In the long history of conversion to Judaism, few figures rival the affection and esteem with which Count Walenty (Valentine) Potocki, the martyred Vilna Ger Tzedek, is remembered. The story of the young Polish nobleman, burned at the stake in 1749, is that of a principled and sensitive spiritual seeker who abandoned wealth, power, and all but unlimited worldly prospects in order to adopt Judaism, a religious tradition that was anathema to his noble class. Potocki was betrayed by a member of the religious community he embraced, and executed as an apostate by the Church he left behind, and which his family had served with distinction. Potocki's religious journey took him from the comfort of his magnatial family origins to Parisian saloons, to the academies of Pope Benedict XIV's Rome, to the Rabbinic Court of Amsterdam, to a modest Jewish community in Poland, where he gave his life for the Judaism he loved. "Noble Soul" examines eleven versions of Potocki's life story, drawn from works in Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and English, as well as heated, previously unpublished correspondence between the powerful Potocki clan and an early Ger Tzedek biographer.
The historical, religious, and literary context of these documents is explored in careful detail. "Noble Soul" is the record of one man's defining faith, and of the compelling human need for personal spiritual fulfillment.