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September 8: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

September 8, 2011

Star Trek premiered on NBC television on this date in 1966, starring William Shatner as Captain James Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer, Mr. Spock (Nimoy adapted the hand gesture for the “Priestly Blessing” to serve as the Vulcan greeting salute). Two of the original writers were also Jewish — Bob Justman and Herb Solow — as was actor Walter Koenig (Checkov, the navigator). In one episode from the original season, (“Patterns of Force”), Kirk and Spock dress up like Nazis to infiltrate a planet that has adopted Nazism and implemented a genocidal program against a neighboring planet. It takes hard-core Jewish Star Trek fan, however (of whom there are many), to identify significant Jewish content. Rather, the show’s allegories were strongly shaped by secular humanistic outlook of its creator, Gene Roddenberry, who had been raised a Southern Baptist (and flew 89 combat missions in World War II), and by the emerging anti-war, liberationist politics of the ’60s.

“Mr. Spock... hailed from the planet Vulcan, and came from a race of people whose philosophy, lifestyle, and very essence of being demanded logic. This, to me, seemed like the essence of Jewish thought — or, at least, my eight-year-old representation of Jewish... thought: that logic was the backbone to the universe, a clean, crisp and ordered hierarchy through which problems would be solved, differences mended, and harmony achieved.” —Matthue Roth, MyJewishLearning

“Is there Judaism in Star Trek?” Watch Leonard Nimoy explain the origin of the Vulcan greeting: