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The Batman - A source of Jewish values

08/03/2022 09:10:02 AM


I have a confession to make. I am a Batman fan. He has always been my favorite hero. Growing up in the 1960's, I remember watching the two part episodes each week with my parents wondering how Batman and Robin would escape the latest trap. As a child, I did not appreciate the campy nature of the Adam West portrayal of Batman. In the 1970's, I watched the animated Super friends. In addition, I bought every comic book Batman appeared in when I was a young boy: Batman, Detective Comics, The Brave and The Bold (Batman and a guest hero), World's Finest (Batman and Superman), the Justice League of America, and more. While I did not keep my childhood comics in mint condition, I still have many of them and peruse them once in a while.

Batman was created in the late 1930's by two Jewish men - Bob Kane (originally Bob Kahn) and Bill Finger. Only in recent years has Bill Finger's name been acknowledged as a creator equal to Bob Kane, whose name has always been associated with Batman. I have watched and read the many different renditions of the Batman character. I truly prefer the raw edgy Batman as portrayed in the 1990's "Batman - the animated series," and the most recent movies which have starred Christian Bale and Ben Affleck.

This past Sunday, I saw the newest movie entitled, "The Batman," which depicts a young Caped Crusader in his second year as a crime fighter. Now, why would a Rabbi devote a blog to Batman? As movie critics have noticed, as did I, the young Batman defines himself early in the movie as "Vengeance," seeking to avenge the murders of his parents in the past. However, by the end of the film, as Batman looks toward the future, he sees himself as a "Beacon of Hope." The transition in his value system seems very Jewish to me.

Throughout Jewish history, we Jews have had ample reason to be vengeful. However, Torah law forbids it. In Parshat Kedoshim (Leviticus chapter 19:18), we read the Mitzvah, "You shall not take vengeance." After the Crusades of 1096, the Shabbat morning prayer, Av Ha'Rachamim, prohibits us from taking revenge. In the Passover Seder, the passages "Pour out your wrath . . . " were inserted into the Haggadah after the Crusades. In all of these examples, while we may have wanted to exact vengeance, we leave revenge in the hands of God. Our human obligation is to exact justice.  On the cemetery monuments of many Holocaust victims, we find the abbreviation for the words "Hashem Yikom Damam - May God avenge their blood."

A young Batman started out fighting crime because he had feelings of vengeance. However, by the end of the film, he aspires to be a beacon of hope. The Hebrew word for hope is Tikvah. "The Hope - Ha'Tikvah" is the name of Israel's national anthem. At the end of the Penitential Psalm, recited for over a month before and throughout the High Holy Day season, the last verse reads, "Hope in the Lord, have courage of heart, and hope in the Lord." 

While vengeance connects us to injustices of the past, hope connects us to visions of the future - A lesson learned by Batman and taught by Judaism throughout the Ages.


Rabbi Howard Morrison

Thu, 23 March 2023 1 Nisan 5783