As told by Rabbi Arieh Ravitz
Translated by Henry Tobias
On the western side of the shul was the beit hamidrash, which was the largest and oldest building in the town and was full of people praying and studying day and night. Actually the beit hamidrash was the center of community life in Tykocin. Here the rabbi and elders prayed and the famous scholars of Tykocin studied, and the business of Tykocin was carried out. All the news and the social life of the community revolved around the beit hamidrash.
The well-stocked library had books of everyday life as well as rare volumes, alongside books of questions and answers, initial and final, halacha, legend and interpretations which supplied the needs of the many students at all levels. The yeshiva students of Tykocin and the learned residents who were graduates of the yeshivot of Poland and Lithuania, were the celebrities of the beit hamidrash. Other residents were associated in 'Mishna associations' and learned a page of Gemara every day, usually in the morning some before morning prayers (shacharit) and some after prayers. Others learned chapters of the Mishna or Chumash (the five books of Torah), two reading the text and another translating. In the beit hamidrash there were also 'Psalm groups' the so-called 'Psalm sayers' who sat permanently in the beit hamidrash and read psalms. In later years an 'Association of Mishnah Brurah' ( a work of the Hafetz Haim) was formed and was composed of three minyanim who listened every day to a lesson of the Mishnah Brurah between afternoon and evening prayers from Rabbi Baruch Sauervitch and Rabbi Mordechai Pines. So the beit hamidrash was filled with Torah and prayers day and night fulfilling the dictum of the psalms that if one studies, one will not be led astray.
On Shabbat night there were the most students. People, tired from six days of hard work and of going to the market which took place on Friday, went to sleep early, immediately after the Shabbat meal, and at midnight awoke and went to the beit hamidrash to study Torah and to recite psalms. Those who came late, at three or four in the morning did not find place at the study tables.
Even the youth were integrated in the way of life of the beit hamidrash. They were organized into their own societies ; 'book repairing' 'book buying' and Life of Man( a book of Jewish Laws) and the managers and treasurers among them raised money to buy and repair books from members of the different associations and mainly from the Jews whose wives had recently given birth to children. The students asked for the money from the youngsters to repair books that were worn from use or to buy a new book. Sometimes there were disputes, and arguments broke out between the leaders of the groups until the beadle (shamash) announced from the bimah of the beit hamidrash one day, that no more money should be given to the children. Eventually the children prevailed and continued with their work.
They were especially happy when they managed to collect seventy rubles, which was the price of the much sought after Vilna Talmud Bavli (published in Vilna and took between 1880 1886 to compile and print). A special kiddush was arranged and the Vilna Talmud Bavli beautifully bound in leather was brought in with much joy and splendor and added to the treasure of books of the beit hamidrash.
During the Shoah the beit hamidrash was destroyed and the many valuable books were lost and only the foundations remained.
Translated by Henry Tobias
South of the shul, stood a small sad looking building. The Hassisdic Shtiebel.
There were few Hassidim compared to Mitnagdim in Tykocin who were influenced by the nearby Lithuania, only about twenty people, mostly from the outskirts of town. All the Hassidim followed the Ger (Gur) Rabbi.
At first they did not have a place of prayer, but rented apartments which afterwards were used by Poles. When the time came for Pasha, who baked honey(?) cakes(?), to depart this world, she was barren and had no heirs, she called the Hassidim and gave them her miserable house and they in turn promised to say Kaddish for her every year.
In 1914 a short time before Pesach Pasha died and on the same day the Hassidim put the Holy Ark in the house and began praying. Only after Pesach did the renovate and repair and on the Shabbat of Parashat B'haaloch (the third parasha of the book of Numbers) did they consecrate the building with pride and joy accompanied by Rabbi Pinchas and other dignitaries. Four years later this miserable building was used as a place of Torah and prayer for all the residents of Tykocin.
In 1918 there was a terrible plague in the town. The Germans who ruled at that time temporarily turned all the shuls into hospitals and refused entry. Only the Hassidic Shtiebel was ignored.
The Hassidim like their shtiebel were mostly feeble and poor who found supporting themselves difficult, but there was no other place of prayer in Tykocin that was more grand and could be compared with the joy and intensity of the singing. Prayer was always held with singing and song and their service was intense and contagious. On Friday night their singing would reverberate long after the shul and Beit Midrash had finished praying and at the end of Shabbat they would be late for the 'third meal' held after afternoon prayers (mincha) because their singing and chanting was delightful and harmonious.
On Simchat Torah the joy reached its peak. It was well known in Tykocin that the Hassidim circled around the bima for hours with much enthusiastic singing and dancing as opposed to the 'cold' Mitnagdim who didn't know how to sing and dance. In all the shuls and Beitei Midrashot the encirclement of the bima was long finished and the encirclements of the bima continued long after in the shtiebel. Old and young dance in honour of the Torah with devotion and joy.
There was also learning in the shtiebel according to the instructions of the Master (the rabbi) every day and on Shabbat between morning prayers and the supplemental prayers.
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Updated 9 Dec 2012 by LA