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Orthodox Judaism: Twersky Hasidic Dynasty

The Twersky family is an Hasidic dynasty from the Ukraine.

The founder of the dynasty, MENAHEM NAHUM BEN ẒEVI of Chernobyl (1730–1787), was educated in Lithuanian yeshivot. After his marriage he eked out a living as a teacher. Influenced by the kabbalistic teachings of Isaac Luria , he practiced self-mortification, and with the spread of Ḥasidism he journeyed to Medzhibozh to visit Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov . After the latter's death Menahem became one of the prominent disciples of Dov Baer of Mezhirech, and was one of the first to propagate Ḥasidism; he was then accepted as maggid (preacher) at Chernobyl, where he lived in penury. The Mitnaggedim were extremely hostile toward him and sometimes insulted him while he was preaching. It is doubtful whether Menahem became a ḥasidic ẓaddik; as an itinerant preacher he wandered among the towns of the Ukraine, engaging also in pious deeds and the "redemption of captives" (in this case, Jewish tax farmers who had been imprisoned for failing to pay rents to the landowners). He wrote Me'or Einayim (Slavuta, 1798), on the Torah and aggadah, and Yismaḥ Lev (ibid., 1798), both of which were frequently reprinted. Menahem added no innovations to his teachers' expositions of Ḥasidism, but among the principles he stressed in particular was the purification of man's moral attributes: "so long as his moral attributes are not purified [a man] will not be worthy of the Torah" (Me'or Einayim, Lekh Lekha); "every day of the week should be devoted to the purification of one particular attribute; the first day to love; the second to fear of God; etc." (ibid., Be-Shallaḥ).

Menahem's son, MORDECAI OF CHERNOBYL (1770–1837), replaced him as maggid in Chernobyl, where he was born. He was the real founder of the Chernobyl dynasty of ẓaddikim. Unlike his father, who had spread the teachings of Ḥasidism while wandering and living in poverty, Mordecai lived in a splendid house and exercised his functions as leader in opulence and power. While maintaining a high standard of living he introduced the payment of ma'amadot, a financial contribution which every ḥasid paid for the benefit of the ẓaddik's "court," collected by emissaries sent from Chernobyl. He was revered by Ḥasidim who traveled to visit him in their thousands. Mordecai wrote Likkutei Torah (1860) on the Bible, and sermons. He added nothing new to the teachings of Ḥasidism. His outstanding pupil was Israel Dov Baer, the maggid of Weledniki, whose She'erit Yisrael was an important ḥasidic treatise of his time.

After Mordecai's death his place was taken by his eight sons, who settled in different cities in the Ukraine. His eldest son (1) AARON (1787–1872) lived in Chernobyl itself. He was educated by his grandfather, Menahem Nahum, and already during his father's lifetime was considered to have a saintly inclination. He based his sermons on his grandfather's teachings and the commentary Or ha-Ḥayyim by Ḥayyim b. Moses Attar . Thousands of admiring Ḥasidim flocked to him. Aaron was confident of his spiritual abilities and holiness; he once wrote in a letter: "Even if they [his Ḥasidim] live as long as Methusaleh they will never realize even a thousandth part of the good I – with God's help – have bestowed on them." He was convinced that the Messiah would come in his lifetime. He headed the Volhynia kolel in support of settlement in Ereẓ Israel. A dispute concerning the presidency of the kolel between himself and one of his brothers ended in Aaron's favor. Two of his sons, ZUSIA and BARUCH, continued the dynasty of Chernobyl. (2) MOSES (1789–1866) lived at Korostyshev. (3) JACOB ISRAEL (1794–1876), author of Shoshannat ha-Amakim (1884), lived at Cherkassy; he had begun to lead a congregation while his father was still alive, and after the latter's death did not recognize his eldest brother's authority, but after a fierce controversy was forced to yield. His grandson MORDECAI DOV of Hornistopol (1840–1904), son-in-law of Ḥayyim Halberstamm of Sandz, was a noted scholar and wrote several works, including Emek She'elah (1906), responsa, and Emek ha-Ḥokhmah (1928). (4) NAHUM (1805–1852) lived at Makarov. (5) ABRAHAM (1806–1889) was also known as the maggid of Trisk (Turiysk), where he lived. He exercised his leadership with a high hand although he tried to act in keeping with the simplicity of the Polish ḥasidic leaders. His Ḥasidim were mainly learned men, wealthy and distinguished persons, and rabbis, including several famous ẓaddikim. He treated his Ḥasidim, who flocked to him in their thousands, as his personal guests and maintained them at his expense. His sermons are a mixture of ḥasidic teachings and Kabbalah, spiced with numerology and gematria in the manner of Samson b. Pesaḥ Ostropoler . Two years before his death he published Magen Avraham (1887) on the Pentateuch and the festivals. In his Shalosh Hadrakhot Yesharot li-Zemannim Shonim he strives to teach "a method of divine service and ways to repentance." He wielded great influence. During the reign of Nicholas I he was imprisoned on the slanderous charge that his sayings questioned obedience to the government. He was quickly released once the charges were proven false. His three sons, NAHUM, MORDECAI, and JACOB LEIB, continued the dynasty of Trisk. (6) DAVID (1808–1882), the most celebrated of the brothers, first lived at Vasilkov and later at Talnoye, where he held his luxurious court in great splendor. It is said that he sat on a silver throne with the words "David King of Israel lives for ever" inscribed in gold. For this the Russian authorities kept him under arrest for a long time. David loved singing and music, being visited sometimes by popular Jewish musicians. His teaching was spiced with secular references and parables, which increased his popularity. He wrote Magen David (1852), Birkat David (1862), and Kehillat David (1882). (7) ISAAC (1812–1895) lived at Skvira. (8) JOHANAN (1802–1885) lived at Rotmistrovka. The courts of these ẓaddikim dominated Ukrainian-Russian Jewry throughout the 19th century. The influence of the Twersky family increased particularly after Israel of Ruzhin left Volhynia to settle in Galicia. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 descendants of the Twersky ẓaddikim left for Poland, the United States, and Ereẓ Israel.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Horodezky, Ḥasidut, 2 (19513), 59–69; 3 (19513), 85–96; idem, R. Naḥum mi-Tshernobil ve-Ẓe'eẓa'av (1902); Dubnow, Ḥasidut, 2 (1931), 199–203, 315–6; M.J. Guttmann, Rabbi Naḥman mi-Tshernobil (1932 = Mi-Gibborei ha-Ḥasidut, no. 5); A.D. Twersky, Sefer ha-Yaḥas mi-Tshernobil ve-Ruzhin (19382); Y. Alfasi, Sefer ha-Admorim (1961), 24–27.