Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harry Potter's not Jewish & Snape's not Lubavitch.

I'm taking a break from the feminism stuff for this post to talk about an article on Time Magazine's website called, "You Didn't Know Harry Potter Was Jewish?"

As a Harry Potter fan and a Jew, I think I'm uniquely qualified to comment on this article.

The author writes about attending a wedding in Israel where he met a man named Adam Melech who said that, "Almost anything you need to know about Jews, you can learn from Harry Potter":

"Jews, he explains, are the wizards. The non-Jews are the muggles. And Israel's wizards are engaged in a kind of invisible spiritual warfare (just like in Rowling's books) that most muggles can't even see, much less understand. Rowling may be a muggle, says Adam, but she knew what she was doing. Why else would a yeshiva like Hogwart's be so central to their lives? Why would the power of naming and names be so important to both Jews and wizards? He offers further corollaries: Harry's spells are talmudic prayers; Hizballah are the Death-eaters; converts to Judaism are muggle-born wizards; and so on."

It's a cute theory, but the parallels clearly do not add up. Allow the fan-girl in me to break it down, piece by piece, and simultaneously showcase how much of a geek I am:

1. In the Harry Potter world, muggles and wizards are completely separate. They live in completely different worlds and muggles have no idea that wizards even exist. The same cannot be said for Jews and non-Jews. We're not only aware of each other, we're often hyper-aware of each other. We make up merely 0.2% of the world's population, yet we're constantly in the news. We're hardly a secret society.

2. Israel's wizards (aka Israeli Jews) engage in an invisible (aka spiritual) war that most muggles (aka non-Jews) can't see or understand? I'm not sure what Israeli wizards Adam is referring to. Do Jews fight spiritual battles? Absolutely. But that is not exclusive to the Jewish people. Non-Jews also fight spiritual battles. So explain to me, Adam, how this battle is invisible to muggles?

3. There is not enough evidence in the Harry Potter books to state, as Adam does, that Hogwarts is central to the lives of wizards. The books are written to follow the lives of three children as they progress through Hogwarts' school system, so obviously Hogwarts is central to their lives. But after they graduate, they move on and there's nothing in the books that
says that Hogwarts remains "central" to their lives.

4. Yes, it's true that names have a power in Judaism and in the Harry Potter books. And in so many other books. Roald Dahl did it with Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honeypot. Tolkein wrote an entire, Guide to the Names in Lord of the Rings, to explain his characters' names. And if you think that Jane Austen named Mr. Knightley coincidentally, you're really missing a lot.

5. Harry Potter's spells are not Talmudic prayers. In fact, what are Talmudic prayers?

6. I have nothing against saying that Hizballah are Death Eaters, though if you're interested in Rowling's original intent, she makes it absolutely clear that the Death Eaters are fashioned after the Nazis.

7. As for converts to Judaism being muggleborn... Well, I can see what he means by that one. There are people who discriminate against converts in Judaism solely because they are converts. It's just as ridiculous as the Malfoys claiming that Draco is smarter than Hermione merely because he's a pureblood.

The author ends the article by comparing a Lubavitcher in a band handing out alcoholic drinks to
the Half Blood Prince, which renders the article completely senseless. Any Harry Potter fan would laugh themselves silly at the imagery of Snape in a band handing out drinks, never mind picturing him as a Lubavitcher! Though maybe... *Runs to Photoshop and creates the following picture*:

Yup. Laughing silly.

Most importantly, even I, a reverent Harry Potter fan, (I speak of the books only! Not the movies!) wouldn't dream of saying that you could find "everything" about Jews in Harry Potter. Harry Potter is a work of fiction. Yes, it is a brilliant work of fiction, (I dare you to challenge that in the comments section!), but it is still just a piece of literature. The complexities and the beauty of being a Jew could never be found in something so mundane.


  1. Credit where credit is due, thank you for the inspiration to write my latest post!

    Primum Non Nocere: Why Am I Not Frum?

  2. Agreed-harry potter is well written, but in no way can it sum up the essence and the intricacies of Torah and the way we live as avdei Hashem

  3. As a fellow Harry Potter fan (and also, not a fan of the movies! thank you! I don't understand how anyone likes them) I really enjoyed this post!

  4. Primum - I'll have to check it out when I get a chance.

  5. aminspiration and SternGrad - Thank you!

  6. Another issue with the article - the author is a squib, not a mudblood. "He breaks the news that I'm actually just a mudblood — a muggle, not a wizard, because my muggle mother had converted to Reform Judaism, not Orthodox."
    since when are mudbloods not wizards, or are we all of a sudden discriminatory pure-bloods?

  7. You and your readers might like my book Harry Potter and Torah I certainly agree that the parallels are not 100% but there are many interesting lessons we can learn from the comparisons.

  8. I'd like to point out a few matters...
    Perhaps may be funny consider hisballah melody boys as deatheaters - pointing out Rowling's statement on deatheaters as analogy on nazis, approach of Adolph Hitler to Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Mohammad Amin al-Husayni) had been very friendly, even in 1941 met with Hitler in Germany.
    Considering hisballah today's intentions, rhetoric as well as acts towards the Jews, they follow pretty well nazis, where they failed.

    And, considering converts... Well, there are converts, and converts. To me, there's difference between muggleborn and converts - in the logic of the story, muggleborn has abilities acquired without his/her intentions (i.e. had no choice), being convert means becaming jew at true intentions, based on rational thought - apart from converts in need to reconcile their non-halachic status, though their origin is undoubtedly Jewish.

  9. This is great! From someone who's read the books 30 times each (completely serious!), and spent may hours dissecting minor plot points, I know that there's no way the satisfaction of being able to quote verbatim from Harry potter comes anywhere near how proud I feel when I can quote for the gemara (which I just started studying for the first time in September). Harry potter is a work of genius. The Torah is the truth.

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  11. Geek-out alert: I always thought the world of Star Wars contained interesting parallels to Judaism. The Jedi are separate from society and easily recognizable (dress, weapons, mannerisms), and set out on missions to make the galaxy a better place. The master-apprentice relationship is instrumental in the preservation of their lifestyle. They have the Jedi Temple and a council of elders. The Force is within every living being, but only the Jedi are trained to harness it. And of course, there is a Dark side.
    Yes, I am a female, Orthodox Jew, as well as a massive fan of both HP and Star Wars. :)