Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comics: The Jewish Angle

Trying not to overreach, Rabbi Weinstein cut out a passage that likened Batman’s bat cave to the Machpelah, the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried.


From what was the passage above cut out?


Religion and Comic Books: Where Did Superman’s Theology Come From?


...Rabbi Weinstein’s study of the classic superhero comics, infuses a new book, “Up, Up and Oy Vey!” The volume, which has nearly sold out its first run of 5,000 copies, contends that writer-artists of the classic comics, many of them Jewish, were influenced by their religious heritage in devising characters and plots.

“I feel queasy when I read people who use pop culture to try to proselytize,” said Rabbi Weinstein, a member of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect who is the campus rabbi at Pratt Institute. “And I didn’t want to enforce my own fantasy.

“But I knew the writers were Jewish. That’s a historical fact. And when I bought all the comics, and gave them my rabbi’s reading, I saw something there. Judaism is filled with superheroes and villains — Samson, Pharaoh. And it’s a religion rich in storytelling and in themes of being moral, ethical, spiritual.”

That thesis made sense to another expert in the field, the author David Hajdu. “Many of the important early comic-book creators were barely adults when they started working,” said Mr. Hajdu, whose coming book, “The Ten-Cent Plague,” explores the comics craze of the postwar years. “Nor were they worldly, nor very well read or educated. They drew, literally, from what they knew. That is, the culture of their homes and their neighborhoods, which were mostly Jewish.”

“Up, Up and Oy Vey!” arrives as the classic comics are being treated far more seriously than anyone might have imagined in their heyday. A major exhibition on comics is on display at the Newark Museum in New Jersey and the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. The reconsideration began in the late 70’s, when Will Eisner, creator of “The Spirit,” put the form to literary purposes in a memoir of his childhood in a Jewish immigrant household in the Bronx, “A Contract With God.”

...“This book came out of midnight conversations over wine and chicken soup around the Shabbos table,” said Rabbi Weinstein, 30.

In his research, the rabbi delved into the biographies of comic-book greats...Along with those examples of Judaic influence, “Up, Up, and Oy Vey!” offers instances like the name of Superman’s father, Jor-El, with “el” being the suffix to many biblical names and the common use of masks and false identities, akin to the heroine Esther in the Purim story, who goes by an alias in Persian society.

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