Purim-shpil (Purim play) in Tykocin, where the non-Jewish residents reenact the celebration of the holiday of Purim to commemorate the former Jewish residents of the town, 2002. Photograph by Frederic Brenner. (© Frederic Brenner, courtesy of the Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York City)

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Town in the Podlasie province of Poland; known in Yiddish as Tiktin. The first Jews settled in Tykocin in 1522 when the town’s owner, Olbracht Gasztołd, brought in 10 families from Grodno (Hrodna) and permitted them to build a synagogue, establish a cemetery, and practice their trades. In 1537, the original privilege was extended to grant juridical autonomy to the Jewish community. In 1542, ownership of Tykocin passed to the crown, with subsequent kings affirming and extending privileges for Jewish residents in 1576, 1601, 1639, and 1650. In 1661, Stefan Czarniecki assumed the post of starosta (district official), a title that after his death passed to the Branicki family and then to the Potocki and Rostworowski families.

Jews settled in Kaczorowo, a section in the eastern district of Tykocin. The town’s Jewish population expanded quickly: by 1559 it totaled 50 families; and in 1655 some 540 Jews were noted. According to the 1765 census of Tykocin and its surrounding villages, the Jewish population had risen to 2,694.

The Union of Lublin (1569) transferred Tykocin to Polish crown lands. However, several adjacent towns with affiliated communities—Zabłudów, Choroszcz, and Gródek—found themselves within the borders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This situation led to a dispute regarding jurisdiction over these settlements between the Tykocin community and that of Grodno, a conflict that continued well into the seventeenth century.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Tykocin was the predominant Jewish community in Podlasie and northeastern Mazovia, as well as one of the most important in the Polish Commonwealth. It had well-established community authorities, and many outstanding scholars graced its rabbinate. Among these, the most acclaimed were Menaḥem David ben Yitsḥak, a student of Mosheh Isserles; and Shemu’el Eli‘ezer ben Yehudah ha-Levi Edels (Maharsha, 1615–1631). Also associated with Tykocin is the learned Rivke bas Me’ir of Tikotin (Rebecca of Tykocin), author of the moralistic women’s manual Meynekes Rivke (Rebecca’s Wet Nurse), which dates from the second half of the sixteenth century.

The prominence and relative prosperity of Tykocin’s Jews resulted in large part from the town’s location on important trade routes linking Polish lands and Lithuania. Jews of Tykocin traded with Königsberg, Vilna, Poznań, and Lublin, and also engaged in tax and tariff farming. Others worked in textiles, distilling, brewing, and milling. At the end of the eighteenth century, however, Tykocin’s Jewish community began to lose its leading position to the rising community of Białystok.

In 1795, Tykocin fell under Prussian rule, becoming part of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807 and of the Congress Kingdom of Poland in 1815. In 1827, Tykocin’s Jews numbered 2,701, making up 63.6 percent of the population; in 1857 this number had risen to 3,456 (69.9%). By 1897, though, the Jewish population had fallen to 2,484, or 59 percent of Tykocin’s total population, and by 1921 only 1,461 Jews resided there, constituting less than half (48.8%) of the population. By this point they worked mainly in small-scale commerce and crafts and were best known for their production of prayer shawls.

In the interwar period, the Zionist movement grew especially strong in Tykocin. The town’s Tarbut organization established a school and a library. The Agudas Yisroel party was also active; it established a Beys Yankev girls’ school. From 1939 to 1941, the Soviets occupied the town. On 26–27 August 1941, the Germans, having taken over, shot 1,400 of Tykocin’s Jews in the nearby village of Łopuchowo, sending approximately another 150 to the Białystok ghetto.

Of Tykocin’s community there remains a brick synagogue, built in 1642 to replace an earlier wooden one. In the 1970s the synagogue was restored; it currently houses a Judaica museum. The brick bet midrash, built in 1772–1798 and rebuilt after its destruction during World War II, now houses a regional museum. A two-volume reconstruction of the communal record book, Pinkas kehal Tiktin (1996–1999, based on transcriptions made by Israel Halpern) was published by Mordekhai Nadav.

Suggested Reading

M. Bar-Yuda and Ts. (Z.) Ben-Naḥum, eds., Sefer Tiktin (Tel Aviv, 1959); Abram Gawurin, “Dzieje Żydów w Tykocinie, 1522–1795” (M.A. thesis, University of Warsaw, n.d.), housed in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (collection of Master’s theses, 117/37).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 87, Simon Dubnow, Papers, 1632-1938.



Translated from Polish by Anna Grojec