Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid
A Graphic Novel of Dueling Jewish Folktales in the Wild West
By Steve Sheinkin
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 134 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 2, 2011
This is the third humorous graphic novel by Steve Sheinkin in which he portrays the adventures of Rabbi Harvey in the Wild West, at a fictitious time when all the people he meets are Jewish. There is no shooting of guns, only shooting with one's mouth, with wise statements. Sheinkin won an award for one of his earlier versions. He derives his stories from ancient Jewish tales that show humor and wisdom, and he rewrites them and applies them to the Wild West Rabbi Harvey. He tells us in this volume that he used nine stories to depict the encounter between Rabbi Harvey and Rabbi Rubin, known as the Wisdom Kid. All of the episodes and the graphics are clever and humorous. One graphic, for example, depicts the local bar as "Gefilte Gil – Saloon & Fish Bar.
Rabbi Rubin had been studying back east and has become quite proficient in Jewish wisdom. He comes to town wanting to displace Rabbi Harvey who had been giving advice to people and resolving their problems for nothing. Even at the town fair, he set up a booth to answer any question for five cents, or nothing if he is unable to do so. The Wisdom Kid sets up his own booth and offers the same service for one cent. The wisdom Kid is knowledgeable, but he is deceptive and he wants to milk the people for money, charging for his advice when he replaces Rabbi Harvey.
An example of the humor: a town decides to hang a baker for a crime even though everyone knew that the blacksmith did the crime. Why? Because the town had only one blacksmith, but it has two bakers. The story goes on to tell how Rabbi Harvey saved the baker's life by being clever.
Another example: Two villains are being tested to determine if one of them is suitable to be the sheriff. Which is more important, they are asked, the sun or the moon? Answer: The moon. Why? Because the sun gives light when it's already light, but the moon gives light when it is dark. Question: Everybody knows that if you drop a slice of buttered bread, it will always fall with the buttered side down. Why then did it happen yesterday that the bread fell with the buttered side up? Answer: Simple. You buttered your bread on the wrong side. The person giving these answers got the job.
The Wisdom Kid and his mother "Bad Bubbe" Bloom devise a plot where Rabbi Harvey is arrested for robbery. They are assisted by the self-proclaimed genius "Big Milt" Wasserman. Sheinkin describes how Rabbi Harvey is able to outwit his guards, escape with the help of the town's school teacher, a woman he wants to marry, and returns to his home town Elk Spring, Colorado, to show in a duel of wisdom that he is smarter and more fit to serve as the rabbi than the Wisdom Kid.