Skip

Don't Fold-In on the Shabbes
October 5, 2010 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Chabad-Lubavitch has a long history of trying to make Jewish observance fun for children, a tactic well-documented in a recent book about the history of the movement. Comic strips played a major role, and for more than twenty-five years now, one of the most popular characters has been Shpy, a detective who solves crimes and resolves holiday mysteries. His arch-nemesis is Yetzer Hora, and his assistants include Agent 613. Until now, the strip's author was unknown to the wider world. Turns out, it's Al Jaffee of Mad Magazine.
posted by gabrielsamoza (35 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are any of the actual comics online where we can see them? (How about some links?)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:15 AM on October 5, 2010


Awesome post! That's pretty incredible. I find Chabad intensely fascinating; everything from some believing that Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Jewish messiah to the meticulous reconstruction of a Brooklyn building around the world.
posted by griphus at 11:18 AM on October 5, 2010


I need this anthologized, NAO. Get on it, Fantagraphics!
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:18 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chabadniks aren't big on producing online media for children, so I couldn't find any links to the actual comics, but the NYT article has a slideshow of images.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 11:19 AM on October 5, 2010


(the sound of my head exploding from cognitive dissonance)
posted by victors at 11:27 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


What, you want I should worry?
posted by chinston at 11:30 AM on October 5, 2010 [19 favorites]


That's a pretty big "Jaffee" signature at the bottom of most of the drawings. Are you sure it's been a secret all these years?
posted by turducken at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It looks like you can find links to some of the Shpy stories here, though they seem to be illustrated stories more than comics.

I remember hearing that the person who drew comics for another kids' publication, Olameinu, was also a secular comic world bigwig, but I can't remember his name (it may have been Joe Kubert.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:32 AM on October 5, 2010


Unless he's far more versatile than his work at Mad, Jaffee's style is recognizable from the Moon. I find it tough to imagine no one knew.
posted by GuyZero at 11:32 AM on October 5, 2010


Huh. Looking at the drawings it actually doesn't look al that much like the Mad Jaffee, but the signature is probably a big giveaway (per turducken).
posted by GuyZero at 11:34 AM on October 5, 2010


Also, someone needs to make a "Shpy vs. Shpy" joke.
posted by turducken at 11:39 AM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


If you RTFA, you'd note that this has not been a secret at all. He's been on the page 2 masthead for his entire run, apparently.
posted by norm at 11:45 AM on October 5, 2010


Poor syntax on my part: I meant, Al Jaffee was doing this whole time but nobody in the non-Chabad world ever noticed.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 11:48 AM on October 5, 2010


Jaffee on Kickstarter.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:49 AM on October 5, 2010


PROTIP: If you're ever on a blind date with a girl whose last name is Lubavitch, be very, very careful about mispronouncing it.
posted by Eideteker at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is Agent 613 a reference to the number of mitzvahs per Maimonides?
posted by Falconetti at 12:20 PM on October 5, 2010


When I was a kid I belonged to the chabad-sponsored group Tzivos Hashem ("God's Army," which makes me shudder now.) We got a little booklet called the Tzivos Hashem Newsletter or something every week and it had short stories and comics about how the Messiah was coming soon and stuff. It's all really very creepy in hindsight.

The Chabad folks I know have been unfailingly warm and generous, but they are basically missionaries (to Jews only.) There is an ulterior motive.
posted by callmejay at 12:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Falconetti: absolutely. It's basically the force of the mitzvahs (Agent 613!) against the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination, which causes Jews not to perform mitzvos).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:25 PM on October 5, 2010


If Jaffee worked for a Christian group, we would expect to see the usual rounds of snark and insults. Not to mention references to Jack Chick and the religious Archie comics, not to mention another round of self-righteous snark about homophobia, creationism and the evils of religion in general.
posted by Yakuman at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Totally agree, callmejay. I had a hardcore Chabad friend when I was growing up, who really took the Messiah stuff to heart. When I got to be an adult I saw it for what it is, but she...didn't. In an email to me (she keeps tracking me down) she made an offhand reference to how she would see me soon--you know, in Israel, when Moshiach comes.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2010


a long history of trying to make Jewish observance fun for children

Must be tough after that circumcision stuff.

yeah, I went there. I don't actually have a strong opinion on the subject.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2010


This made my day. Thanks!
posted by dbiedny at 12:55 PM on October 5, 2010


Never mind the magazine, I'm off for the biography. That's some life he's having.

(Chocolate Pickle, there's a link to the current magazine in the Times article.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:13 PM on October 5, 2010


If Jaffee worked for a Christian group, we would expect to see the usual rounds of snark and insults. Not to mention references to Jack Chick and the religious Archie comics, not to mention another round of self-righteous snark about homophobia, creationism and the evils of religion in general.

You're silly.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 1:30 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


callmejay: in my family they were referred to as the Yiddish Moonies.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:44 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Get on it, Fantagraphics!

Yeah, but after the Pogo collections that were supposed to start in 2007...
posted by Zed at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2010


Using a cartoon to sell religion to children is as bad as using Joe Camel to sell cigarettes to them. Exposing them to the cartoon genius of Al Jaffee to do so is downright unfair.

A child should have to read many years of Mad Magazine - and really learn what humor is all about - before they are given the more advanced comic books created by L. Ron Abraham, L. Ron Jesus, and L. Ron Mohammad.
posted by three blind mice at 2:18 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Note: do not draw a fold-in on the afikomen. only works once.
posted by not_on_display at 2:27 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


So where does the Honukkah Armadillo fit into all of this?
posted by scalefree at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2010


"Mad Magazine Artist Working Undercover for the Messiah" could be the synopsis of Michael Chabon's next novel.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:42 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love Al Jaffee but Chabad is a bit creepy-- although a lot less then other religious fanatics because they're not trying to convert people from other religions.
posted by cell divide at 4:08 PM on October 5, 2010


If Jaffee worked for a Christian group, we would expect to see the usual rounds of snark and insults. Not to mention references to Jack Chick and the religious Archie comics, not to mention another round of self-righteous snark about homophobia, creationism and the evils of religion in general.

True, if not for one minor factoid: Al Jaffee is the Prophet of Snark and the author, by divine inspiration, of its Holy Texts.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:11 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I'm pretty sure there's still a cassette tape of the Shpy's adventures sitting in my mom's basement in Brooklyn.

Back in the the yeshiva days, we'd try to get someone to say something naughty by asking them a riddle: What does the Shpy do when he's not shtanding?
posted by greatgefilte at 4:18 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


If Jaffee worked for a Christian group, we would expect to see the usual rounds of snark and insults. Not to mention references to Jack Chick and the religious Archie comics, not to mention another round of self-righteous snark about homophobia, creationism and the evils of religion in general.

If the ultra-orthodox get an easier ride it's probably because they generally don't bother non-Jews (with the possible exception of hipsters).
posted by acb at 3:49 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the ultra-orthodox get an easier ride it's probably because they generally don't bother non-Jews (with the possible exception of hipsters).

Heh. One of my grandfather's oft-repeated stories recollects the time when, as a teenager, he broke his back (which is why he couldn't fight in WWII, which is why he became a draughtsman, which is why it comes up) when a "fat old jew" opened a car door in the path of his speeding bicycle.

But after a while, says one Hasidic real-estate developer, “People started talking to the rabbis—‘Hey, something’s happening, all these young white people are moving in.’ ” When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.

Hmm. That sounds oddly familiar, but something about it seems somehow... backwards? Like, I seem to faintly recall some obscure bit of history about an artist saying those exact same things about a group of people he called Juden, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Anyway, it seems like a sort of ironic position to take. Indeed, it's almost too ironic—suspiciously so. It almost makes me wonder if perhaps the rabbi making those pronouncements might secretly be 1/4 Hipster or something.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:35 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older Some people call him The Space Cowboy   |   "If you're not operating on an... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post