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.

Past Is Future: Gadi Pollack’s Haredi Comics

in European Journal of Jewish Studies



  • 5

    Cf. Yoel FinkelmanStrictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy (Boston: Academic Studies Press2011); 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): 104–112here 105.

  • 22

    Gadi PollackPurimShpiel: Megillat Esther (Jerusalem: Feldheim2003) [Hebrew and English].

  • 23

    Gadi PollackBirkat Mason: The Art of Praise (Jerusalem: Feldheim2006) [Hebrew and English].

  • 24

    Gadi PollackA Tale of Seven Sheep (Jerusalem: Feldheim2007). 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 PollackChallos in the Aron haKodesh (Jerusalem and New York: Dani Books Publisher and Feldheim2014); 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 PollackA Never-Ending Tale: Illustrated Parables of the Ba’al Shem Tov and His Disciples (Jerusalem: Feldheim2009) 57.

  • 30

    Gadi PollackOnce Upon a Tale: Twelve Illustrated Parables from the Dubno Maggid (Jerusalem: Feldheim2004).

  • 31

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

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  • 33

    Yaakov ben Wolf KranzʾOhel Yaʿakov (Warsaw: Y. Goldman1874).

  • 38

    See ibid.5–826–29.

  • 39

    PomerantzThe Art of Illustration108. According to Pollack in quoted interview.

  • 40

    PollackOnce Upon a Tale24–25.

  • 41


  • 43

    PollackOnce Upon a Tale21. 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.37 15 35 50–51. Cf. amongst others Fishel’s dancing scenes.

  • 45

    Gadi PollackA Moving Tale: A Trainload of Inspiration from the Parables of Our Sages (Jerusalem: Feldheim2005). Cf. advert in the English French and Spanish issue in Pollack A Never-Ending Tale 57.

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  • 46

    PollackA Moving Tale26–27. 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

    PollackA Moving Taleiii. 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

    PollackA Moving Taleiii.

  • 54


  • 55


  • 57

    See PollackA Moving Tale54–55; 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

    PollackA Moving Tale16–17.

  • 60

    PollackA Moving Tale27–29.

  • 61

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

  • 62

    Gadi PollackA Never-Ending Tale: Illustrated Parables of the Ba’al Shem Tov and His Disciples (Jerusalem: Feldheim2009).

  • 66

    Nachman mi-BretzlavSipure maʿaśiyot (Jerusalem and New York: Ben ADaM2002) 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

    PollackA Never-Ending Tale8–9.

  • 69


  • 70


  • 71


  • 72


  • 73


  • 74

    Ibid.41–46cf. 54 above.

  • 75


  • 76

    Gadi PollackThe End of the Tale: A Timely Collection of Illustrated Parables from Gedolim of Recent Generations (Jerusalem: Feldheim2010).

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  • 78

    See PomerantzThe Art of Illustration107.

  • 80

    Ibid.5052 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 GoldmanZeal for Zion: Christians Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press2009); 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

    PollackThe End of the Talevii. The Wikipedia entry to this building is the most exact and most extensive article in English. “Zoharei Chama Synagogue” (accessed January 7 2014).

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  • 88

    Cf. PollackA Never-Ending Tale54–55.

  • 91

    PollackThe End of the Tale5 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


  • 96

    Ibid.45. See bottom.

  • 97

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

  • 98

    Ibid.2931 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 PollackForward to the Past: A Collection of Parables from Our Gedolim (Jerusalem: Ohrot Publications2012).

  • 104

    Gadi PollackOn the Second Thought: A Collection of Parables from Our Gedolim (Jerusalem: Ohrot Publication2013) [Hebrew].

  • 106

    Ralf Palandt (ed.)Rechtsextremismus Rassismus und Antisemitismus in Comics (Berlin: Archiv der Jugendkulturen2011); 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-CohenBetween Feminism and Orthodox Judaism: Resistance Identity and Religious Change in Israel (Leiden: Brill2012); 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

    PollackOnce Upon a Tale5–8.

  • 114


  • 115

    PollackForward into the Past42–43.

  • 116

    PollackOn the Second Thought28–29.

  • 117


  • 118

    Cf. ChaitThe Terrifying Trap of the Bad Middos Pirates9 28 31 34–36 38–39.

  • 119

    PollackA Moving Tale13–14. 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

    PollackA Never-Ending Tale37–38 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 BergLuftmenschen: Zur Geschichte einer Metapher (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2008).

  • 122

    PollackOnce Upon a Tale56–57. 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 PollackForward into the Past12–13 36–37.

  • 125

    PollackThe End of the Tale13–27. 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.23see 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. PollackOnce Upon a Tale36; 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 (accessed January 7 2014).

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  • 135

    See John Doyle Klier and Shlomo LambrozaPogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1992).

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  • 136

    PollackA Never-Ending Tale20. 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

    PollackForward into the Past42–43.

  • 142

    PollackThe End of the Tale52–58. 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

    PollackThe End of the Tale59.

  • 146

    Cf. PollackOnce Upon a Tale23–29; 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 RiemerZwischen Tradition und Häresie: “Beer Sheva”—Eine Enzyklopädie des jüdischen Wissens der Frühen Neuzeit (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz2010) 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

    DanThe Hasidic Story4. Also cf. Nigal The Hasidic Tale 14 57.

  • 155

    Haim Zicherman and Lee CahanerModern Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Emerging Haredi Middle Class in Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Democracy Institute2012) [Hebrew].

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  • 158

    Pomerantz“The Art of Illustration” 110.

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