What if Batman and Robin worked in the American Jewish community? Eli Valley offers up a clever exposition of this silly scenario in a comic on the Web site Jewcy.
What is it with rabbis and superheroes? First, there was Rabbi Simcha Weinstein’s “Up Up and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History Culture and Values Shaped The Comic Book Superhero.” Now, the New Jersey Jewish News tells us about Batman aficionado Rabbi Cary Friedman and his book, “Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super Heroic Life.”
Profiling the Caped Crusader-consumed cleric, the newspaper writes:
Friedman… doesn’t use Batman to preach, but he also doesn’t shy away from maintaining that the universal messages and lessons conveyed by the superhero’s exploits have decidedly Jewish origins. That doesn’t mean he’s targeting only Jews. Far from it; he believes the Batman ethos cuts across the entire spectrum of humanity.
“I’m careful not to buttonhole any of this,” says Friedman. “There really are many universal values that anyone can appreciate. I didn’t write this only, or specifically, for Jews.”
But it’s no coincidence, he says, that Batman’s creators — and, in fact, the creators of many of the superheroes — were Jews. While researching his book, Friedman met with assistants to several early Batman writers and was told his approach dovetailed with their vision. “They didn’t have the religious imagery,” says Friedman, “but they shared the values.”
Whether his 95-page tome will transform him into the next Shmuley Boteach isn’t clear just yet. But Friedman doesn’t seem concerned. He doesn’t always wear one of the many Batman kipot he has — “I’m mindful of not becoming a caricature” — and he’s not sure when he’ll dress up again as Batman for Purim, something he used to do regularly.
But he holds onto his memorabilia, still wears his Batman Underoos, and reads the Batman comics — religiously. “There are certain truths common to Batman and Jewish traditions. And if we’re mindful of them, we can change our world, even though we’re just ordinary people.”
Read the full article here.
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.)
Great news. Variety recently reported that Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox are moving forward with an “X-Men” spinoff — “Magneto,” the back story of the villain portrayed by Ian McKellen in the original trilogy.
The film, according to Variety, will open with Magneto coming “to grips with his mutant ability to manipulate metal objects as he and his parents try to survive in Auschwitz,” and track the origins of his love-hate relationship with Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, the wheelchair-bound mutant leader played by Patrick Stewart in the first films. We’ll see Magneto hone “his powers by hunting down and killing Nazi war criminals who tortured him, and his lust for vengeance turns Xavier and Magneto into enemies.”
After the release of “X2: X-Men United,” I penned this essay arguing that the films worked best when they stuck to the divide between Magneto’s post-Holocaust hatred of humanity and Professor X’s belief in co-existence — a perfect parallel of the ideological clash between the philosophies of Rabbi Meir Kahane and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg. Magneto and Kahane both see the horrors of the Holocaust as a justification for militant violence, whereas Professor X and Greenberg adopt a more rounded view combining the need for robust self-defense with a moral imperative to seek peace with the other.
In response, Greenberg sent in this letter describing how the comparison was truer than I thought — the two rabbis had indeed been friends, and eventually split as Kahane became increasingly militant. (Still trying to figure out if that makes me a genius, or a moron for not doing some basic reporting.)
Anyway… can’t wait for this movie. The only thing that would be better — an epic flick chronicling the battle between Kahane and Greenberg for the hearts and minds of yeshiva buchers in Washington Heights and Brooklyn.
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