The Mandalorthodox

The Mandalorthodox

To take comedian Lenny Bruce’s division between things Jewish and goyish to its otherworldly extreme, you might say that where Star Trek is Jewish, Star Wars is not.

Trek, after all, had Jewish lead actors, one of whom pilfered an ancient synagogue gesture for his trademark alien greeting. As the decades rolled on and the alien lore piled up, more and more alien cultures seemed at least a little bit Jew-ish, whether through adolescent coming-of-age rituals, bold tales of occupation and rebellion, or deep legalistic lore (as well as the occasional cringey antisemitic stereotype). And there always was the idea, central to the Talmud if not actual Jewish history, that complex problems can be solved best through debate and seeing all sides of every issue.

Star Wars, however, privileged laser gun battles over debates. George Lucas drew inspiration from the theories of myths of Joseph Campbell, a disciple of Carl Jung, that most gentile of pioneering 20th-century psychologists. And while Nazi-like villains destroyed worlds, no memorial fast days were created. Instead, the bad guy got a sympathetic backstory in series of big-budget prequels.

But in 2019, the Star Wars universe got decidedly more Jewy, with the launch of Disney’s “The Mandalorian.” It was billed as a “space Western,” but the true hint of what was to come was buried in the credits: It was produced by Golem Creations, the company founded by the show’s producer and lead writer, Jon Favreau. Favreau may have indeed “dropped out of Hebrew school to pursue acting,” as per Wikipedia, but observers with far more extensive formal Jewish schooling keep noticing signs of Yiddishkeit.

In Star Wars lore, Mandalorians hail from the planet Mandalore; Boba Fett, the bounty hunter known for never removing his helmet who appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” is their best-known representative.

The current television series tells the story of a different Mandalorian bounty hunter, one Din Djarin. The plot is propelled by Djarin’s ethical decision to betray his commission: After capturing his target (a child of Yoda’s species), he declines to hand the child over to the imperial forces who had paid for his capture.

Alongside the plot, there is plenty of Mandalorian lore. Djarin, who turns out to have been an orphaned outsider rescued and adopted by Mandalorians, wrestles with that most Jewish of questions: What does it mean to be a real Mandalorian?

Beyond the lore, there is plenty of specific language — presumably written by Favreau — with deep, and specific, Jewish resonances.

Early in the show’s run, Michal Schick was struck by the “use of the phrase ‘this is the way’ in connection with the lifestyle-observance of keeping the helmet on. This obviously recalls halacha” — which can be translated as the Way as well as the Law.

And then there was the division between Djarin’s sect of Mandalorians and less observant Mandalorians, who took their helmets off.

Schick, a Stern College graduate who is a writer for the Netflix animated series “The Dragon Prince,” will be hosting a panel on YouTube on Sunday, April 23, at 7 p.m., called “Mandalorthodox: Jewish History and Modern Practice in the Mandalorian.”

You can expect to hear about how after taking off his helmet, the Mandalorian had to immerse in “living waters” to atone — a clear parallel to the Jewish mikveh practice.

And you can hear about the thematic relevance of the verses from Exodus that were revealed when a tablet with “Mandalorian” writing that appeared in a recent episode was decoded.

“I suppose this is just supposed to be an Easter egg, not sure why they would put a Bible verse in Star Wars, but here it is,” wrote the Reddit user who first decoded it — and clearly hadn’t gotten the memo that this is the Jewish Star Wars show. Nor the memo that, as per National Jewish Book Award winner and former Star Trek showrunner Michael Chabon, when we find such Jewish tidbits hidden in space drama, we don’t call them Easter eggs (goyish!). Refer to them properly, and perhaps reverently, as afikomen.

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