Marc Spector looking sad
(image: Marvel)

Moon Knight’s Marc Spector is Jewish and We Jews Have Opinions

Oof, Moon Knight episode 5 was a punch to the gut. You can read our full recap here, but to quickly sum up the part that had me crying: Marc and Steven are forced to relive their past in order to save their souls, and we see the absolutely horrific events that led to the creation of Steven. Marc and his brother Randall explore a cave near their home in Chicago, but it starts to rain and the cave floods. Randall drowns, and to make an already life-changing traumatic event even worse, Marc’s mother Wendy blames Marc. It doesn’t matter that Marc is just a child. Wendy holds him responsible, saying things like “you were always jealous of him,” and begins to regularly beat him until Steven emerges as a way for Marc to escape the horror of his life. When Marc is old enough to leave, he doesn’t look back, and when Wendy dies, Marc can’t bring himself to attend her shiva (more on that in a second). Instead, he stands outside long enough for his father to see him, and then walks away.

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One thing this episode established is that, like his comics counterpart, Marc is now canonically Jewish in the MCU. Here’s what that means for his character and Jewish representation in film and TV.

What Were Those Funeral Scenes?

The way the series establishes Marc as Jewish is by showing the Jewish ritual known as shiva. After Randall’s death, and then Wendy’s, mourners are shown gathered in the Spectors’ living room. Some are wearing prayer shawls called a tallit and the small round caps called a kippah, or yarmulke. Although both scenes are brief, they’re enough to establish Marc and his family as Jewish.

In Hebrew, shiva means “seven,” and it refers to the seven-day mourning period that follows the death of a family member. During shiva, many mourners observe certain customs like covering mirrors and sitting on low stools as an expression of grief. Visitors can come to bring food and give their condolences, and a daily prayer service is held at which mourners recite a prayer called the mourner’s kaddish.

Marc’s Jewish Identity

Marc is Jewish in the original Moon Knight comics, and many viewers have been wondering if that would make its way onto the show. In his original origin story, Marc is the son of a rabbi who’s also a Holocaust survivor. Since the MCU’s Moon Knight takes place decades after the first comics, the Holocaust connection wouldn’t quite work anymore, but it remains to be seen how much more the series will pull from the comics.

Of course, revealing Marc’s Jewish identity forces viewers to recalibrate what they know about his character. If Marc is Jewish, why is this the first hint we’re getting of it? Is Oscar Isaac Jewish? Wait, what does being Jewish even mean?

Oscar Isaac is not, in fact, Jewish, and fans have been pointing out on Twitter that this situation isn’t great for Jewish representation.

As a bonafide Jew, I can say that this is a really complicated and fraught subject. Should Marc Spector be played by a Jewish actor? The short answer is yes, absolutely, and my heart aches when I think of how exciting that would have been. I say this even though I really love Isaac in the role. Both things can be true at once!

The reluctance to hire Jewish actors for Jewish roles has been pretty noticeable for quite some time now. Most recently, people wondered why the part of Midge Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel went to a non-Jewish actress. Why don’t producers and directors seem to want Jewish actors in Jewish roles?

Part of the problem most likely stems from stereotypes that refuse to die. Jews are sometimes stereotyped in media as wimpy and unattractive (think Woody Allen’s whole schtick), and even producers and directors with good intentions may unconsciously shy away from seeking out Jewish actors for roles like superheroes.

Another part of the problem is that nowadays, Jewishness is usually seen as a purely religious identity, instead of a cultural or ethnic one. A lot of people think that being Jewish is comparable to being, say, Methodist. Why would you need to seek out an actor who belongs to a Methodist church just because the character is Methodist? The actor can just do their research, right?

But for virtually all of Jewish history, Jewishness has been a set of interconnected ethnicities and cultures that practice Judaism as their religion. We’ve had our own languages (Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, etc.), our own communities (the Jewish quarters of many cities in Europe and the Middle East), and our own cultural practices and norms. The notion that a Jew is just someone who goes to a different kind of church is very, very new.

Making matters even more complicated is the fact that many Jews can’t agree on what makes someone Jewish! Is your mother Jewish? Did you grow up in a Jewish community? These questions can make or break your Jewish identity in certain circles.

Do you find this all very convoluted and migraine-inducing? So do we! Welcome to Jewishness in the 21st century.

One thing that some people are pointing out is that we really should have seen some hints of Marc’s Jewish identity before now, rather than it being suddenly revealed in Episode 5.

Respectfully, I disagree with this sentiment. Thanks to the aggressive assimilation that happened after the Holocaust, huge portions of Jewish culture have been erased. Most of us don’t speak our languages anymore, or live in neighborhoods made up exclusively of other Jews. I myself was in my 20s before I found out that my grandmother was fluent in Yiddish. A Jew can be someone of any race or nationality. As for religion, many of us simply aren’t religious. We might have our weddings officiated by a rabbi, or sit shiva when a family member dies … or we might just not practice Judaism at all. Marc mashes his kippah into the ground after walking away from his mother’s shiva, so to say that he’s a devout Jew would be a huge stretch.

So is it realistic that we wouldn’t get even the tiniest hint of Marc’s Jewishness before now? Yes, absolutely, and a character shouldn’t have to dress like a Hasid for people to avoid comparing him to Jesus. Haven’t you ever wondered why we Jews get so excited when we find out that someone is a member of our tribe? It’s because often, you literally can’t tell.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the series hasn’t missed an opportunity for good storytelling by putting Marc’s Jewishness in the background. Click this tweet for an interesting thread on the subject of comics Marc versus MCU Marc:

Will Marc’s Jewishness come to the forefront more, now that he’s been forced to revisit his past? We’ve got one more episode to find out.

(image: Marvel)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>