What Wonder Woman Can Teach You About Judaism

What Are Men Necessary For?

When Wonder Woman meets up with Steve, one of their conversations centers around the role of women vs. the role of men. Wonder Woman (Diana) tells Steve that the conclusion of one of the women philosophers she read while on the Island of the Amazons (Themiscyra) was that men were necessary for reproduction but not much else.

Is this a Jewish concept?

Answer: Somewhat! See below.

() (טז) אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁ֣ה אָמַ֗ר הַרְבָּ֤ה אַרְבֶּה֙ עִצְּבוֹנֵ֣ךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵ֔ךְ בְּעֶ֖צֶב תֵּֽלְדִ֣י בָנִ֑ים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ (ס)

(16) And to the woman He said, “I will make most severe Your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children. Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

(ז) הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל־בּֽוֹ׃

(7) Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin crouches at the door; its desire is toward you, Yet you can rule over it.”

Excerpted from 'The Beast that Crouches at the Door' by Rabbi David Fohrman

pages 150-152

The Four Primal Desires

Over a thousand years ago, the Rabbis of the Midrash noticed the analogy we have been wrestling with, and they had something quite intriguing to say about it. They observed that the Bible uses the Hebrew term teshukah (desire) in both verses we have been discussing. In tracing the various scriptural ocurrences of this word, the Sages recognized a pattern. Here is what they had to say:

"There are four [basic] teshukot in the world. The teshukah of Eve for Adam, the teshukah of the Evil Inclination for Cain, the teshukah of rain for land, and the teshukah of the Master of the Universe for humanity." (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, 20:7)

The Sages cite additional verses (which I have not reproduced here) to substantiate each one of these conclusions, but let's focus on just these four statements. What are the Rabbis really saying?

It seems to me that they are defining the word "teshukah"- and making a sweeping, almost radical, statement in the process. Look carefully at the four examples they give: the desire of Eve for Adam, of the Evil Inclination for Cain, of rain for land, and of God for humanity- and see if you can isolate a common denominator among them.

While you are mulling that over, you might notice that some of the desires indicated by the Rabbis don't sound much like desires at all. Let's look, for example, at the last two: the desire of rain for land and the desire of the Almighty for humanity. If you were given the words "rain" and "land," and someone asked you, "Whcih of these two 'desires' the other," what would you say?

I would say "land" is the one with the desire. Land needs rain to nourish its crops; rain doesn't need land at all. And the same holds for "God" and "humanity." A basic tenet of theology states that God is a perfect Being who has no needs at all. So, if we are contemplating God and humans, if anything, it should be humanity that desires God. Why do the Sages have it the other way around?

When Desire is Divorced from Need

I would argue that the Sages define teshukah as something entirely different from what we usually think of when we use the word "desire." When you and I normally talk about desire, we associate desire with "need." Think about the synonyms we use for desire. When we desire a new car, we say "I need a new car," or "I want a new car." Both "need" and "want" are connected to the idea of "lack." When I am wanting or needful, I am missing something; when I get it, that hole in my life is filled, and my want or need is satisfied. Usually when we talk about desire, we are really talking about getting needs fulfilled.

The question you should contemplate is this: Is that the only kind of desire there is in t his world? Or, perhaps, is "desire" a larger concept than t his? Is there a desire that is not based on a sense of need, that doesn't come from some kind of lack that I have? If all my needs and wants were taken care of, would that be it? Or could I still have some sense of desire?

I think the Sages are answering that question with a resounding, "Yes!" Yes, it is possible to desire something even when you don't need anything. Rain doesn't need land a whit, but somehow it still "desires" land. God doesn't need people a whit, either, but somehow, He still desires them. The Sages are arguing, I think, that teshukah is a code name for this special kind of desire. And it is this very kind of desire, this teshukah, that the feminine has for the masculine. And that the Evil Inclination, whatever that is, has for Cain.

So what, exactly, is the essential nature of teshukah? How are we to understand a desire that is divorced from need?

Excerpted from Rabbi David Fohrman's 'The Beast that Crouches at the Door'

Pages 157-158

Male and Female Desire

There are four primal teshukahs in the world, say the Sages. There are four beings full of life-force, seeking to overflow and share that gift of life with others. One of those beings is God. It should come as no surprise that a perfect Being would experience rather intensely the desire we call teshukah. The Almighty loves, not because He is needy, but because He is full. He wants to share that fullness with others. And to that end, He created a world.

Another "being" possessed of life-force is rain. The land is parched without rain, the land needs rain- but it is rain that experiences teshukah for land. Rain wants to give land what it can. Rain becomes meaningful because of its ability to nourish and to share itself with land. Without land, rain is frustrated, restless. The desire of rain to give life to land is intense.

Another great teshukah in the world, say the Sages, is the desire of the feminine for the masculine. What is the nature of this desire ?

To be sure, both men and women desire one another, but they do so for different reasons. Let's talk about men. In traditional Jewish marriage, a man gives a ring to a woman, not the other way around. The reason is that a biblical verse (Deuteronomy 22:13) describes the man as the active partner, who "takes" a woman as his wife. Now this might strike some as sexist, but I don't think the ancient Sages meant it that way. Long ago, the Sages of the Talmud wondered about this verse in Deuteronomy. Why, they asked, does the Torah state "when a man shall take a woman..." Why is he, not she, cast as the active partner in marriage and courtship?

Here is their answer: "It is comparable to a person who lost something. Who goes searching after whom? I would say: The person who lost something searches after that which they lost" (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 3b).

The Sages are alluding to something in this cryptic statement. Remember, the verse in Deuteronomy talks about a man "taking" a woman. If you search Genesis for some of the very first occurences of the word "take" in the Bible, you will come across the following verse:

And [the Lord] took one of Adam's ribs, closed up his skin, and built [the rib] he had taken from man into woman... (Genesis 2:20-21)

When a man "takes" a woman in marriage, what he is really doing is taking back his lost rib. The person experiencing a loss is the one who searches for what was lost. The masculine desires the feminine because a man understands, on some basic level, that he is missing his lost feminine side, and he is seeking to reunite with her.

The feminine desires the masculine for other reasons. The feminine does not have, imprinted on her soul, the sense that she is missing something without a man. Since woman was created as a whole being, she does not experience that same, masculine sense of lack within herself. Instead, the feminine desires the masculine out of teshukah. The feminine- like rain and like God- embodies a mysterious life force, and she seeks to give that gift to the masculine.

No Man's Land

Steve: This is No Man's Land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they've barely gained an inch. Alright? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It's not possible.

Diana: So … what? … so we do nothing?

Steve: No. We are doing something! We are! We just- we can't save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.

Diana: No. But it's what I'm going to do.

[She walks up into No Man's Land]

Steve: (shouting) Diana!

[It becomes apparent Diana is taking all the fire, so the men scramble to attack in her wake.]

Where have we seen a similar Jewish scene before?

(ו) וַתִּשְׁלַ֗ח וַתִּקְרָא֙ לְבָרָ֣ק בֶּן־אֲבִינֹ֔עַם מִקֶּ֖דֶשׁ נַפְתָּלִ֑י וַתֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלָ֜יו הֲלֹ֥א צִוָּ֣ה ׀ יקוק אֱלֹהֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֵ֤ךְ וּמָֽשַׁכְתָּ֙ בְּהַ֣ר תָּב֔וֹר וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ עִמְּךָ֗ עֲשֶׂ֤רֶת אֲלָפִים֙ אִ֔ישׁ מִבְּנֵ֥י נַפְתָּלִ֖י וּמִבְּנֵ֥י זְבֻלֽוּן׃ (ז) וּמָשַׁכְתִּ֨י אֵלֶ֜יךָ אֶל־נַ֣חַל קִישׁ֗וֹן אֶת־סִֽיסְרָא֙ שַׂר־צְבָ֣א יָבִ֔ין וְאֶת־רִכְבּ֖וֹ וְאֶת־הֲמוֹנ֑וֹ וּנְתַתִּ֖יהוּ בְּיָדֶֽךָ׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלֶ֙יהָ֙ בָּרָ֔ק אִם־תֵּלְכִ֥י עִמִּ֖י וְהָלָ֑כְתִּי וְאִם־לֹ֥א תֵלְכִ֛י עִמִּ֖י לֹ֥א אֵלֵֽךְ׃ (ט) וַתֹּ֜אמֶר הָלֹ֧ךְ אֵלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֗ךְ אֶ֚פֶס כִּי֩ לֹ֨א תִֽהְיֶ֜ה תִּֽפְאַרְתְּךָ֗ עַל־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתָּ֣ה הוֹלֵ֔ךְ כִּ֣י בְֽיַד־אִשָּׁ֔ה יִמְכֹּ֥ר יקוק אֶת־סִֽיסְרָ֑א וַתָּ֧קָם דְּבוֹרָ֛ה וַתֵּ֥לֶך עִם־בָּרָ֖ק קֶֽדְשָׁה׃ (י) וַיַּזְעֵ֨ק בָּרָ֜ק אֶת־זְבוּלֻ֤ן וְאֶת־נַפְתָּלִי֙ קֶ֔דְשָׁה וַיַּ֣עַל בְּרַגְלָ֔יו עֲשֶׂ֥רֶת אַלְפֵ֖י אִ֑ישׁ וַתַּ֥עַל עִמּ֖וֹ דְּבוֹרָֽה׃ ׃

(6) She summoned Barak son of Abinoam, of Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded: Go, march up to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun. (7) And I will draw Sisera, Jabin’s army commander, with his chariots and his troops, toward you up to the Wadi Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hands.” (8) But Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; if not, I will not go.” (9) “Very well, I will go with you,” she answered. “However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. (10) Barak then mustered Zebulun and Naphtali at Kedesh; ten thousand men marched up after him; and Deborah also went up with him.

The Test

There's a scene in which Ares tests Diana as follows.

Ares: I am not your enemy, Diana. I am the only one who truly knows you and who truly knows them as you now do.

Ares: You were right; they [humans] don’t deserve our help. They only deserve destruction.

[goading] Destroy her, Diana. You know that she deserves it. They all do.

Diana: They’re everything you say, but so much more. ... You’re wrong about them.

Ares: They do not deserve your protection.

Diana: It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.

Who else is tested as Diana is, and is her response the same as his?

(ט) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יקוק אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא׃ (י) וְעַתָּה֙ הַנִּ֣יחָה לִּ֔י וְיִֽחַר־אַפִּ֥י בָהֶ֖ם וַאֲכַלֵּ֑ם וְאֶֽעֱשֶׂ֥ה אוֹתְךָ֖ לְג֥וֹי גָּדֽוֹל׃ (יא) וַיְחַ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶת־פְּנֵ֖י יקוק אֱלֹקָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לָמָ֤ה יקוק יֶחֱרֶ֤ה אַפְּךָ֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔ךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר הוֹצֵ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּכֹ֥חַ גָּד֖וֹל וּבְיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃ (יב) לָמָּה֩ יֹאמְר֨וּ מִצְרַ֜יִם לֵאמֹ֗ר בְּרָעָ֤ה הֽוֹצִיאָם֙ לַהֲרֹ֤ג אֹתָם֙ בֶּֽהָרִ֔ים וּ֨לְכַלֹּתָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה שׁ֚וּב מֵחֲר֣וֹן אַפֶּ֔ךָ וְהִנָּחֵ֥ם עַל־הָרָעָ֖ה לְעַמֶּֽךָ׃ (יג) זְכֹ֡ר לְאַבְרָהָם֩ לְיִצְחָ֨ק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל עֲבָדֶ֗יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתָּ לָהֶם֮ בָּךְ֒ וַתְּדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵקֶ֔ם אַרְבֶּה֙ אֶֽת־זַרְעֲכֶ֔ם כְּכוֹכְבֵ֖י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְכָל־הָאָ֨רֶץ הַזֹּ֜את אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֗רְתִּי אֶתֵּן֙ לְזַרְעֲכֶ֔ם וְנָחֲל֖וּ לְעֹלָֽם׃ (יד) וַיִּנָּ֖חֶם יקוק עַל־הָ֣רָעָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֶּ֖ר לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְעַמּֽוֹ׃ (פ)

(9) The LORD further said to Moses, “I see that this is a stiffnecked people. (10) Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation. (11) But Moses implored the LORD his God, saying, “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand. (12) Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth.’ Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people. (13) Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, how You swore to them by Your Self and said to them: I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and I will give to your offspring this whole land of which I spoke, to possess forever.” (14) And the LORD renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people.

Showing Mercy to the Enemy

There's a scene where Diana has the choice to kill Maru/ Dr. Poison (the chemist/ poisoner who has created a horrible gas that can murder throngs of people) or not to do so. Ares is goading her to kill Maru, but instead she allows the woman to escape.

Is this a Jewish concept?

Answer: No.

(יד) וְכִֽי־יָזִ֥ד אִ֛ישׁ עַל־רֵעֵ֖הוּ לְהָרְג֣וֹ בְעָרְמָ֑ה מֵעִ֣ם מִזְבְּחִ֔י תִּקָּחֶ֖נּוּ לָמֽוּת׃ (ס)

(14) When a man schemes against another and kills him treacherously, you shall take him from My very altar to be put to death.

והוא אמרו "מעם מזבחי תקחנו למות" - הנה זה בא להעזר באלוק ית' ונתלה במה שהוא מיוחס לשמו ולא עזרו אבל צוה להסגירו ביד בעל דין אשר ברח מלפניו - כל שכן מי שבא להושע באיש מבני אדם שאין צריך להושיעו ולא לרחם עליו שהרחמנות על העברינים - אכזריות היא על כל הברואים. אלו הם המדות השוות בלא ספק אשר הם מכלל 'חוקים ומשפטים צדיקים'; ולא כמדות הסכלים אשר יחשבו למעלות שישובח האיש בהם על עזרו ושמרו מי שיזדמן עושק או עשוק כמו שהוא מפורסם בדבריהם ושיריהם:

But, on the other hand, when sinners and evildoers seek our help, it must not be granted; no mercy must be shown to them, and the course of justice must not be interfered with, even if they claim the protection of that which is noblest and highest; for "Thou shalt take him from mine altar that he may die" (Exod. 21:14). Here a person comes to seek the help of God, and claims the protection of that which is devoted to his name; God, however, does not help him, and commands that he be delivered up to the prosecutor, from whom he fled. Much less need any one of us help or pity his fellow-men [under such circumstances]; because mercy on sinners is cruelty to all creatures. These are undoubtedly the right ways designated "righteous statutes and judgments" (Deut. 4:8), and different from the ways of the fools, who consider a person praiseworthy when he helps and protects his fellow-men, without discriminating between the oppressor and the oppressed. This is well known from their words and songs.

אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר, כָּל שֶׁנַּעֲשֶׂה רַחְמָן עַל הָאַכְזָרִי, לַסּוֹף נַעֲשֶׂה אַכְזָר עַל הָרַחְמָנִים. כְּתִיב: וַיַּחְמֹל שָׁאוּל עַל אֲגָג וְעַל מֵיטַב הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר (ש״א טו, ט). וּכְתִיב בְּנֹב עִיר הַכֹּהֲנִים, וְאֶת נֹב עִיר הַכֹּהֲנִים הִכָּה לְפִי חֶרֶב (ש״א כב, יט).

R’ Elazar said: One who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate, as it is written, “And Saul and the nation spared Agag and the best sheep and cattle.”, and it is written (Ibid. 22:19) “And Nov, the city of priests, he smote with the edge of a sword.”

Yetzer Hara/ Yetzer Tov

Wonder Woman/ Diana: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves - something no hero will ever defeat. I've touched the darkness that lives in between the light. Seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they'll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give... for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. For ever.

The Overall Approach To Wonder Woman

as excerpted from "Why Wonder Woman Will be a Lasting Legend" by Elizabeth Weitzman



Wonder Woman was originally designed to draw strength from empathy and love. To her great credit, Jenkins doesn’t shy away from these stereotypically feminine attributes, but makes them the basis of Diana’s power. She doesn’t run on primeval adrenaline, but deep compassion.

Too often, we see superheroes engage in combat because, well, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Here, there’s a true and meaningful connection between cause and effect. Diana is shocked, for example, when Steve encourages their hastily-assembled team (including standout Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer) to rush past a devastated village on the way to the front lines. Steve is saddened by the sight of starving families being prayed on by mercenaries. But the priority is to reach Ludendorff as quickly as possible, and Steve won’t deviate from the plan secretly approved by his superior, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis).

Diana can’t follow him. Benevolence is the force that drives her. She sees suffering, and she has to alleviate it. Don’t get the wrong idea, though: while Amazons don’t like violence, they’re more than willing to use it—and, it seems, in flashy, fiery style.

Excerpted from Middot Series #10 - Compassion on Aish.com by Rabbi Shraga Simmons


"Compassion" in Hebrew is rachmanut, derived from the word rechem– womb. The womb is the paradigm of caring for another's totally dependent needs. In metaphysical terms, compassion is a similarly deep commitment to:

  • feel the other's reality
  • identify their specific needs
  • take action to assist

It starts with being motivated to care and reaching the point where you feel the other's pain.

Excerpted from 'To Heal the Soul: The Spiritual Journal of a Chasidic Rebbe'

by Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira (the Piacezna Rebbe)

Pages 139-140


"And I stand between God and you" (Deuteronomy 5:5). The Baal Shem Tov explained this to mean that the "I"- the ego, the sense of selfness that we feel and that drives us to seek only our own selfish needs- is what stands between God and one's true self- the soul.

But how do we get past the barrier imposed by the ego-self? Only by mutually nurturing relations with other human beings- you cannot do it by yourself. This is also alluded to in the verse "And I stand" - when I stand by myself, then there is the barrier "between God and man."

Now the dynamics of experiencing oneself so intensely- to the point that all senses, emotions, and desires revolve around providing only for the self- seems to be a psychological, ego defense system. This develops as we grow and unconsciously perceive how everybody else is just out for himself, something that makes us feel alone and abandoned in the world. "Who will care for me if I don't stand up for myself?" So this lonely self learns to strengthen its defenses in order to provide for itself. Gradually, a thick protective shell of selfishness grows around it: the I, the me, the myself, besides which there is nothing else.

Maybe for this reason women and children are more compassionate toward others, more so than adult men. They basically have someone who cares and provides for them: a husband for his wife and parents for their children. Not feeling abandoned in this world, they have no need to build a protective shield around the self. And because their sense of selfness has not been blown out of proportion, they are more able to see through to the predicament of others and to have compassion for them.

Based on the statement above, consider the way Diana is raised- the women who care for her and what they expect of her. On the one hand, they train her hard (especially her Aunt Antiope) but on the other hand, there is a sense of caring and protection Diana receives that other people- perhaps most notably Steve- do not. Diana does not need to live by her wits to survive; she survives because others care for her. The way she responds to the world has to do with what has been modeled to/ for her.

Takeaways and Thoughts

  • Many of the ideas that make Wonder Woman so novel & striking existed within our Jewish tradition first.
  • Many of us who admire Wonder Woman's heroism and empathy can find characters just like her within Tanakh.
  • Judaism does not agree with letting evildoers get away with murder.
  • The way Wonder Woman responds to pain and her ability to see evil and still feel empathy- which differs from most other superheroes- is radical and important. It is also a natural outcome of the role models she has had. We can be those role models to others in our lives.