1. Pages 229-235
Months pass, and winter turns into spring. Rain seeps into Yakov’s cell. When the boredom becomes unbearable, Yakov opens one of the phylacteries he had been given and reads them. All four of them command that people obey God and promote his teachings. Yakov feels both excitement and sadness; he hides the scrolls in case the prison guards try to take them from him as some sort of evidence against him. Weeks later, Yakov is given a New Testament in Russian by Zhitnyak, who says his mother has sent it in order to help him repent. Yakov is initially suspicious of the New Testament and Christ’s teachings, but when he does begin to read the book, he is very taken with the life of Jesus, especially his sufferings at the end of his life. Yakov thinks, “If that’s how it happened and it’s part of the Christian religion, and they believe it, how can they keep me in prison, knowing I am innocent? Why don’t they have pity and let me go?”
Yakov memorizes some passages and recites them at night. Kogin is intrigued and asks Yakov how a Jew can recite Christian scripture. Yakov recites the scripture inviting Christians to eat of Christ’s flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. Kogin tells him that is different from what the Jews are accused of doing with blood; for Christians, it is merely symbolic and takes place with bread and wine rather than real flesh and blood. Yakov asks how anyone who loves Christ can keep an innocent man in prison. Kogin says that Yakov is not innocent.
Kogin repeatedly comes to listen as Yakov recites the New Testament, and eventually he brings a candle for Yakov and asks him to read to him. Seeing that Kogin is being friendly, Yakov asks him for pencil and paper. Kogin refuses, so Yakov blows out the candle and refuses to read to him.
Again, echoes of Christ exist in this section. It is ironic that Yakov, imprisoned for being a Jew, should be the teacher of a man who claims to be a Christian. Of course, when Kogin is reminded that Yakov is a Jew, he immediately punishes him by denying him pen and pencil. It is also ironic that Yakov is accused of committing a blood crime, while in the Christian teachings, blood sacrifice is sanctioned. Kogin’s reasoning that Christian blood sacrifice is merely symbolic does not diminish its power—nor does it excuse Christians from persecuting an innocent man under pretense of accusing him of a blood sacrifice crime. Those in power, it seems, get to make the rules, whether they are just or not.
2. Pages 235-237
In the summer, a priest comes to visit Yakov, saying he has had a vision of a man suffering in prison. He believes he was given a sign to pray over Yakov and beg forgiveness for him from God. Yakov, however, says he does not forgive those who have imprisoned him. The priest says that he will teach Yakov the Orthodox Christian doctrine, but Yakov ignores him and covers up with his prayer shawl, the broken phylactery pressed against his forehead.
Because he has refused the priest, Yakov is searched four times that day, and when the Deputy Warden finds the New Testament, he hits Yakov and takes both the New Testament and Yakov’s phylacteries. The next day, he flings loose pages from an Old Testament in Hebrew into Yakov’s cell.
3. Pages 237-242
Yakov’s broom disintegrates, and the handle is taken away from him. The loss of the broom leaves Yakov without a routine. They refuse to let him get his food from the kitchen anymore; they searched his cell and conveniently “found” a knife. Yakov sinks into depression; he stops keeping track of time. “Time blew like a steppe wind into an empty future.” He reads the Old Testament pieces, fascinated by the stories about the Hebrews and their interactions with a “huffing-puffing God who tried to sound, maybe out of envy, like a human being.” He tries to make sense of the Jewish relationship with God, how they are chosen, how they betray God, how they are forgiven, how they make a new covenant. “The purpose of the covenant,” Yakov reasons, “is to create human experience, although human experience baffles God.” Yakov considers Spinoza’s God, a God found in nature and in the mind of man. Both concepts of God puzzle Yakov. “He [Yakov] is, after all, no philosopher. So he suffers without either the intellectual idea of God or the God of the covenant; he had broken the phylactery. Nobody suffers for him and he suffers for no one except himself.”
Yakov lapses into moments of “thoughtless thought.” In his sleep he walks, dreaming he is walking across Russia. He recalls his life and the mistakes he made, wondering if his life would be different if he had not cast Raisl out of his life.
The injustice of Yakov’s imprisonment leads him to feel that there is no justice, neither in Christianity nor in Judaism, because neither brings him comfort or help. Although he is not an educated philosopher, even he can see that neither religion seems to have a God that chooses to help him, an innocent man.
But is he innocent? Yakov begins, too, to dissect his life and look for what guilt might have been his downfall. Did it begin when he cast out Raisl? Maybe he does deserve some sort of punishment—but does that punishment come from a displeased God, or does it simply come from his own mistakes? What place does free will play in Yakov’s predicament?
4. Pages 243-248
Yakov receives a letter from Marfa Golov. She tells him that she is certain he was forced to kill Zhenia by other Jews, and that she had him followed and has proof he is the member of a gang of criminal Jews. She says Jews have tried to bribe her not to testify against Yakov. She then accuses Yakov of sexually molesting Zhenia. After she has vented her rage against Yakov, she says that she has suffered unjust suspicions against her, but that she is an honest and virtuous woman.
Yakov hopes that the trial she mentions might be actually coming. He wonders why she wrote such a letter. He wonders if the suspicions and rumors she mentions mean that people on the outside are working to prove his innocence. In an odd way, her words confirm her guilt.
5. Pages 248-253
Yakov has nightmares in which he sees Zhenia, singing about being murdered by a Jew who gave him poisoned candy, then stabbed him in the brickyard. Yakov fears he is going crazy and will confess to something he did not do. Next, he dreams of Shmuel’s horse accusing him of being a horse killer and a child killer. He dreams, too, of people watching him, of being rescued by a Jewish army, of the boys he knew in the orphanage. He imagines a pogrom outside the prison, complete with a procession of the Tsar and The Black Hundreds. He believes the guards are giving him rat poison and fights them. In his mind, the Tsar appears, telling Yakov that the Jews are too numerous and must be exterminated. Yakov also sees Nikolai, Zena, Proshko, and others who have accused him.
At last, Yakov comes to himself. He finds out that he had suffered a fever and been delirious, but no one could understand what he was raving about.
6. Pages 253-259
Yakov thinks he is dreaming when Shmuel appears, but he has indeed found a way to see Yakov. Shmuel tells him that the Jews are terrified at the climate against them in Russia now. Yakov warns him to get out if he can, and Shmuel says he intends to, but he wants to know why Yakov is being accused of killing Zhenia. He implies that none of Yakov’s misfortunes would have happened if he had not turned his back on his God. “‘Yakov,’ said Shmuel . . . ‘we’re not Jews for nothing. Without God we can’t live. Without the covenant we would have disappeared out of history. Let that be a lesson to you. He’s all we have but who wants more?’” He tells Yakov to blame his miseries on himself and other men, not on God. Yakov, however, retorts that God does not exist. Yakov does not hear him. Shmuel counsels that if Yakov will speak to God, he will then hear his replies. Yakov says he gives God nothing but silence because that is all he gets from God.
Shmuel, before he must go, begs Yakov not to close his heart to God. Yakov says his heart is made of rock now. However, he pleads with Shmuel to find someone to help him.
Yakov has decided that even though he is being persecuted for being a Jew, he will not believe in the Jewish god, in a god who turns a deaf ear to an innocent man’s pleas. Shmuel places the blame for Yakov’s misfortunes on Yakov’s disbelief, which has placed him in the hands of people who persecute him. To Shmuel, Yakov’s life misfortunes have been the result of a chain reaction that began with Yakov disavowing God. Ironically, though, Yakov depends on the Jews to save him. The question is: Should they save a man because he was born a Jew, even if he no longer wants to be a Jew? As Shmuel tells Yakov, the Jews fear a mass pogrom against them. Yakov’s situation has forced them to rely on the courage of their convictions—or to flee. Yakov’s case has brought about a test of their faith.