl left Skvira for Kiev due to the Bolshevik revolution, which left smaller cities and towns unsafe. He stayed in Kiev until his death (on 15 Kislev 5680) in 1919. He left no published works.
Rabbi Mordechai's son, Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky, known as Reb Itzikl Skverer (Skvirer), also left Bessarabia and came to America, arriving in 1923. Eventually he settled in the Borough Park, Brooklyn and opened his shul on 45th Street between 13th and 14th Avenue.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky died prematurely, while his son Rabbi Dovid Twersky was still young. Although there were not many vibrant Hasidic communities in America in those days, he was raised in a Hasidic atmosphere in his mother's house where he was guarded against the influences of the American culture. Later, when his uncle the Grand Rabbi Yakov Yosef Twersky of Skver came to America, his mother asked the Skverer Rebbe to look after him and teach him. When Rabbi Dovid grew older he took over the leadership of the shul of his late father Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky, and devoted his whole life to help a fellow Jew. Rabbi Dovid Twersky was known in the Hasidic community for his extraordinary expertise and influence with many in the medical field, and consequently was often sought out for advice. He died in 2001 and was succeeded by his son, Yechiel Michl Twersky, the Skwerer Rebbe of Boro Park.
After the war Rabbi Yakov Yosef came to the U.S. Disappointed with American materialism and decadence, he was immediately overcome by a desire to create a rural community far from the hustle and bustle of New York life. It is said that soon after he arriving on American shores he said to his followers, "If I weren't so embarrassed, I'd turn around and head back immediately."
After spending a few years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where his home and synagogue became a beacon for many who sought his counsel, he established a community in what was then rural Rockland County, New York, and named it New Square. Establishing the village and its institutions became his life's work. It was the first such shtetl in America, and was later emulated by a number of other groups.
Skverer Hasidism stresses Torah study, prayer, and abstention from excessive earthly pleasures in order to achieve purity of heart and mind. To that end, the Village of New Square was established, where residents are sheltered from influences deemed decadent.
A central part of the lifestyle is the attachment to the rebbe. As with most Hasidic groups today, the Rebbe's position is generally attained through his lineage. However, to be accepted by the masses, the Rebbe is expected to display behaviors such as humility, love for fellow Jews, and general devotion to God's service. The rebbe, as tzadik or righteous person, is seen as a conduit to God for the masses.
Modes of dress for Skverer hasidim are generally similar to those of other Hasidic groups, especially that of Vizhnitz, Belz, and Klausenberg. Weekday attire for men consists of long coats called rekels and velvet hats. On Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath), Jewish holidays and special occasions the men wear long black coats made of silk (or imitation silk made from polyester) called bekishes. Married men also wear fur hats called shtreimels, and knee-high leather boots known as shtifl.
Married women wear stylish wigs, generally with an additional covering over it, such as a hat or kerchief, and wear modest clothing with wrist-length sleeves, fully covered necklines, and stockings.