The Forward has earned a reputation for uncovering the Jewish ancestry of figures both real and fictional. Comics, in particular, have been a rewarding realm of inquiry: My friend and former colleague Max Gross outed The Thing, while executive editor Ami Eden discovered an uncanny Jewish X-Men connection.
So it was only natural that we’d turn our attention to Spiderman, who has been slinging webs across the silver screen for the past few weeks. Spidey’s creator, Stan Lee, is well known to be a member of tribe. But is his most famous superhero Jewish, too?
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, author of “Up, Up, And Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero,” is ready to make the case. “Peter Parker’s a nerd who grew up in Forest Hills, his middle name is Benjamin and he’s motivated by guilt…I see a connection,” the rabbi told the Park Slope Courier.
Forgive me, rabbi, if I’m not convinced.
A little Web research, however, did yield a discovery of Jewish ancestry for the Sandman. Alas, it’s the wrong Sandman: not the wall-crawler’s nemesis from “Spiderman 3,” but rather an obscure 1940s DC Comics superhero — a “mystery man,” in the parlance of the times.
This Sandman, whose mother it seems was Jewish and father Catholic, apparently had no superpowers, but rather wielded “an exotic ‘gas gun’ that could compel villains to tell the truth, as well as put them to sleep,” according to Wikipedia.
Also, according to Wikipedia: “Unlike many superheroes, he frequently found himself the victim of gunshot wounds.” In other words, a real shlimazl of a superhero! In one comic book, he is reported to have come to the rescue of Rabbi Isaac Glickman. So it seems that this Sandman also happens to be something of a mensch!
UPDATE: Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks Peter Parker seems a little Wasp-y. Reader Arieh Lebowitz helpfully forwarded a link to a Web page on Spiderman’s religion from Adherents.com (the same site that provided the information on the religious affiliations of the Sandman and The Thing.)