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Holy Talmud! what would Batman do? Book suggests way that Caped Crusader is Jewish role model

The following article, published in 2006 is provided courtesy of The CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS (All rights reserved ©2006) http://www.cjn.org

Reviewed by ALAN SMASON, Staff Reporter

A funny thing happened to Rabbi Cary Friedman a little over six years ago. Friedman, a teacher and expert on Torah ethics, was publicly lecturing on how to live a more spiritual life when his words caught the attention of a high-ranking FBI official in the audience. It turns out that the bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit is keenly interested in spirituality and its potential to alleviate stress in the field for its agents and other law enforcement officers.

Wisdom from the Batcave cover (©Cary A. Friedman)

As a result, Friedman was offered and accepted a job opportunity at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va. As a religious figure, he now promotes ethical behavior and helps lawmen connect to their own spirituality, but without promoting any one religious agenda over another.

Since childhood, Friedman had been a devotee of Batman comics. Unlike other comic-book heroes (Superman or the Flash) who possessed superhuman powers, “the Batman” is a normal human being who has honed his body and developed his mind to the highest attainable levels. Thus, according to Friedman, when Bruce Wayne elects to become the crimefighting Batman, it is a conscious choice on his part and not due to the effects of lesser gravity, a yellow sun or a freak accident. He thus represents the very best that mankind can emulate.

Examining even more closely the ethics exuded by the Dark Detective, Friedman began to construct a series of ways to lead a virtuous life, linking the Batman’s ethical behavior to examples found in Torah and Talmud study.  While working as a chaplain at Duke University in 1999, Friedman finished his first draft of what became his “Batman” book, now published seven years later as Wisdom from the Batcave.

“These are…the fundamental ideas, or rather, the universal Truths that define the heart-and-soul of the Batman character,” the author writes. “These ideas raise the Batman from a mere two-dimensional comic-book character to become a larger-than-life hero, symbol and inspiration.”

Each of the book’s 18 chapters explores how the Batman’s persona leads a virtuous and ethical life, with Friedman providing illustrative frames culled from the annals of Batman and Detective Comics to reinforce those concepts. Some of the chapter headings included in the volume say it all: “The Blessing of Family,” “The Value of Hard Work,” “The Value of Self-Esteem,” “The Value of Willpower,” and “The Value of Study.”

Throughout the work, Friedman reveals underpinnings to the Dark Knight’s character that provide a deeper appreciation of his motivation and inner strength than might be gleaned by simply leafing through the comic-book pages. For instance, there is talk of Bruce Wayne’s sacrifice of a “normal” life in order to fulfill his destiny. The lesson to be inculcated is “real greatness comes at a cost. Something has to give,” Friedman writes.

The central episode in Bruce Wayne’s life that prepares him for the challenges inherent in being the Batman is his witnessessing the murder of his parents at the hands of a petty criminal. In that one instant, he vows he will not seek revenge, as one might expect. Instead, he swears he will never again allow another child to be similarly orphaned by a criminal. Such is the stuff of legend.

What makes the Caped Crusader such a worthwhile and inspirational hero? In answering that question, Friedman trots out real life heroes such as the firemen and policemen at the World Trade Center during 9/11 and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, whose efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust were accomplished at great personal peril. “Recognize that you are a symbol,” he notes. “You can be a symbol of hope against the chaos that threatens civilization and would engulf it in a moment if you were not there.“

The value of inspiring others, utilizing one’s sheer willpower, and recognizing the value of friendship and family as found in Bruce Wayne’s faithful manservant Alfred Pennyworth and his ward Dick Grayson (the original Robin and later Nightwing) are other aspects to a heroic life that Friedman investigates.

The inside margins of the book are also used for pithy quotations from the author or from a number of famous celebrities.

In linking the Batman story to the fundamental values found in Jewish insights and philosophy, Friedman could easily have become pedantic or preachy.  Not so.  Widsom from the Batcave is an entertaining and illuminating study of a fictional character from whom we can take away a great deal, including humor.

“Traditional Jewish literature is filled with inspirational works which remind me that we are in This World not for our own comfort, but for a larger purpose: to pursue Good and battle Evil,” Friedman writes in his closing.

That the Batman, a fictional character created by a Jew (Bob Kane) some 68 years ago, can continue to inspire other Jews today, is testimony that the formula still works. Everyone –– from FBI agents to sheriff’s deputies to everyday people –– can learn and admire much from the Batman, and Wisdom from the Batcave is a wonderful place to start.

Editor’s Note: Orders for this e-book can now be placed on Amazon.com:

Widsom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life. By Cary A. Friedman. Compass Books. Linden, N. J. 2006. 96 pp. $13.95.

 

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