Past Is Future: Gadi Pollack’s Haredi Comics

In: European Journal of Jewish Studies
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The 2000s have seen numerous comics conquer the devout Haredi book market in the usa as well as in Israel, sparking a boom which still remains largely unnoticed. The work of Gadi Pollack stands out due to its graphic quality and richness in technique and ideas. “His comics can be classified as a modern form of Musar literature, which is not only for ‘children’.” His comics will thus serve as a case study for the medium; a medium that is also the subject of Judaistic cultural studies and examined here for the very first time.

  • 5

    Cf. Yoel Finkelman, Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2011); Jeremy Stolow, Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics and the Artscroll Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

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  • 10

    Riva Pomerantz, “The Art of Illustration,” Mishpacha: Jewish Family Weekly 327 (2010): 104–112, here 105.

  • 22

    Gadi Pollack, PurimShpiel: Megillat Esther (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2003) [Hebrew and English].

  • 23

    Gadi Pollack, Birkat Mason: The Art of Praise (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2006) [Hebrew and English].

  • 24

    Gadi Pollack, A Tale of Seven Sheep (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2007). Even though this comic is officially directed at children, it is only fully comprehensible for adults who have the background knowledge on the discourses revolving around Judaism and its non-Jewish environment in Europe. Cf. also Aran, “What’s So Funny about Fundamentalism?”

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  • 27

    Gadi Pollack, Challos in the Aron haKodesh (Jerusalem and New York: Dani Books Publisher and Feldheim, 2014); Gadi Pollack, From Night to Light (Jerusalem and New York: Tiferet and Ner Lamoer Publishing, 2014) [Yiddish]; Gadi Pollack, The Desert Diary (Jerusalem and New York: Feldheim, 2014) [Hebrew and English].

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  • 29

    Gadi Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale: Illustrated Parables of the Ba’al Shem Tov and His Disciples (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2009), 57.

  • 30

    Gadi Pollack, Once Upon a Tale: Twelve Illustrated Parables from the Dubno Maggid (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2004).

  • 31

    Cf., amongst others, Joseph Dan, “Kranz, Jacob ben Wolf,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference usa, 2007), vol. 12, 337.

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  • 33

    Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz, ʾOhel Yaʿakov (Warsaw: Y. Goldman, 1874).

  • 38

    See ibid., 5–8, 26–29.

  • 39

    Pomerantz, The Art of Illustration, 108. According to Pollack in quoted interview.

  • 40

    Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 24–25.

  • 41

    Ibid., 55–57.

  • 43

    Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 21. Cf., amongst others, the scene, in which Fishel tries hard to carry a huge parcel from a carriage into the house of Reb Zalman.

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  • 44

    Ibid., 3, 7, 15, 35, 50–51. Cf., amongst others, Fishel’s dancing scenes.

  • 45

    Gadi Pollack, A Moving Tale: A Trainload of Inspiration from the Parables of Our Sages (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2005). Cf. advert in the English, French, and Spanish issue in Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 57.

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  • 46

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, 26–27. It contains at least seventeen story lines, which include humans and animals. The term “teeming picture” is used here in a specific technical sense, part of Pollack’s graphic artistry.

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  • 48

    Ibid., 45. This is why, amongst other things, the factual level of the parable explains: “Our stay in this world is but a brief journey. If we spend too much time enhancing the ride, we might miss out on the whole purpose of the trip.”

  • 51

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, iii. See, for example, the fifth verse: “The world exists through Torah learning (41)—if it stops, the world would too. / don’t let the Yetzer control you (42) like a puppet without a clue. / don’t get lost improving the ‘ride’ (45) and you will reach your goal, / don’t fear our enemies (46)—with their help we’ll be in Control.”

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  • 53

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, iii.

  • 54

    Ibid., 49.

  • 55

    Ibid., 53.

  • 57

    See Pollack, A Moving Tale, 54–55; with Chaim Shapiro, Once Upon a Shtetl: A Fond Look back at a Treasured Slice of the Jewish Past (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1996), 32–36. The train journey as an allegory for human life also appears in Christian missionary tracts and poems to remind the reader of potential “forfeited” conversions.

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  • 58

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, 16–17.

  • 60

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, 27–29.

  • 61

    Ibid., 56. The transcriptions of Hebrew terminology are based on the Ashkenazic pronunciation, typical for us-American Judaism.

  • 62

    Gadi Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale: Illustrated Parables of the Ba’al Shem Tov and His Disciples (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2009).

  • 66

    Nachman mi-Bretzlav, Sipure maʿaśiyot (Jerusalem and New York: Ben ADaM, 2002), 13 [Hebrew]; Joseph Dan, The Hasidic Story: Its History and Development (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1975), 47 [Hebrew]; Karl Erich Grözinger, Jüdisches Denken: Theologie, Philosophie, Mystik, vol. 2, Von der mittelalterlichen Kabbala zum Hasidismus (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2005), 687–695 [German]. Cf. also Gedalya Nigal, The Hasidic Tale: Its History and Topics (Jerusalem: Y. Markus, 1981) [Hebrew]. Six parables were produced by BeShT. Other parables are derived from the following scholars: Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Benjamin of Zloyitz, Nachman of Bretzlav, Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsberg, Yaakob Yosef of Ostrov or Baruch of Kosov.

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  • 68

    Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 8–9.

  • 69

    Ibid., 21–24.

  • 70

    Ibid., 24.

  • 71

    Ibid., 33.

  • 72

    Ibid., 40.

  • 73

    Ibid., 54–55.

  • 74

    Ibid., 41–46, cf. 54 above.

  • 75

    Ibid., 56–57.

  • 76

    Gadi Pollack, The End of the Tale: A Timely Collection of Illustrated Parables from Gedolim of Recent Generations (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2010).

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  • 78

    See Pomerantz, The Art of Illustration, 107.

  • 80

    Ibid., 50, 52, 54, 56. See the scene unfolding on the bottom left-hand corner of the page in which Robert screens a film and Fishel disrupts the very same screening with his primitive “torch.”

  • 81

    See, amongst others, Shalom Goldman, Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2009); Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate (London: Little, Brown and Co., 2000).

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  • 83

    Ibid., 23–29. See first floor level of the sundial house, a little girl and plant on the balcony. See bottom right-hand corner, a little girl with a pram. Ibid., 27–33.

  • 85

    Pollack, The End of the Tale, vii. The Wikipedia entry to this building is the most exact and most extensive article in English. “Zoharei Chama Synagogue,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoharei_Chama_Synagogue (accessed January 7, 2014).

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  • 88

    Cf. Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 54–55.

  • 91

    Pollack, The End of the Tale, 5, 17, 19, 21. See, the time passing during Berl’s and Robert’s dialogue (right-hand side, top right corner of the wall), or the time span of the interaction between the British police officer and the car driver.

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  • 94

    Ibid., 53. The parable “Shmuel and the Traffic Light” is depicted on every panel (bottom right-hand corner) and does not end until panel twenty-one.

  • 95

    Ibid., 43.

  • 96

    Ibid., 45. See bottom.

  • 97

    Ibid., 51. Shmuel’s storyline, however, does not end until the next panel.

  • 98

    Ibid., 29, 31, 33. See the front door of the ground floor (sundial house).

  • 102

    Farkash, “Ultraorthodox Comics: Heroes in Black.” Several years ago, a similar response to audiotapes in Haredi society was voiced by Kimmy Caplan, “God’s Voice: Audiotaped Sermons in Israeli Haredi Society,” Modern Judaism 17 (1997): 253–279.

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  • 103

    Gadi Pollack, Forward to the Past: A Collection of Parables from Our Gedolim (Jerusalem: Ohrot Publications, 2012).

  • 104

    Gadi Pollack, On the Second Thought: A Collection of Parables from Our Gedolim (Jerusalem: Ohrot Publication, 2013) [Hebrew].

  • 106

    Ralf Palandt (ed.), Rechtsextremismus, Rassismus und Antisemitismus in Comics (Berlin: Archiv der Jugendkulturen, 2011); Leonard Rifas, “Race and Comics,” in Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle, ed. Frederick Luis Aldama (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2010), 27–38; Fredrik Strömberg, Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2003); Sig Altman, The Comic Image of the Jews: Explorations of Pop Culture Phenomenon (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1971).

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  • 107

    See, amongst others, Yael Israel-Cohen, Between Feminism and Orthodox Judaism: Resistance, Identity, and Religious Change in Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Nurit Stadler, Yeshiva Fundamentalism: Piety, Gender, and Resistance in the Ultra-Orthodox World (New York: nyu Press, 2009); Chia Longman, “Engendering Identities as Political Processes: Discources of Gender among Strictly Orthodox Jewish Women,” in Culture and Politics: Identity and Conflict in a Multicultural World, eds. Rik Pinxten, Ghislain Verstraete, and Chia Longmanp (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2004), 49–88; Susan Starr Sered, “Replaying the Rape of Dinah: Women’s Bodies in Israeli Cultural Discourse,” in Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy, ed. Jonathan Frankel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 191–208.

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  • 113

    Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 5–8.

  • 114

    Ibid., 23–29.

  • 115

    Pollack, Forward into the Past, 42–43.

  • 116

    Pollack, On the Second Thought, 28–29.

  • 117

    Ibid., 32–33.

  • 118

    Cf. Chait, The Terrifying Trap of the Bad Middos Pirates, 9, 28, 31, 34–36, 38–39.

  • 119

    Pollack, A Moving Tale, 13–14. Two boys appear in the second volume; Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 24, 26, 28. A little boy plays in front of the castle’s garden.

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  • 120

    Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 37–38, 40. Amongst these, a Russian soldier who, due to his egotistical behavior, puts the collaborative success and the life of his comrades in danger.

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  • 121

    Nicolas Berg, Luftmenschen: Zur Geschichte einer Metapher (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008).

  • 122

    Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 56–57. The minister’s “typical” masculine gestures serve to depict and stress the power of a superior authority.

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  • 123

    Cf. in particular Pollack, Forward into the Past, 12–13, 36–37.

  • 125

    Pollack, The End of the Tale, 13–27. See the Muslim who paints the balcony railing (on the right wing of the building).

  • 126

    Cf. ibid., 30–32. See ground floor, next to the lamp.

  • 127

    Ibid., 23, see below; and 24, see below.

  • 128

    Ibid., 37. See top right-hand corner.

  • 130

    Ibid., 7. Although, Pollack took the introduction of the sundial house story for his fourth volume from Yisrael Gellis.

  • 131

    Cf. Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 36; id., A Moving Tale, 46, 53; id., Forward into the Past, 31, 33, 55.

  • 134

    Yoel Finkelman, “Nostalgia, Inspiration, Ambivalence: Eastern Europe, Immigration, and the Construction of Collective Memory in Contemporary American Haredi Historiography,” Jewish History 23 (2009): 57–87, http://www.academia.edu/1458739/Nostalgia_inspiration_ambivalence_Eastern_Europe_immigration_and_the_construction_of_collective_memory_in_contemporary_American_Haredi_historiography (accessed January 7, 2014).

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  • 135

    See John Doyle Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

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  • 136

    Pollack, A Never-Ending Tale, 20. Cf. the minister and his secretary; id., The End of the Tale, 45. See bottom, police officer. In both cases, however, insults can be heard (“Fool,” “Idiot”).

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  • 141

    Pollack, Forward into the Past, 42–43.

  • 142

    Pollack, The End of the Tale, 52–58. See bottom left-hand corner. On this topic, Yoel Cohen, God, Jews and the Media: Religion and Israel’s Media (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 77–95; Vered Ba-Gad Elimelech, The Educational Significance of Haredi Film for Children and Youth (PhD diss., Bar Ilan University, 2009) [Hebrew].

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  • 144

    Pollack, The End of the Tale, 59.

  • 146

    Cf. Pollack, Once Upon a Tale, 23–29; Pollack, A Moving Tale, 22–25. In those two scenes, in which violence and a terrible accident are depicted, Pollack criticizes the protagonists’ behavior.

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  • 147

    Nathanael Riemer, Zwischen Tradition und Häresie: “Beer Sheva”—Eine Enzyklopädie des jüdischen Wissens der Frühen Neuzeit (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010), 185–216; Joseph Dan, Hebrew Ethical and Homiletical Literature (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1975) [Hebrew]; Isaiah Tishby and Joseph Dan, Hebrew Ethical Literature (Jerusalem: M. Newman Publishing House, 1970) [Hebrew].

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  • 149

    Dan, The Hasidic Story, 4. Also cf. Nigal, The Hasidic Tale, 14, 57.

  • 155

    Haim Zicherman and Lee Cahaner, Modern Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Emerging Haredi Middle Class in Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Democracy Institute, 2012) [Hebrew].

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  • 158

    Pomerantz, “The Art of Illustration,” 110.

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