Warning: if you have not seen this movie, there will be spoilers ahead, so beware.
I recently saw Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Twice. I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of that. Now, this is not a review, I am not a film critic, I just love movies and Jews. I enjoyed this movie, contrary to the actual critics. And I’ve been mulling it over in the days since, and have realized: Batman V. Superman is the most secretly Jewish movie of the year. It’s an allegory for Jewish survival and thriving in the world.
Let’s start at the most obvious: Superman and Batman were both created by Jewish writers (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Superman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger for the Bat). Gal Gadot, who delivers a strong performance as Wonder Woman, was born in Israel and did her two years service in the IDF. And let’s not even get started on the idea that it’s a “Hollywood” movie.
Yet two Jewish actors (Jesse Eisenberg as the strangely manic Lex Luthor) does not a minyan make. So what am I talking about?
Bruce Wayne, the alter ego of Batman, is the scion of the presumably WASP-y, old-money, family whose ancestors helped found America in-universe. Clark Kent grew up on a farm in Kansas, not exactly a Jewish enclave. Neither have been depicted in kippah or payos, both fight crime on Shabbat, and Clarke’s even dating a Shiksa named Lois. These two don’t seem very Jewish.
But let’s start with origins, Superman’s first. His planet and people were on the verge of death, so his father Jor-El, sends baby Kal-el off of Krypton in a rocket-powered basket, into the unknown. When he lands, a pair of foreign, but welcoming parents, find him and raise him as their own, until he matures and leaves them to save the world,. Sounds vaguely Moses-like. And the Kryptonian names, Kal-El, and Jor-el, use the –el suffix denoting the presence of the Almighty. Think Dani-el, Samu-el, Isra-EL.
But let’s step back from the greater DC Universe and talk about this movie as a standalone piece. This is a plot about Jewish survival internally and in the world.
Batman, defined by the tragedy in his early years, is a testament to human willpower. After his parents were killed, his innocence lost, young Bruce trains his mind to be sharp and his body to be hard, becoming powerful out of a fear of being powerless. He then uses that power to fight for justice and those who prey on the weakest. Tzedek, Tzedek, justice, justice the Batman pursues. Batman is the best of humanity.
Yet he is often vilified. Sometimes for his unorthodox methodology, sometimes because he is a mystery. Sometimes the Batman is vilified because he dares to stand up as the best of humanity in times of fear and crisis.
Batman is the Jew in the world: the outsider, excelling, sometimes tolerated, rarely embraced, but more often than not attacked. Batman is us.
Superman takes a different path of Judaism, one more spiritual and divine. He is an immortal, otherworldly being, often depicted literally descending from the sky. The imagery is less-than subtle, and he is usually referred to as God-like. This aspect of Jewishness is also subject to vilification: he is not omnipotent, he is not accountable. When philosophers grapple with the question of evil, and how it is allowed to exist, they could be talking about Clark Kent or Hashem.
These two caped heroes go to war with each other. Batman Vs. Superman. Jew vs. Jew. They are at war for our souls, seeking to be the answer to the questions “what makes a Jew? “How do we do Good?” “How do we balance our spirituality with the need to do good in this world?”
Batman is the assimilated Jew who seeks to work within the mortal world to make it a better place. Superman descends, aglow, with righteousness and justice assumed.
These two nearly kill each other. We do the same every day, when we attack our brothers for being too-Jewish or not-Jewish enough, for assimilating or becoming ba’aleh teshuva, for having different opinions on Israel. We nearly kill each other every day. It’s the incredible power of Jewish Argument. Yet they concede some common ground, and a real threat arises: Doomsday, a genocidal, nigh-unstoppable killing, hating, machine who would destroy everything in this world that we have worked for. And Batman and Superman join forces (with help from the Israeli) to save our world. Tikkun Olam. Mazel Tov.