Passover is fast-approaching; beginning March 29th, Jews around the world will remember and celebrate the exodus from slavery in Egypt. Around this time I like to look back to the 1930’s and Superman; while the character himself is not Jewish, his roots are still steeped in Judaism and even the Passover story.
The Man of Steel was created in the 1930’s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two middle-class Jews living in Cleveland. The two were undoubtedly going through difficult times: not only was the Great Depression was at its peak in America, but anti-Semitism was growing strong in Europe with Hitler and the Third Reich. (source) Perhaps their historical context, as well as their Jewish heritage, consciously or unconsciously caused them to incorporate several striking references to Judaism in Superman’s origins. Superman’s Kryptonian name, Kal-El, is Hebrew for “vessel of God.” Additionally–and this is where Passover comes in–critics have noticed several parallels between his birth story and Moses’.
Superman: born to the Kryptonian people, their planet on the brink of destruction,as the planet is about to explode. Superman’s parents jettison him from the planet in a pod, in the hopes that he will survive. He is found by the Kents, who soon realizes that he has extraordinary powers; they keep his identity secret and raises him as a human. Superman eventually becomes a hero to the people of Metropolis and all of Earth, leading them to safety and security from villains like Lex Luthor.
Moses: born to the Jewish people, their civilization on the brink of destruction, as Pharaoh condemns all male Jewish babies to death. Moses’ parents send him on the Nile in a basket, in the hopes that he will survive. He is found by the daughter of Pharaoh, who soon realizes his heritage; she keeps his identity secret and raises him as an Egyptian. Moses eventually becomes the greatest Jewish prophet, leading his people to freedom out of Egypt, across the desert, and into the Promised Land.
Additionally, My Jewish Learning draws a parallel between Superman and the situation in Europe: “Just as the baby Superman was sent away from Krypton to avoid the mass destruction of his people, many Jewish children were sent on the Kindertransports to seek safety with families in England [from Hitler’s Germany].”
Superman has gone on to become the most well-known superhero; his origin story and adventures have been retold countless times, in a variety of different languages and media. But the Man of Steel’s origins are always good to keep in mind, particularly during the Passover holiday–adding Kryptonite to your Seder plate is optional.
Prince of Egypt © Dreamworks