In the Chmielnicki massacres (1648-1649), the Cossacks kill Jacob’s wife and children. He survives by fleeing his native Josefov, but his fate is little better than his family’s: Captured by brigands, he is sold as a slave to Jan Bzik.
Wanda, Jan Bzik’s daughter, falls in love with Jacob. When he tends the cattle in the mountains during the summer, she brings him special foods from the village. When he is sick, she cares for him; when he is bitten by a snake, she saves his life. Because he remains an Orthodox Jew, Jacob will not work on the Sabbath—thus, Wanda performs his chores for him. She wants Jacob to marry her or, if he will not marry, to live with her.
For a long time Jacob resists. Wanda is not Jewish, so he cannot marry her, and without marriage he refuses to sleep with her. Finally, though, his love and lust overcome his scruples. Further, despite Polish law, which makes the conversion of a Gentile a capital offense for both the convert and the Jew who has caused the conversion, Wanda embraces Judaism.
Jacob’s life with Wanda ends abruptly when Jews from Josefov ransom Jacob from slavery. Back in his native village he teaches Hebrew, serves as beadle in the study house, and restores damaged sacred texts. The Jewish community wants him to remarry and finds a rich widow for him. One night, shortly before the marriage is to occur, he dreams that Wanda is pregnant with his child; the next morning he sets off to...
(The entire section is 534 words.)