Moses is black and God is green — and a she — and both bear a strong resemblance to their real-life creators in “The Comic Torah,” a graphic reimagining of history’s enduring bestseller.
Husband and wife Aaron Freeman and Sharon Rosenzweig have written and illustrated a biblical midrash that is colorful, deep, funny and mind-blowing — just like the original.
And just like in the original, holy business is a messy business. And no one in the Torah is more contradictory and unfathomable than God herself, known here as YHWH.
“Vain, opinionated, wrathful and flirtatious, her larger-than-life personality impresses itself on followers and enemies alike,” Kent Worcester wrote in a review in The Comics Journal. “[The Comic Torah] doesn’t censor the source material but instead revels in its strangeness and perversity.”
As the Five Books unroll — with each Torah portion presented in a sumptuous double spread — the relationship between God and Israel develops in all its glory and chaos. What caught my imagination was the shifting relationship between God and Moses, sometimes like parent and child, other times like mistress and servant, and still others as mismatched lovers, even as Moses dreams of the Promised Land.
Those dreams are not so innocent and holy. Rosenzweig and Freeman depict the Israelites’ ultimate quest as a blonde bombshell called Honey “The Land” Milkand. Other characters include an oily Jacob, with a suit, narrow tie and pencil moustache, and a dreadlocked Aaron. Other gods, dwelling in the etymological mists of the biblical text, make an appearance, including Zeus, who God turns to for advice. “You have a pantheon of support,” she complains. “I’m a single parent.”
“The Comic Torah” doesn’t disparage the tradition that has grown up around the Torah. Freeman and Rosenzweig have clearly wrestled with the text. But they have also tapped into one of the secrets of the Torah’s resilience, it’s weirdness and primalness. “The Comic Torah” reads like a strand of tradition that never made it into the canon.
And it’s often sharply funny. As God reveals to Moses her plans for a Tabernacle in the desert she conjures the image of a unicorn. “To cover the ceiling — Tachash skin!” she says. “Wow, it’s beautiful,” Moses says, gazing at the creature whose non-existence has broken every child’s heart. “Can I have one?” “No,” God says, “I’m only making one. But you can kill it for me.”
I wonder how some of the jokes will hold up, particularly popular references such as “Jew Tube” and to the Obama presidential campaign. (Joshua is a ringer for the president.) On the other hand, the Torah comes around every year, and is new every year, as Freeman and Rosenzweig acknowledge. “The Comic Torah,” they write “is a snapshot of the arguments we had this year. Next year, different arguments.”
And let us say: Amen.
Disclosures are in vogue. I’m never quite sure if the people who disclose really need to disclose, or if they get some sort of ego rush from doing it. While I’m sorting that out, I’ll tell you that I’m a big fan of Ben Yehuda Press, which published “The Comic Torah.” I wrote about another one of their books here. Also, I was a member of a group that helped fund the printing of “The Comic Torah.” So go now and read.