For my shekels, the question of whether the comic book character Superman, is Jewish or not shouldn’t even be questioned.
Born and named Kal-El by his father Jor-El, “El” is one of the ancient names for God used throughout the bible and found in great prophets such as Samue-el, Dani-el and angels Micha-el and Gavri-el and of course, Isra-el.
As Simcha Weinstein in his entertaining book, “Up, Up And Oy Vey” points out, “Kal” is the root of several Hebrew words meaning, “with lightness,” “swiftness,” “vessel” and “voice.”
Our hero was also dreamed up by two Jewish boys; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both born in Cleveland’s Jewish Glenville neighborhood back in the 1930s.
Together in issue after issue, they infused allusions to his true-Jew identity that are sewn into his DNA tighter than the stitching of his super suit. And over the last decade, countless books have been written about the early days of comic books and the role Jews played in them from, “Men of Tomorrow” and “Comic Book Nation” to the fictional brilliance and Pulitzer Prize winning, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”, a story inspired by a magazine article the author Michael Chabon read on how Siegel and Shuster lost control of their creation.
You see when the boys were trying to break into the comic book industry, there were all sorts of barriers up and just like country clubs and Ivy League colleges, they were excluded from newspaper strips or ad agencies that wouldn’t hire a Jew back in the 30s and 40s. Comic book publishers, as Al Jaffee of MAD magazine fame said, were mostly Jewish and so that’s where the boys wound up.
Unfortunately, the boychiks still got the shaft because in 1938, Detective Comics was looking for a hero for their new pub, Action Comics and wound up paying Siegel and Shuster a paltry $130 for the first 13 pages of Superman. It’s now, of course, a multi-billion industry and if you’ve got a copy of that original edition it’s worth half-a-million.
But back to Superman: From the time of his birth and like Moses, hidden in the basket by Jochebed and sent down the Nile; or needing to hide his true identity and fitting into the general populace as Clark Kent (the same way many Jews have had to assimilate); or in Action Comic #7 (1938) that reads, "Friend of the helpless and oppressed Superman, a man possessing the strength of a dozen Samsons”, on and on, etc., it''s hard to argue that what they were making was anything but a Jewish hero.
Yet, in this latest installment “Man of Steel”, out this weekend, headlines on The Drudge Report, Brietbart and other sites this week read, “Superman as Jesus.” Some reasons given were that the film has his alter ego Clark Kent seeking counsel in a church from a priest along with a stained glass image of Jesus hovering behind him. We also see Superman floating arms extended as if on the cross. Moreover, The DR’s link brings you to an article on the U.K.’s Metro newspage that provides 20 reasons why he is Jesus, along with an interview with Director Zack Snyder, who says, “I think the relationship between Jesus and Superman is not a thing we invented in this film, it is a thing that has been talked about since the creation of Superman…” Hmm...
Now yes, we all know Jesus was a Jew and so if in this new movie, Superman is symbolically Jesus, he’s still a technically member of the tribe. But I don’t think Snyder or Hollywood is talking Jesus the rabbi here. They’re referencing Jesus the savior⎯the messiah⎯and there are some that would beg to differ and question that take on Superman''s lineage. In fact, The Forward has a piece, “10 Reasons Superman is Really Jewish” (some of which I already mentioned) by Larry Tye who is the author of a biography of Superman, “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero” providing plenty of cred to S’s Yidness.
So what do you think dear readers? Or, as Adam Sandler liked to say, “Jew” or “Not a Jew”?
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant.