Mad’s Al Jaffee’s Little-Known Ties to Chabad
One of the more shocking revelations in Mad magazine artist Al Jaffee’s biography – reviewed in the Forward last week — is the secret identities of several contributors to The Moshiach Times, a 25-year-old kids’ magazine published by Chabad.
According to a post on the New York Times’ City Room blog, Jaffee himself drew the magazine’s hugely popular adventure cartoon “Shpy,” while Mad colleague Dave Berg, who died in 2002, contributed “The Right Thing,” an ethics feature with Hebraic Goofus and Gallant stand-ins. Another Jaffee referral, comics giant Joe Kubert, “delivered action-packed stories whose occasional mayhem gave the editors conniptions,” according to the article.
While Jaffee’s name has appeared in the magazine’s page-two credits for years, the Times notes, the majority of New Yorkers failed to notice that the mensch behind “Shpy” was “the same 89-year-old bad boy whose work has been appearing for more than half a century in the occasionally rude, irreverent, and bawdy pages of Mad magazine.”
The idea of bringing two “behemoths of the publishing industry” into the publication came from Chabad leader Rabbi David Masinter, who “was asked to lead a makeover of The Moshiach Times shortly after he obtained his rabbinical degree in 1983,” according to the blog post. The Moshiach Times’ content “was great,” he told the Times. “The appearance was shocking.” Masinter’s mission: To “get a hold of the best artists possible.”
The rabbi had read Berg and Jaffee as a child in South Africa in the 1970s; he and a colleague “marched into Mad’s old offices on Madison Avenue and asked Al Feldstein, the editor, if they could hire two of his heavy hitters” to freelance. They left with phone numbers for Berg and Jaffee, who ended up working for The Moshiach Times at a greatly reduced rate.
The rabbis who published the magazine set ground rules, Jaffee told the Times. “Immodestly attired characters were out, and depictions of animals should, when possible, feature kosher species.”
“In other words, they do not want to have cute little pigs romping around,” Jaffee said.
Anyone who’s read “Mad Life” (HarperCollins), the Jaffee bio, might find his quiet contributions to Chabad a little surprising. The book, as the Times notes, “documents in great detail the uneasy relationship that Mr. Jaffee has had with the Jewish religion for much of his life.” It “traces it as far back as the moment 83 years ago when his overzealous mother tried ordering a steamship captain to halt the trans-Atlantic ship they were on, out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath.”
“It was madness,” Jaffee told the Times.