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.