Rabbi killed in synagogue descended from line of spiritual leaders

Rabbi Moshe Twersky, one of four worshipers killed Tuesday during an attack at a Jerusalem synagogue, was descended from well-known families on both his parents' sides.

On his father's side, Twersky was from a line of rebbes, the name of spiritual leaders of Hasidic sects.


His father, Isadore Twersky, known as the Tolnar rebbe, was not a typical Hassid. He attended secular schools, going to high school at prestigious Boston Latin. He received bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, where he later held the prestigious Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy chair. He also was the founding director of Harvard's Center for Jewish Studies.

His specialty was the 12th century Jewish philosopher and legalist Moses Maimonides.

Isadore Twersky made an unlikely match when he married the daughter of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, scion of a great rabbinic dynasty, going back to Lithuania. Soloveitchik became known as the leading thinker of modern Orthodox Judaism.

One of three children, Moshe Twersky also went to Harvard.

"Just like his father, he had a cold and intimidating external manner, masking a pure soul: He was generous to a fault and scrupulously honest in all he did and said, and he demanded the same of others, which was often a huge challenge," Allan Nadler, a former roommate and director of the Jewish Studies Program at Drew University in New Jersey wrote in the Canadian Jewish News.

"Moshe's intense and single-minded devotion to Torah study was evident to all who knew him, even when he was in his late teens, which is when we shared a living space."

Twersky was killed when two assailants identified as a pair of Palestinian cousins burst into a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood in West Jerusalem. Police killed the cousins, who were from predominantly Arab East Jerusalem.

"By all accounts he was a deeply spiritual and even saintly personality," said Richard Stone, a law professor at Columbia University and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who studied with Soloveitchik.

Twersky had lived in Israel for about 30 years, according to media reports. He taught at Yeshiva Toras Moshe, founded by a cousin, Moshe Meiselman, a former math professor at City College of New York. The English-language yeshiva catered mainly to Americans.

"This man had a very, very interesting background," Stone said. "He was a great scholar. He inherited genes from incomparable Lithuanian yeshiva scholars."

Twitter: @gottliebjeff