Despite benevolent intentions, organized religion has facilitated, provoked, and justified acts heinous and horrific enough to make anyone paying attention a bit Godsick. That said, Joanne Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat is a breath of fresh air. Set in 1930’s Algeria, a time and place in which Arabs and Jews were able to coexist, and narrated by Majrum, the cat, this story offers a fresh outsider’s perspective on religion with a healthy dose of humor.
Majrum is a cat like any other – quiet, mysterious, spoiled, and a bit intolerant of the noisy parrot his master keeps as a pet. One day it becomes too much, and Majrum eats the parrot, thereby acquiring the ability to speak. A misfortunate miracle, the rabbi declares, the cat uses the gift of speech to deny having eaten the parrot. Fearful that Majrum will use his words only to tell lies, the rabbi insists that he study the Torah and Talmud. Majrum protests, unsure if Judaism is for him, and one of many religious/philosophical debates ensues.
While light in delivery, The Rabbi’s Cat delves into heavier territory than may initially meet the eye. Speech, Majrum quickly learns, complicates life. With this new, human ability comes a more human experience. Interests conflict, as do emotions. And change, like it or not, is inevitable.
Sfar’s expressive line work and rich color palette, coupled with his astute and resigned humor, lend a whimsical palatability to this work. As his characters explore and challenge the social structures in place, we readers are forced to examine ourselves – our beliefs, behaviors, and perspectives.
Not bad. Not just for a comic. But for any work of literature.