How Moon Knight’s Judaism Enriches His Story

Moon Knight premieres on Disney+ March 30th.

Moon Knight’s MCU debut is a thrill for fans of the underappreciated Marvel character, and great reason for newcomers to meet the moonlit hero. Sometimes referred to as Marvel’s Batman, Moon Knight is a cowl clad vigilante partial to darkness. His costume is cool, his origin is fantastic, and his persona is complex. Though the character has more than one alias (or more than one personality, depending on the canon), his core self has a specific origin, one that adds meat to his story. Moon Knight is Jewish. His prime alter-ego, Marc Spector, is the son of a rabbi who fled Czechoslovakia for Chicago. Spector’s Jewishness is an important part of his character, not only informing casual personality traits, but adding depth and richness to his stories. His Judaism is a reflection of his creators and the context they wove into his expanding mythology. With his first foray in live action coming to the small screen for Disney+ this year, there’s reason to hope the character’s background remains a big part of him.

Moon Knight might not be the most famous Jewish character (beaten out by The Thing, Harley Quinn, Batwoman, Magneto, and Scarlet Witch), but he is always viable for top of mind when reflecting on Jewish fictional heroes. Judaism doesn’t always inform the cadence of each of these characters, but it’s hard not to associate Spector with his connection to the Talmud (the central text in Rabbinical Judaism).

It’s not a coincidence that many superheroes have Jewish origins, either outwardly or implied. The Golden Age of Comics came around 1938, around the second world war, after the inception of Superman by Jewish creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Golden Age heroes were often seen representing American patriotism, which meant fighting Nazis (Captain America even punched Hitler). Judaism (and punching Nazis) is woven into the fabric of superheroes, something that Moon Knight’s creators Doug Moench and Don Perlin were able to highlight.

For Perlin, visibility of Judaism and its history is important in his comic works. Speaking in Neal Adams’ book, We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the HolocaustPerlin described the importance of portraying the holocaust when he drew a 1979 Captain America story, From the Ashes. He said, “The Holocaust was real, people were tortured and murdered—was it appropriate to have Captain America come in and beat up all the Nazis and save everyone? […] If even one person started to think about the Holocaust because of a comic strip that I worked on, it was worthwhile.”

Marc Spector was introduced in Werewolf by Night #32 in 1975, created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin (with art by Al Milgrom). Moon Knight later got his own ongoing series in 1980, with Moench back at the helm alongside Bill Sienkiewicz. In their ongoing version, more of Moon Knight’s alter ego origin is revealed, including that he is a mercenary and son of a rabbi from Chicago. While working at an archaeological dig, Spector is betrayed and killed by his employer, to later be resurrected by the Egyptian moon god, Khonshu, who grants him superpowers. Spector ends up taking on varying personas and identities, including Steve Grant (who was introduced in Marvel Spotlight in 1971 before Moon Knight was established) and Jake Lockley, which are sometimes portrayed as cover identities and sometimes as split personalities. The character made his way through various creators in his run, Sienkiewicz leaving after issue 30, and Moench handing over the writing reins after issue 33.

Alan Zelenetz picked up the writing at issue 36 and added important details about the character’s intergenerational trauma associated with being Jewish. In Zelenetz’s story, it’s revealed that Marc’s father fled Czechoslovakia after the arrival of “Hitler’s goosesteppers.” In the ongoing series, Marc faces his struggles with his father’s passivism in the face of anti-Semitism and squares off against a villain, Zohar, a purported Jewish mystic who dons a hood and pays children to vandalize a Jewish cemetery. Zelenetz is often credited with giving Spector his Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), something that was adapted at different levels by future writers.

In his common origin, as expanded upon by Zelenetz, Spector deals with being the son of a Rabbi who fled Nazi persecution. Like many Jews, their ancestors inform their behaviors, specifically as it pertains to generational trauma. In Zelenetz’s story (Moon Knight #37), Spector receives news that his father is ill. Shortly after, he’s called to a synagogue that’s been lit ablaze. Inside is a rabbi, clutching the synagogue’s Torah [a sacred copy of the Jewish ‘bible’ that is meant to be treated as such], desperately trying to rescue it from the flames. As Moon Knight attempts the rescue, he sees a swastika painted on the synagogue, and decides to chase the men responsible.

As he beats the neo-Nazi’s, he utters, “I belong with the decent and innocent folk who can’t find a moment’s peace, not in the streets, not in their own homes so long as punks like you terrorize them. I belong with the persecuted.” In this moment, Moon Knight is identifying with his Jewish core, centering that part of himself, and allowing it to be the makeup of his identity.

Marvel’s Moon Knight: Who’s Who in the Cast?

What we also learned from early details of the show is the identity of Ethan Hawke’s villain, Arthur Harrow. Harrow only appeared briefly in comes, and is described as a “mad scientist working on stopping pain in the human body by using human subjects.” This character’s ethos reads a lot like a Nazi doctor, in that Nazi doctors often experimented on Jews with delusions that it was for some greater good for other humans. While it’s unlikely that the MCU will go that far with a contemporary story, it stands to reason that Harrow’s misguided aspirations to serve the “greater good” will remain.

Without knowing where the MCU will take the character, we can only hope they’ll decide to explore the richness of Moon Knight’s Judaism. The character experienced and witnessed anti-Semetic violence and fought back, a theme that remains all too relevant now. Though his powers come from a god of Egyptian mythology, the relationship to the moon feels connected to Judaism in faith (the moon being a central symbol in the religion, which follows a lunar calendar) and in culture. Where Fox’s take on the X-Men mined richer story by keeping Judaism a part of Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) character, it would be wonderful to see the MCU do the same. Spector’s background brings so much beauty to his mythos, as it has done so for comics stories since his creation. While Disney+’s show is said to start on the full moon, Jews will mark it down as being released just before Rosh Chodesh.

Leave a Reply