Look, up on the shelf! Author provides a definitive account of Superman’s Jewish ties

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‘Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero’ by Roy Schwartz; McFarland & Co., 359 pages plus bibliography, $45

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Readers of the St. Louis Jewish Light may be aware of my lifelong love affair with comic books and my pride in the fact that many of the creators, story writers and artists within the industry are Jewish. 

I’ve been especially fond of Superman, the creation of two Jewish teens from a Cleveland neighborhood, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who sold the rights to their creation of the Man of Steel to Detective Comics for the scandalous pittance of $130.

The Jewish connections to Superman have been extensively explored in countless books, articles and fan magazines for decades. Earlier this year, author Roy Schwartz, a longtime Superman superfan, published what is perhaps the definitive book on all things Jewish about his comic hero: “Is Superman Circumcised?” The book covers every aspect of the Jewish-created character.

So, what does Schwartz add to the already voluminous writing on the Jewish connections to the mythic granddaddy (or Zayde) of all superheroes? Just about everything to the most loyal and fanatic fans of this genre. 

This volume is a true labor of love that is exhaustive in its coverage and sometimes exhausting. The book should not be read straight through but as more of a detailed almanac or encyclopedia.

In preparing for his book, Schwartz read every issue of Superman comic books, watched all the films and TV shows and even listened to every episode of the radio show starring Bud Collyer, who would later become a well-known game show host.  (Side note: I used to talk my childhood best friend, Lester Goldman, into skipping Hebrew school classes at B’nai Amoona so we could listen to “The Adventures of Superman” on the radio. No worries, Lester still did a superb job at his bar mitzvah.)

This cover of Superman #17, published in 1942, is included in Schwartz’s book.

Schwartz takes an extremely deep dive into Superman connections, proving that Jews are not only the People of the Book, but also the People of the Comic Book.

He takes note of the striking similarities between the origin stories of Moses in the Hebrew bible, our greatest and most humble Prophet and teacher, and Superman. Both were placed in conveyances from which they were rescued. Both leaders had to learn how not to abuse their superhuman powers.

Schwartz also explores possible Jewish roots of the name of Superman’s birth name, Kal-El, and the contrasting

Midwest Methodist faith of his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. Schwartz also discusses the possible Hebrew origins of the names of Superman’s Krypton parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, noting that El means God.

The book argues that Clark Kent, the “mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, represents the Jewish mensch to counterbalance the ‘Ubermensch’ ” — that is Superman.

Schwartz writes: “Superman, the most powerful man on earth who chooses to live his life as mild-mannered Clark Kent, (while) Moses, the former prince of Egypt, is equally modest and humble.”

As to the extent of Siegel and Shuster’s Jewishness, Schwartz notes that Siegel and Shuster grew up in Glenville, a neighborhood in Cleveland that was almost exclusively Jewish and where Yiddish was the language on the street. In addition, both boys attended Hebrew school, and Siegel’s mother, Sarah, “was heavily involved in Jewish community affairs.”

Schwartz explores how Superman creators Siegel and Shuster saw their character, first published in Action Comics No. 1 in 1938, kickstart a multibillion-dollar superhero industry: comic books, newspaper funnies, radio and TV series and movies. But the pair didn’t receive due credit for their work until DC Comics was shamed by press reports that they were living in relative poverty. Then, DC restored their bylines to Superman comic books and stories and set up an annual stipend for their work. 

As this review was being written, DC Comics made a surprise announcement that Jonathan Kent, the son of Clark and Lois Lane Kent, next in line to become the new Superman, has come out as gay. Clark and Lois of course respect their son’s decision. No doubt Schwartz may discuss the event if future editions are published.

For now, Schwartz has published what might become the “authorized version” of the Superman saga. He does not leave a single stone unturned in his scholarly yet humorous take on his fascinating subject. His book is a must for hardcore Superman fans as well as general readers.


Superman’s creators to be inducted in Jewish-American Hall of Fame

The American Jewish Historical Society will induct Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, in a Zoom ceremony from 1 to 3 p.m. on Nov. 14, which is open to the public. Elan Carr, Former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor & Combat Antisemitism will be among the guest speakers. Register for the freeevent by visiting https://bit.ly/Siegel-Shuster or emailing [email protected]

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