Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Shakhres: Morning Prayers in Lower Besmedresh,
Acrylic on canvas
20 x 24 in.
"This painting shows a weekday morning service (shakhres) in Lower besmedresh. You can tell it is a weekday because the men put on tfiln, or phylacteries. Tfiln are not used on the Sabbath and holy days. Also, on Saturdays, there would be many more people. There were two minyans for the morning services. The first one was so early the sun was still rising and the sky was red. My painting of the besmedresh shows the table near the window; everyone preferred that place because of the light. Being that the besmedresh is a house of study, I show a case of books.
The man studying the Zohar used to sit next to my grandfather. That man never worked. Whenever I came to the besmedresh, he was studying the holy books. I don't know how he made a living. He had a long, unkempt beard. It was matted. He probably never combed it for fear of removing a few hairs. He considered his beard sacred. To pull out even a single hair, even by accident, would be a sin....
A few men were always hanging around in Lower besmedresh. The houses were cold, miserable, and overcrowded. Some people, mainly widowers, bachelors, and people who had no home, or nothing to go home to, would really spend a lot of time there. It was handy because you could always find a minyan there. Besides, they always had company for socializing, and the room was warm. A huge oven made of brick--it must have been about eight feet square, at least, and used wood and coal--heated the big room. During the winter, some men, especially travelers and itinerant beggars, would sleep on benches and tables around the oven. I heard that, when Apt Hasidim traveled to see their rebes in other towns, sometimes their prayer shawls and phylacteries were stolen while they slept in the besmedresh."