First airing in 1966, Star Trek was always heavily influenced by Jews and Jewish thought but now it’s Jewier than ever. Famously Kirk, Spock and Chekov were all played by Jews (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Walter Keonig). Some of the writers who worked on the original series such as the noted sci-fi authors Harlan Ellison (City on the Edge of Forever), Robert Bloch (Wolf in the Fold) and David Gerrold, inventor of the Tribbles (Trouble with Tribbles), helped to imbue the 1960’s Star Trek with Jewish values.
Whilst Star Trek has never been overt in addressing Jewish ideas or culture – the closest it got was perhaps the portrayal of Worf’s parents by two prominent Yiddish actors in Star Trek the Next Generation (TNG), Theodore Bikel and British Jewish actress Georgia Brown – the franchise has often told tales spun out of Jewish history in much the same way that the superhero writers of the Golden Age of Comics era did.
After the death of the non-Jewish creator of Trek, Gene Roddenberry, in 1994, the reins were taken over by the Jewish Rick Berman often aided by such fellow Jews as Michael Piller. Berman was responsible for being the gatekeeper of Trek from mid-way through the development of TNG. Ge also oversaw the creation of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Ratings started to drop after TNG went off the air and eventually Star Trek went into a decade-long TV hiatus in 2002.
The films were never as successful as the TV show. Just before and during the time of TNG, a young filmmaker, Nicolas Meyer, wrote and directed three Trek films, arguably the best. He started by writing and directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Star Trek: IV the Voyage Home (directed by Nimoy) and Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country. Rewatch them for the Jewish themes!
As it’s called by the fans, New Trek was initiated by a complete reboot of the original series in a film produced, co-written and directed by JJ Abrams. Nick Meyer had been his babysitter when he was young and had attended JJ Abrams’ bar mitzvah but this had nothing to do with Abrams getting the job. The three films he has produced to date were controversial in recasting the original crew and creating a new past for the crew by the use of a parallel universe.
The success of these films led CBS, the rights holders of the TV show, to commission a new TV series, under the auspices of non-Jewish star trek veteran writer, Brian Fuller. Fuller brought in Nick Meyer to help write the show’s pilot, which was a prequel to the original series. Star Trek Discovery first aired in 2017. Fuller fell out with the network during the production process and so Alex Kurtzman who had schooled under JJ Abrams and had co-written the new Star Trek (2009) movie with him, was brought into oversee production.
One of the protagonists, Captain Lorca, of the highly complex first season of Discovery was played by a famous British Jewish actor, Jason Isaacs. During a Star Trek convention in 2019 in Birmingham, Isaacs interrupted a talk by Shatner bursting on the stage, his body in a karate-like pose, shouting ‘Jiu-Jitsu’ (or was it ‘Jew-Jitsu?’). I’m pretty sure Shatner had no idea who Isaacs was or what he was doing.
Kurtzman has now become the new gatekeeper of Trek as Rich Berman was during the TNG era. He has brought in Akiva Goldsman as a co-producer, writer and director and later the acclaimed Jewish author Michael Chabon who wrote and ran the writers room for season one of Star Trek: Picard.
Chabon is known for pouring his Jewish soul into his writing, as is his wife and author Ayelet Waldman, who co-wrote an episode of Picard with him. You’re therefore more likely to spot Jewish themes in the more thoughtful Star Trek: Picard than you are in Discovery. The first season includes the appearance of sorts of a Golem with Picard spending the entire season kvetching over the death of Data twenty years earlier, as he didn’t have the ability to sit shiva.
New Star Trek (or Nu Trek?) is possibly more Jewish than ever. The Judaification of Trek would culminate just over a year ago in perhaps the first Jewish Star Trek wedding. Mary Wiseman, who plays Ensign Tilly in Discovery, married Noa Averbach-Katz who went on to play Ryn the Andorian in season three of Discovery. Averbach-Katz was born a Star Trek fan. He regularly attended Star Trek conventions as a child, taken by his Trekkie mum Rachelle, who hasn’t stopped kvelling since he landed a part in Trek himself.
For more Jew-Trek you can join for the Star Trek Jewposting group on Facebook.
Love this! Hearing my friend Michael Galchinsky lecture once on the hidden Jewishness of Superman was a revelation – before even having read Kavalier and Clay. I’ll look at Star Trek in a whole new way now – our wandering crew searching out meaning throughout the universe.