1. Pages 71-80
Yakov is forced to march through public streets to the district courthouse, with people gawking and sneering at the “‘murdering Jew.’” He is put into a cell, where he alternates between despair and hope, wanting to believe that his innocence will soon be clear. Soon, B. A. Bibikov, the Investigating Magistrate comes to question him. Yakov tells him the chain of events that led him to Kiev. He mentions that he reads Spinoza, who was a seventeenth-century Dutch Jew whose philosophical writings on God and nature got him excommunicated from the Jewish community.
Yakov explains that he came upon Spinoza’s writings in a junk shop and that they had a profound influence on him. Bibikov says that Spinoza is one of his own favorite philosophers; he wants to know how Spinoza has affected a man like Yakov. Yakov replies that Spinoza was a free thinker, unwilling to simply accept the established “truth” and laws. He believed that “God and Nature are one and the same, and so is man, or some such thing, whether he’s poor or rich. If you understand that a man’s mind is part of God, then you understand it as well as I. In that way you’re free, if you’re in the mind of God.” Bibikov asks Yakov if he thinks a man can be completely without political ties.
Yakov feels that this might be a trick question—he does not know whether Bibkov is on his side or not—so he gives a rather obscure answer. Bibikov then explains that Spinoza felt that government was necessary to provide “‘security and comparative freedom to rational man. This was to permit man to think as best he could.’” Yakov politely says that Bibikov must know what he is talking about. Yakov himself is but a poor man who has other concerns to worry about than politics. Bibikov asks if he has read other philosophers, such as Marx or Hegel, but Yakov replies that he has not. When Bibikov asks what Yakov’s personal philosophy is, Yakov says, “‘If I have it’s all skin and bones. I’ve only just come to a little reading, your honor,’ he apologized. ‘If I have any philosophy, if you don’t mind me saying so, it’s that life could be better than it is.’” Bibikov asks how life can be made better if not through politics, and Yakov, fearing a trap, answers that working hard might make life better; that, and kindness among men. Bibikov tells Yakov to keep reading and studying philosophy. He leaves Yakov with a questionnaire to complete. He tells him to be strong.
Yakov asks him to have mercy. Bibikov replies, “‘Mercy is for God, I depend on the law. The law will protect you.’”
2. Pages 80-104
The next day, Yakov is taken to Bibikov’s office. There, Bibikov reads aloud Nikolai’s deposition, which states that he suspected Yakov was Jewish all along and that Yakov made excuses for not producing his papers when Nikolai asked for them. Yakov explains that yes, he did conceal who he was and he did accept the job in a district in which Jews are forbidden, but that Nikolai never asked for his passport. Next, Bibikov turns to Yakov’s completed questionnaire, asking him about his loss of religion. Yakov says that he is a freethinker. Bibikov asks if he is a revolutionary then. Yakov denies that, as well as denies being a Socialist or a Zionist.
Bibikov then reads Zina’s deposition. Before he can begin, however, the man who arrested Yakov, Colonel Bodyansky, and the Prosecuting Attorney, Grubeshov, appear. They listen as Bibikov reads. Zina says that Yakov tried to assault her; when he did, she saw that he was “‘cut in the manner of Jewish males.’” Yakov denies assaulting Zina and describes how she tried to seduce him, but she was unclean and he would not have relations with her. After Bodyansky blurts his opinion that a Jewish man should be killed for approaching a Russian woman, Grubeshov asks Yakov if her menstrual blood had religious significance to him. After all, he says, Jewish men menstruated in the Middle Ages. Yakov is befuddled by this nonsense and does not know how to reply.
Bibikov interjects that he has found a letter from Nikolai to Yakov, praising him for his diligent work at the brick factory. He has also found a letter from Zina inviting Yakov to come see her. Bodyansky and Grubeshov have nothing to say to this evidence. They leave the room.
Bibikov says he will recommend to Grubeshov that Yakov not be charged with sexual assault and, since Yakov did not possess counterfeit documents, he will only charge him with living illegally in a district off limits to Jews. Yakov will have to go to jail, but Bibikov feels it will only be for a month or so.
A note arrives, Bibikov opens it, and he quickly leaves the room. When he returns, Bodyansky and Grubeshov accompany him. Bodyansky interrogates Yakov, asking him if he is a member of any subversive political organizations. Grubeshov then asks Yakov a series of questions about the Jewish religion, particularly about Jews who have rituals for harming Christians. He produces broken pieces of matzo found in Yakov’s apartment. Yakov admits to having the old Jewish man there, who brought the matzo with him. Grubshov asks if Yakov often had Jews in his room and if they trafficked in stolen goods together. He asks if the flour found in his room was used to bake matzos, which he implies are somehow part of ritualistic evil. He asks why Yakov had a bloody shirt in his room. Then he asks if Yakov ever chased any children.
Yakov can see where Grubeshov’s line of questioning is leading. All of Yakov’s innocent actions suddenly sound sinister when phrased by Grubeshov. Yakov begins to tremble.
3. Pages 104-108
Yakov is again locked in the cell with the other short-term prisoners. He tells himself over and over that surely his innocence will be proved—after all, he is innocent. Surely someone will step forward to help him.
The other prisoners in the cell claim that they have been falsely accused of various crimes. Yakov says that he, too, has been falsely accused of killing a boy. Immediately, they ask if he is the Jew accused of killing a Christian boy, and when Yakov acknowledges that he is, they turn on him, saying he is a Jewish liar. He is beaten by the other prisoners. When he wakes, he is startled when a rat runs across his body, but “there was a bit of horned moon at the small high barred window and he watched for a while in peace.”
Despite Yakov’s simple belief that a man should be able to better his own life, and despite Bibikov’s respect for philosophy and the law, it is becoming clear that hard work and the law are no protection against being Jewish in a society that hates Jews. That Yakov is Jewish at all makes him suspect—anything Jewish is seen as suspect—to those outside the Jewish religion. As the prisoners make clear to him, being a Jew in Russia is in itself a crime.
Still, Yakov is able to look out at the moon and feel peace. He still believes in justice.