For most of the history of superhero fiction, religion was something of a taboo, especially when it came to Judaism. Superman, Batman, Captain America — these were all figures invented by Jews, but the characters never evinced any particular spiritual beliefs, and certainly weren’t depicted as being Jewish. Spider-Man was no exception. Co-created by the Jewish Stan Lee and the Gentile Steve Ditko in the early 1960s, we never saw the wonderful wall-crawler heading to any churches, synagogues, mosques, or temples. These days, it’s somewhat more acceptable to bestow some kind of Jewish identity on a character — just look at the Fantastic Four’s Thing wearing a kippah and a tallis at his wedding this year — but Spidey’s background is mostly unaddressed. Until now. Sort of.
It only lasts a millisecond, but the new film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse drops a hint that at least one universe’s version of Peter Parker is a Jew. The movie depicts an array of Spider-Folk from a cornucopia of alternate dimensions, all teaming up on the Earth of a burgeoning new Spider-Man named Miles Morales. One such Spider-Man is Peter B. Parker, an aging and somewhat pathetic version of the character played by Jake Johnson. Shortly after he first appears, he recaps his life story with the help of a montage. He mentions tying the knot with his longtime flame Mary Jane Watson and the visual representation of their nuptials is his foot stomping a glass wrapped in cloth, which is a famed tradition in Jewish wedding ritual. Reader, I shrieked. Could it be that ol’ Petey is a member of the tribe? I had to know, so I consulted the film’s directors.
It turns out that the answer to the question “Is Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker Jewish?” is “Probably.” But it’s kind of up to the viewer.
“I happen to have a personal conviction, for many reasons, that Peter B. Parker is likely Jewish,” says co-director Rodney Rothman. “Personally, I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens” — Parker’s home neighborhood — “and I’m Jewish, so maybe I’m just projecting.” However, he cautions that there are other possible interpretations: “I will say, because this is an alternate universe, we just don’t know. It could be that Buddhists step on glass. It could be that M.J. is Jewish and Peter converted. It could be that …” he trails off and tosses the question to his co-directors. “I don’t know, what else could it be?”
“It could be, maybe that’s not a glass!” says co-director Peter Ramsey, who is African-American, before he refers to the film’s star, Afro-Latino Spidey Miles, saying, “Hey, I got a black Spider-Man, so you can do what y’all want.’”
“But, yes, I had my own personal theory and I was a real loudmouth about it,” Rothman adds. “I was mainly just messing with people, but I would say, ‘You know Spider-Man is Jewish, right?’ I was like, ‘His name is ‘Spider-Man,’ just for starters.” He pronounces it “Spiderm’n,” à la many Ashkenazi Jewish surnames such as “Rothman” or “Riesman,” just to name two random examples.
Before I turn the topic to something a little less niche, I ask whose idea the glass-breaking was, and the answer comes swiftly. “That was Rodney!” shouts co-director Bob Persichetti, referring to Rothman, who chimes in with, “Yeah, that was me. But like I said, it’s an alternate universe; it could mean so many things. We just don’t know.” With all due respect, Rodney, that’s bullshit. Own it, boychik! The Peter B. Parker of the Jake Johnson universe is hereby declared to be Jewish for ever and ever, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, no take-backs, Baruch Hashem.