It’s not all that common for Hasidic rabbis to stand out, but Rabbi Simcha Weinstein of Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill and B’nai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights, is certainly not common. Not only does he have a devilish sense of humor and his own web site — www.rabbisimcha.com — he also has a new book that is bound to be a hit far beyond the Talmudic bookstores of Crown Heights. “Up, Up and Oy Vey!” (Leviathan Press) is an amazing, stupendous, astounding look at the secret Jewish identities behind many of your favorite superheroes. No, Lois, Superman was not a Jew — but his creator was. Weinstein checked in this week with our own Gersh Kuntzman, himself a heroic Jew, on the eve of next weekend’s opening of “X-Men 3.”
Q: So all the superheroes are secretly Jews?
A: No, no, no. Let’s get this right or else everyone will be mad. I don’t say that Jews are superheroes and Superman is a Jew. But many of the men who created these comic icons were Jewish. Most of them never went to temple or Hebrew school, but their notion of heroes came from Jewish culture. Why do the Fantastic Four, which is one of Jack Kirby’s comics, get enslaved by a futuristic pharaoh? Why does Captain America get enslaved in a similar way?
Q: Well, Batman gets enslaved too, but I’m pretty sure that Bruce Wayne ain’t a member of the tribe, if you know what I mean.
A: True, but as my book shows, Batman is yet another of the orphaned superheroes. His mother and father were killed in front of his eyes when he was 8 — it’s clearly a Holocaust metaphor. And Superman, too. His name in Kryptonite is Kal El, which means “the voice of God” in Hebrew. Here’s a kid whose home world gets destroyed and he flees on a rocket ship. That’s such a parallel to what was going on in Europe after these writers fled here.
Q: How does a Hasidic rabbi get interested in this kind of stuff? Aren’t your main superheroes Moses, Abraham and Rabbi Schneerson?
A: I always tell people that I didn’t grow up religious, I grew up normal. I went to university in Manchester. And later, I got a job as a location scout in the film industry. It was certainly exciting, but I soon discovered that the people were soulless and worthless. At the end of the shoot, you’d have the wrap party and it was all fake.
Q: Was this England or Hollywood?
Q: Oh, well there you go. If you had been in Hollywood, I’m sure you would’ve found so much more depth.
A: The point is, I felt this
pull to go to Israel. And when I was there, I found something deeper and
meaningful. And I don’t miss the movie industry at all. But I do
miss storytelling. So as I got more religious, I wanted to unite my spirituality
with pop culture. And it works. Most times, when I give a sermon in the
synagogue, everyone, even my wife, falls asleep. But when I bring up some
pop culture topic, everyone perks up.