It’s a story of freedom and liberation, with larger-than-life heroes battling against villains to save innocents from misery and despair.
Does the above phrase describe one of the many superhero films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), or the story of the Exodus from Egypt?
It is precisely this overlap that forms the basis of The Superhero Haggadah: A Story of Signs and Marvels, by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg. The book is a spiritual successor of sorts to his previous Haggadah, The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah, which incorporated the mythos of Harry Potter into the Passover Seder.
But this time, the Haggadah focuses on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Like any Haggadah, it contains the full Seder order, and like the Hogwarts Haggadah, The Superhero Haggadah is interspersed with essays, divrei Torah, humorous MCU spins on various songs sung during the Seder and questions-and-answers sections featuring some of the author’s students from the Riverdale, New York-based Jewish day school, SAR.
And it was here that he first was introduced to the MCU, having written a Harry Potter-inspired story for a student and, at their request, included Iron Man, which had necessitated watching some of the relevant movies.
But that was the limit of his exposure to the MCU, until the pandemic arrived.
When COVID-19 hit, Rosenberg had begun treatment for prostate cancer. Speaking to the Magazine over Zoom, Rosenberg explained how in an effort to cheer him up, his family would all sit with him and watch the MCU films.
“Little by little, I came to realize that these movies are not just about people running around in tight-fitting costumes and carrying weird weapons, it’s really about human issues,” he explained. “The superheroes are looking for the same things we are. They’re looking for identity, for how to have a normal life. The fight of good against evil... And if you think about it, that’s what the Haggadah is about, also: the perennial fight of good against evil, the ways of trying to figure out who we really are, the ways we can find our own superpowers, etc., etc. And suddenly it was a lot more sensible to write comparisons.”
Rosenberg began working on the Haggadah in the summer, and soon enough found that he had more than enough material, far more than he did for Harry Potter.
But in other ways, the MCU presented its own challenges.
“WHEN IT COMES to Harry Potter, it’s easy to find generic magic clip art for the edge of the pages, but when it comes to Marvel superheroes, you can’t use their stuff, it’s all copyrighted,” he explained. “You need to use something to evoke the MCU without violating copyright.”
The solution he came up with after consulting a lawyer was by combining art resembling Marvel superhero with Jewish imagery. This takes on a variety of forms, including Captain America with a Star of David on his shield and wielding a menorah in hand.
The layout of all the art was done by Aviva Shur, who also made the logos on top of each page, but the book also contains several larger pictures, including the aforementioned Captain America. These were drawn by seventh-grade SAR student Moriel Hirsch-Hoffman.
Throughout the Haggadah, Rosenberg includes various comparisons between the story of Passover and the heroes of the MCU in different divrei Torah. One of the most noteworthy is titled “Hey, big guy – Moses and the Hulk,” which argues that Dr. Bruce Banner, and his mighty alter-ego the Hulk, is the most similar among the heroes of the MCU to Moses. This, Rosenberg explains, is based in the duality both characters experience, like how Banner must struggle between his personalities as a mild-mannered scientist and the Hulk, Moses must struggle in his duality as an Israelite and an Egyptian.
The traces of many Jewish ideas and character traits among Marvel’s ever-expanding cast of superheroes does not come as much of a surprise. Many of Marvel’s most famous characters were the result of collaborations between Jewish creators such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and Steve Ditko. These creative minds are widely credited for many of Marvel’s most iconic characters, including Captain America, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man.
The book was only released on Amazon earlier this month, but it has already been selling in droves. It’s also available in stores, and can be bought in Israel and the US.
But while this is the second themed Haggadah Rosenberg has made, his next project is far more personal.
“I am trying to write the book I needed but couldn’t find when I was diagnosed with cancer,” explained Rosenberg, who is also the rabbi of the Etz Chaim congregation in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. “I wanted a book on how a rabbi could continue to lead his congregation while undergoing cancer treatments and going on an emotional roller coaster.
“I was writing all the way through, and now I’m using that as the backdrop to try and write an entire book which can help other people.”