But ask a Brooklyn rabbi -- Rabbi Simcha Weinstein -- and you will hear about the red and blue-clad comic book character’s Jewish side, his emphasis on good middos (qualities) and background similar to that of Holocaust survivor families.
“Peter Parker (Spider Man’s civilian name in the comic series) is a nerd who grew up in Forest Hills, his middle name is Benjamin and he’s motivated by guilt……… I see a connection to Jews here,” muses Rabbi Weinstein.
The Brooklyn rabbi, who founded the Jewish Student Foundation of Downtown Brooklyn, wrote a book called “Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero,” and says he has “a whole chapter dedicated to the subject” of Spider Man.
The Spider Man character, insists the rabbi, is really a Jew. “Just like generations of Jews, his ancestors were wiped away (the character’s Uncle Ben was murdered by a mugger) and whether they had powers or not, they couldn’t do anything to stop it.” The theme of Jewish guilt runs as a powerful undercurrent, he says.
Another, more Biblical connection noted by the rabbi is the story of King David, who was saved by a spider. While fleeing King Saul’s guards, King David hid in a cave. A spider spun his web over the mouth of the refuge, thereby giving it an old, abandoned appearance. King Saul’s guards, upon finding the cave, were convinced no one was there and left. “So, because of the spider, David’s life was saved and he praised G-d for creating all creatures,” says Rabbi Weinstein.
Rabbi Weinstein also draws a parallel between the illusion of weakness Spider Man portrays and the underlying strength that shines forth when the situation demands it. The contrast is similar to the nerdy stereotype often applied to Jewish men whose bravery in battle often outstrips that of their enemies.
Those who create and re-create the character are also convinced he is a Jew, says the rabbi, who quotes Sam Raimi, director of the blockbuster Spider Man movie as saying he believes Spider Man is Jewish ‘but his guilt was caused by his Uncle Ben, not his mother.” Raimi is Jewish. Rabbi Weinstein also says comic book illustrator Patti Cochran told him that the Marvel Comics editorial staff always assumed that Peter Parker was Jewish, first name notwithstanding.
More to the point is the goal of all this discussion of whether Spider Man is Jewish. His book, says Rabbi Weinstein, “is not meant to lay claim to America’s favorite heroes as Jewish, but instead wishes to celebrate an open dialogue.”
With or without the costume.