Who knew Superman was Jewish?
Well, some of us did, but a lot more didn’t.
While Warner Bros. is releasing the new Superman film, “Man of Steel,” and the superhero himself is celebrating his 75th birthday, it seemed a good time to ask the author of “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero” to reflect on the many Jewish aspects of the red-and-blue-costume-wearing, Clark-Kent-pretending, kryptonite-avoiding, Lex-Luthor-battling crusader for truth, justice and the American way.
Here are the top 10 reasons for thinking the Man of Steel is an Israelite:
1) Superman’s creator, Jerry Siegel, acknowledges in an unpublished memoir that he was strongly influenced by anti-Semitism he saw and felt, and that Samson was a role model for Superman. Jerry also says he wrote about the world he grew up in: a Cleveland neighborhood that was 70% Jewish, where theaters and newspapers were in Yiddish as well as in English, and there were two dozen Orthodox synagogues to choose from but only one option, Weinberger’s, to buy your favorite pulp fiction. It was a place and time where weaklings — especially Jewish ones, who were more likely to get sand kicked in their faces by the bully down the block if not Adolf Hitler — dreamed that someday the world would see them for the superheroes they really were.
2) If only we’d been paying attention, we’d have seen Siegel dropping hints of his hero’s ethnicity when Superman dropped down from a faraway planet. On Krypton, Superman went by the name Kal-El as in Isra-el and the prophets Samu-el and Dani-el. It means God. Kal is similar to the Hebrew words for “voice” and “vessel.”
3) The alien superbaby was not just a Jew, but also a very special one. Like Moses. Much as the baby prophet was floated in a reed basket by a mother desperate to spare him from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death warrant, so moments before Kal-El’s planet blew up, his doomed parents tucked him into a spaceship that rocketed him to the safety of Earth. Both babies were rescued by non-Jews and raised in foreign cultures — Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, Kal-El by Kansas farmers named Kent — and all the adoptive parents quickly learned how exceptional their foundlings were. The narratives of Krypton’s birth and death borrow the language of Genesis. Kal-El’s escape to Earth is the story of Exodus.
4) Clues mounted from there. “The world,” it reads, “endures on three things: justice, truth and peace.”
5) The explosion of Krypton conjures up images from the mystical Kabbalah where the divine vessel was shattered and Jews were called on to perform tikkun olam, repairing the vessel and the world. No one did more of that than the Man From Metropolis.