This startling idea came up when the production staff at Paramount was creating the character. It may have been prompted by the fact that the Jewish actor (and ex-Israeli) Theodore Bikel had been cast for the role.
The idea was vetoed by the program’s producers, who kept Bikel as a Russian. “It was a subject of extraordinary discussion,” says executive producer Michael Piller. “The orders were handed down not to make Worf’s adopted parents Jewish. I don’t want to sound anti-Semitic; that’s not what it meant. I am a Jew and so is Rick (Producer Rick Berman). We were simply afraid of making the Worf character laughable.
“This September 8 marks 25 years since the original “Star Trek” series debuted on the NBC television network. The show, which chronicled the interstellar adventures of the Starship Enterprise on its “five-year mission to seek out new life, new civilizations,” actually ran only three years. But its dedicated cult following and popularity in syndicated reruns led to its being resurrected as a feature film in 1979, starring the original cast. That, and the four sequels that followed (a sixth is now being filmed), have grossed nearly half a billion dollars. And four years ago the program was successfully revived on television in a new form and with a new cast as “Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“The “Star Trek” phenomenon has been examined in virtually every detail by its cult fans (known as “Trekkies”), who have created a virtual popsubculture of books, magazines and memorabilia around the programs and movies. But its Jewish content, if any, is one aspect of “Star Trek”that has generally escaped discussion. Several Jews were involved in the production of the original show, especially as key cast members: William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as the Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock and Walter Koenig as Ensign Chekov. The Orthodox-born Nimoy, who also directed two of the movies, deliberately incorporated a great deal of Jewish content into the “Star Trek” universe, according to Harve Bennet, executive producer of both of the films (as well as of a TV biographical mini-series about Golda Meir, starring Ingrid Bergman in the title role and Nimoy as her husband).
That news is no surprise to Jewish fans of “Star Trek,” who have long recognized the Vulcan hand greeting used by Mr. Spock, which is said tomean “Live long and prosper,” as being identical to the gesture that accompanies the blessing of the kohanim (priestly class) still used today in Orthodox synagogues. But Bennett claims that Nimoy’s Jewish influence went further; that the pointy-eared, super-rational Vulcans were conceived as stand-ins for Jews and that the planet Vulcan their harsh, hot, desert home planet was deliberately conceived and presented as as an interstellar version of the Land of Israel.
“Vulcan is really the creation of Leonard’s mind,” says Bennett, who asserts that Nimoy saw Vulcan as a once-barbaric world peopled by a passionate people who had nearly destroyed themselves early in their history through civil war, yet channeled this energy into pure intellectualism, and achieved species survival by becoming the most logical and least war-like of peoples. Yet despite their rationalism, they are still ruled by ritual and ideological orthodoxy. Even the costumes worn by Vulcan officials in the “Star Trek” were, according to costume designer Robert Fletcher, based on descriptions he found in the Bible.
Nimoy, however, has no connection with “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and Jewish characters and issues seem to be in short supply on the new series.
Yet an episode last year did note the observance of Hanukkah aboard the Starship Enterprise, and a crewman named Goldman is sometimes paged on the ship’s intercom. So as “Star Trek” continues to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” at least a few Jews are going along for the ride. A Star Trek’ Klingon Detail from the facsimile edition of the Alba Bible translated into Castilian from the Hebrew by Rabbi Moses Arragel in 1430. The facsimile is being published by the International Jewish Committee Sepharad ’92 as living testament to the spirit of 1992.
Originally published on September 12, 1991, in The Jerusalem Report.