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Skver (Hasidic dynasty)

Skver (Hasidic dynasty)

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.

The dynasty of Skver is a branch of the Chernobyl dynasty. Its founder, Rebbe Yitzchok, also known as Reb Itzikl, was one of the eight sons of Rabbi Mordechai, the Maggid of Chernobyl.

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.

Family tree

History

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.

Reb Itzikl, founder of the dynasty

After Reb Hershele died on Chol Hamoed Succos 5548 (1788) the townspeople chose Rabbi Reb Itzikl, the seventh son of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl and Reb Hershele's son-in-law, as the next rabbi of Skver. Legend has it that Reb Itzikl was given the honor of leading the Atoh Horeiso prayer on the night of Shemini Atzeres, and his prayers moved the towspeople so, that he was immediately chosen to be the next rabbi. The election of a successor to Reb Hershele as the town rabbi, which had been scheduled to take place after the Sukkot holyday, was canceled as the townspeople had already agreed on their rabbi.

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.

Reb Dovidl

Rabbi Itzikl's son by his third wife Chana Sima, Reb Dovidl, succeeded his father as Skverer Rebbe. He was known to be ascetic and exceedingly reticent. He once said, "Men shvagt un men shvagt, dernoch riet men abisl un men shvagt vater" ("We keep silent and we keep silent; then we rest a bit, and go on keeping silent").

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.

Reb Itzikl Skverer of Boro Park

Rebbe Dovidl's eldest son, Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, died in the same year as his father in Kiev. During those difficult times many Jews fled Ukraine and came to America.

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.

Skwer-Boro Park today

Today, Skwer-Boro Park has one of the biggest Hasidic institutions in Metropolitan New York. Tomer Devorah Girls School, founded by the late rebbe Grand Rabbi Dovid Twersky around 1980, currently has an enrolment of about a thousand girls. The school for boys Bais Yitzchok is named after Grand Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky. In addition, there is also a summer camp for the boys and girls where they enjoy a range of programs in the summer months.

Reb Yakov Yosef

Rebbe Dovidl's son, Rebbe Yakov Yosef (1900–1968), was revered as an exceptionally pious man. In 1925 he married Trana, the daughter of Rabbi Pinye of Ustilla and granddaughter of Rabbi Yisucher Dov of Belz. As a young man he lived in Belz and later adopted some of the Belzer customs. A few years later he set up court in Kalarash, Romania, and later in Yas. During World War II he lived in Bucharest.

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.

Building a shtetl

In 1956, with a handful of followers, Rabbi Yakov Yosef moved to New Square, New York, the first Hasidic Shtetl in America.

The present rebbe

After Reb Yakov Yosef's death in 1968, his son, Rabbi Duvid Twerski, took over the community's leadership. The community grew to new prominence under his guidance. Aside from its headquarters in New Square and its branches in New York City, the group maintains institutions in Canada, England and Israel. The rebbe has a very exacting schedule. Each Shabbos he runs three tishn, and his chasidim file past him five times.

Due to immense population growth in New Square, the new village of Kiryas Square has recently been inaugurated in Spring Glen, New York.

Dynasty lineage

  • Grand Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov — founder of Hasidism.
  • Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730-1787) — author of Meor Einayim and Yesamach Lev; disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.
  • Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky (1730-1787) — also known as the Chernobyler Magid (Preacher of Chernobyl); son of the Meor Einayim; author of Keser Torah.
  • Grand Rabbi Yitzchok (Itzikl) Twersky of Skver (1770-1837) — son of the Magid of Chernobyl; son-in-law of Rabbi Naftoli Tzvi Hirsh of Skver, a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov;.
  • Grand Rabbi David (Duvidl) Twersky of Skver (1848-1919) — son of Rebbe Itzikl.
    • Grand Rabbi Mordechai Twersky of Skver (1866-1919) — son of Rebbe Duvidl
      • Grand Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky of Skwer (1888-1941) — arrived in America in 1923, son of Rabbi Mordechai
        • Grand Rabbi David Twersky of Skwer-Boro Park (1922-2001) — son of Rabbi Yitzchak
          • Grand Rabbi Yechiel Michl Twersky — present Skwerer Rebbe of Boro Park, son of Rabbi David
    • Grand Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twerski of Skver (1899-1968) — Rebbe of New Square; son of Rebbe Duvidl; son-in-law of Rebbe Pinchas Twersky of Ustila (1880-1943).
      • Grand Rabbi Duvid Twersky of Skver — present Rebbe of New Square and Grand Rabbi of the Skverer Hasidim (Skver sect) worldwide; son of Rebbe Yaakov Yosef.

Philosophy and lifestyle

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.

Although all Haredim and Hasidim stress fealty to established traditions, for Skverer Hasidism it is stressed excessively, and is a cornerstone of their philosophy.

Important literature

External links

See also

Bibliography

  • Yachas Chernobyl V'Ruzhin, by David Aaron Twerski of Zhurik
  • Reb Itzikl Skverer, by Leibel Surkis, New Square, NY, 1997
  • Bikdusha Shel Ma'la, Biography of Rabbi Yakov Yosef (Twerski) of Skver, by Mechon Mishkenos Yakov, 2005

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