By Rabbi Sam Yolen, Congregation Beth Israel, Lebanon
After seeing too many “Baby Yoda” plushies to count, and hearing many rave reviews of Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian, I decided to watch the first two seasons of the hit show. I found the mythology of the “Mandalore,” to be parallel to Judaism, if not identical in structure to the historical origins of Judaism. For those who haven’t yet watched this show, there are spoilers below, so proceed at your own caution.
To those who may be unfamiliar with the “Star Wars Universe,” there are a number of characters to which the main movies follow. These movies articulate the plight of Jedis (good guys) against the Sith (bad guys), most notoriously represented by Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
The television show The Mandalorian does away with the major characters and Jedi plots, and instead focuses on a new group of characters, specifically a new humanoid group of people known through their creed as “Mandalorians.” Mandalorians, as we learn, come from a destroyed planet called Mandalore, and have their own religious customs that are revealed with each passing episode.
Din Djarin, the Mandalorian we follow, is introduced in the first season as a bounty hunter. He pilots an old ship, The Razorcrest, to be kept off the radar of The First Republic, and is hired as a fighter to bring justice to recalcitrant fugitives at the edge of the galaxy.
Even though Din’s primary motivation is money (in the form of “beskar” metal), his overarching code allows him to deny a mission, refuse payment, or even call off the terms of the arrangement if he feels ethically challenged. He does this when expected to traffic the “Baby Yoda'' character, Groku, into the hands of The Empire. As part of their ethics, Mandalorians do not traffic children, and we learn from the approval of his co-religionists when they support Din in a battle, stating succinctly the tagline of his people, “This is the way.”
In Judaism, “The Way,” is literally translated as “Halakha,” and it arbitrates the practice of Jews in terms of mitzvot and one’s ability to do teshuvah (repentance). It codifies behavior into a standard that allows Jews to be part of a community, and more realistically allowed to partake in the cultural rituals and celebrations unique to our people.
Judaism is both an ethnicity and a belief, so you can be a cultural Jew without regard to halakha, yet those who choose to identify religiously are eerily mirrored in the ways of Mandalore. This spectrum includes those who are zealous in their practice of religion, like some Mandalorians, to those who have grown apostate like Boba Fett, the beskar-armor-wearing character who could easily be mistaken for an apostate Jew.
Of the examples that link Mandalorians to religiously-practicing Jews, whenever the show's protagonist, Din Djarin, completes a mission for payment in Beskar metal, he gives a sizable portion away to charity. This is a direct corollary to tzedakah which, as tithing stipulates, should be one tenth of one’s earnings.
With each mission, a Mandalorian’s armory increases - similarly, Jews who practice in community receive more Judaica with each coming-of-age ceremony. First you receive a circumcision, then a Bible, a siddur, a Kiddush cup, Shabbat candlesticks, a tzedakah box, a talit, tefillin, a wedding ring, and more. Each item is a visible representative of mitzvot, just as the Mandalorians’ garb is a visible representative of successful missions in providing to their own people.
When it comes to “The Way,” some Mandalorians are never allowed to publicly remove their helmet. This infers that eating, sleeping, and intimacy are reserved for relationships beyond the colloquial acquaintance.
In Judaism, a man’s yarmulke, or a woman’s head covering is similarly reserved for intimate relations. Kosher food prevents religious Jews from sharing meals in unsupervised kitchens. Jewish laws of decorum mean you should never be alone in a room with a stranger. These enforce hard boundaries between the inner and outer limits of a faith-based group, and another indication that Boba Fett could be looked at as a wayward Mandalorian.
Beyond learning that the people of Mandalore are united by creed, and not by ethnicity, and that they follow “The Way,” we also learn that their creation story is connected to a massive destruction at the hands of The Empire. Din Djarin’s own Mandalorian people survived because they were a zealous religious sect stationed on a satellite Moon of planet Mandalore.
In Judaism, the reason why we have Rabbinic Judaism, and not Priestly Judaism, is because the Roman Persecution destroyed Jerusalem. Only the scholars, saved by Rabbi Yochannan ben Zakkai at Yavneh, avoided the mass culling of the competing Jewish sects. Rabbinic Judaism is thus a response to the massive persecution, and an adaptation to crisis. The plotline of The Mandalorian concurs that religious extremism within sects descending from Mandalore are a direct result of a similar existential crisis.
Lastly, when Din Djarin finally reveals to his sect of Mandalorians that he has (*gasp*) removed his helmet from his head and showed his face to other sentients, he was kicked out of his zealous group.
“How can I repent?” he asks his superior in Episode 5 of The Book of Boba Fett. His authority figure tells him something to the effect of, “Only by submerging yourself in the living waters below the mines of Mandalore.” Din Djarin replies, “But Mandalore has been destroyed,” thereby removing from Din the chance of ever being restored to his fringe sect.
In Biblical Judaism, repentance is only received once a sacrifice has been made in the Temple. Since the Temple has been destroyed, Rabbinic Judaism has adapted to use prayer, tzedakah, and personal apologies to facilitate repentance. More telling though, the concept of ritual purity is only restored to someone after they submerge in the “living waters” of the mikveh.
Surely the living waters that facilitate the Mandalorians' repentance and the “mayim chayim” (living waters) of Jewish Ritual purity share the same mythic essence in the mind of the show’s Jewish creator, Jon Favreau!