Rocky Mountain Rabbi

By Max Gross

Published November 10, 2006, issue of November 10, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West
By Steve Sheinkin
Jewish Lights Publishing, 144 pages, $16.99

Could it be that the Wild West — that vast frontier immortalized by the likes of Gary Cooper and John Wayne — bears a startling resemblance to the Mild East? Specifically, the Eastern European Jewish shtetl?

It’s a question that would never even occur to most of us, but apparently Steve Sheinkin seems to think the two places aren’t so different.

In fact, he believes so fervently in their similarity that he has penned an unlikely mixture of the two, “The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West.”

The eponymous star of this graphic novel is a sallow, black-bearded rabbi who, like a latter-day Baal Shem Tov, dispenses wisdom to the prairie dwellers of Elk Spring, Colo., and who — like Will Kane, the marshal of Hadleyville in the 1952 Western film “High Noon” — throws out riffraff, such as Daniel “The Lion” Levy, “Big Milt” Wasserman and Moses “Matzah Man” Goldwater (three villains who don’t look so different from the sorts you would see wandering the streets of the Midwood section of Brooklyn).

“See here, Rebbe,” says Big Milt, grabbing Rabbi Harvey by the lapels, “I want you out of this town by the time I finish my drink. And I should warn you, I’m plenty thirsty.”

When Rabbi Harvey doesn’t move, Big Milt says, “Not leaving, huh?”

“Rather not,” Rabbi Harvey replies.

“Guess I’ll have to kill you then.”

It doesn’t sound very different from the banter of an Eastwood movie… but Rabbi Harvey’s methods of triumph and escape are a little more unorthodox (if you’ll pardon the expression) than Eastwood’s. He defeats his enemies with logic and talmudic reasoning. Big Milt asks the rabbi how he would like to die, and after a few seconds hesitation he responds, “Of old age.”

The answer flummoxes the bloodthirsty gangster. After the rabbi again makes mincemeat out of Big Milt’s next attempt to murder him, Big Milt flees town as quickly as he can.

Rabbi Harvey has a knack for trapping the town’s liars and cheats. He manages to convince a little boy who thinks he’s a chicken to begin acting like a boy again. He cannot be stumped by a question. He might go to an occasional rabbi convention in Cheyenne, Wyo., but otherwise he seems quite content taking care of his Western town, much like the shtetl rabbis. And for this reason, “Rabbi Harvey” is as much a book of Yiddish folklore as it is a book about the Wild West, wherein lies a big problem.

Aside from the first encounter with Big Milt, the Western setting doesn’t feel integral to the story of Rabbi Harvey. It just seems like background. When Robert Aldrich got a similar idea for “The Frisco Kid,” a movie about a Polish rabbi’s 19th-century journey to a congregation in San Francisco, the film worked because Aldrich threw Gene Wilder into actual Western situations — capture by Indians, robbery by bandits, hunger and death. That was a true clash between worlds.

The other problem with “Rabbi Harvey” is that it doesn’t really fit in with any demographic. Graphic novels have complex and serious stories with dialogue that is 90% grown up (well, at least as grown up as your average PG-13 or R-rated action flick).

“Rabbi Harvey” — which adamantly clings to its folktalelike stories and sunny dialogue — will never appeal to the average 11 or 12-year-old. If Sheinkin really wanted something that would have appealed to older kids (and maybe even to us nerdy adults), he would have made the book a bit grittier.

True, there are tales of theft and attempted murder in “Rabbi Harvey” — we can’t forget Big Milt — but how can anyone take gangsters like Big Milt seriously? Nevertheless, Sheinkin has produced a book that undoubtedly will appeal to a younger audience than that which generally hunts graphic novels (say, 9 or 10-year-olds). Could this be your 9-year-old’s first graphic novel? After all, Hanukkah is right around the corner. If so, it will blast down the doors of two great genres. Your 9-year-old might say something that Rabbi Harvey never says: “Yeehaw!”

Max Gross is a writer for the New York Post.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.