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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Rabbi's Cat 2: Interesting Themes Wrapped in a Graphic Novel

Why would I read The Rabbi’s Cat Volume 2 before reading the first book?  I guess it’s because it was called to my attention by Maggie Anton on Goodreads.    Some would wonder why they should read them at all.  After all, these are graphic novels which look like comic books.  They are therefore convinced that graphic novels are only for children.  Well, they are mistaken about that.  I have read other graphic novels.  The last one I read with a Jewish slant was Magneto: Testament which dealt with the X-Men character Magneto as a Jewish Holocaust survivor.  It was really powerful, and I recommend it. 
 Yet a book about a Rabbi’s cat sounds like it would be cute and whimsical rather than dealing with any serious themes.  If you wanted a cute and whimsical book about a cat, there are plenty out there.  This is not one of them.  Joann Sfar, who wrote these Rabbi’s cat graphic novels, is an award winning author precisely because of his themes.


Communication is a central theme of this novel.  There is a Russian character who isn’t understood by the other humans when he first arrives, yet the Russian and the Rabbi’s cat had no problem communicating.  It’s pointed out in this book that the ability to communicate is predicated on the ability to listen.  This may seem obvious, but failure to listen is a common problem in all types of communications.  This means that even when there is no language barrier, humans are incapable of understanding each other when they aren’t listening.  A translator is found for the Russian, but he still isn’t always understood. 

Since the Russian is an artist, this book also deals with the orientation of Judaism and Islam toward art.  So the question arises as to whether art is idolatry, and if so under what circumstances.  The Russian artist also has an interesting response on the subject.  He tells us that each art work is a prayer addressed to God. I have always been interested in the dilemma of Jewish artists, and interpretation of the second commandment which forbids graven images.  My Name Is Asher Lev , Chaim Potok’s provocative novel about an artist in the community who now call themselves Haredi (those who fear God), is one of my favorite books.

There is a male character named Malka in this novel who has a lion companion.  Anyone who knows Hebrew would be forgiven for thinking that Malka must be female since “malka” means queen in Hebrew.  We are given a story about Malka disobeying authority for religious reasons.  I was reminded of the best known story about the prophet Daniel.  Lions figure in that story, but in a very different role.   In folklore lions are usually threats, not companion animals like domestic cats.  Sfar seems to be questioning why we view one type of animal positively while we consider a relative of that animal as a threat.  Consider the differences between how dogs and wolves are viewed.

This is definitely the most interesting graphic novel that I have read in 2014.  I promise to read The Rabbi’s Cat Volume 1 eventually.


  1. I believe graphic novels have the power to do justice to serious subjects like religion and war.The artwork speaks lot more than the words.

    Rabbi's cat looks interesting.I agree with the author when he says that animals have been stereotyped-hardworking horses,faithful dog,cruel wolves.I would love to see how the animals have been portrayed in this story

    Your reviews are very insightful.I am looking forward to more :) :)

  2. Thank you, Sugandha. I've seen some extraordinary artwork in graphic novels.

  3. Wow, you make it sound really good.