Saturday, September 8, 2007

Harry Potter Jewish?

From: "The All knowing Wik"
Radcliffe was born in Fulham, London, England,[5] the only child of Alan Radcliffe, a literary agent, and Marcia Gresham (born "Marcia Gresham Jacobson"),[6][7] a casting agent who was involved in several films for the BBC, including The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and, most recently, Walk Away And I Stumble. Radcliffe's mother is Jewish and grew up in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex;[7][8] his father is a Protestant who grew up in Northern Ireland.

Harry Potter and Judaism
From Bruce James (Baruch Gershom)
In various religious circles, Jewish and non-Jewish, you will find some uninformed criticism of the Harry Potter series, arguing that it glamorizes the occult. I should note that the series presents very Jewish values and has been endorsed by such rabbinic leaders as Rabbi Chaim Pollock, Rosh Machal of the Linda Pinsky School for Overseas Students at Michlalah University for Women in Jerusalem (of which my daughter is an alumna and personally heard Rav Pollock speak on this topic).

On a very simple level, Orthodox Jews can find many similarities between J.K. Rowling's wizarding world. Not only do we have a unique culture, although often blending in with the muggle/non-Jewish world, we have our own laws and schools. We even have our own shopping districts -- in Cedarhurst its Central Avenue; in Teaneck its Cedar Lane; in the wizarding world its Diagon Alley.
We even have our own unique "uniforms" that identify us to each other, even though those not in our culture may have no idea of what or who we are.

One of the central themes of the Harry Potter books, is, as Prof. Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets, "its our choices that define who we are, not our abilities." This is very similar to Judaism's defining verse about free will and righteousness: "...I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your heirs." (Deut. 30:19).

Another similarity is found in Book Six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THIS BOOK, YET, BUT INTEND TO, THIS QUOTATION SHOULDN'T BE ENOUGH TO SPOIL THE STORY, BUT YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ FURTHER], where Dumbledore says about the key prophecy concerning Harry and Voldemort that “the prophecy is significant only because you and Voldemort choose to make it so," i.e. if they both chose to ignore the prophecy it would be meaningless. Some will recognize this theme, also, from MacBeth -- had MacBeth not acted upon the prophecy of the witches, nothing bad would have happened, but because he did act on the prophecy, all of the events came true. Interestingly, the Talmud makes a similar observation about dreams at Shabbat 56. There, it is said that two identical dreams could come true in different ways, depending upon how they are interpreted. The Talmud tells us the story of Abbaye and Rava who go to a dream interpreter named Bar Hedya on several occassions. Each time the two rabbis pose identical dreams and seek an interpretation. One consistently gives Bar Hedya a tip, and the other pays him nothing. Not surprisingly, Bar Hedya gives the generous rabbi favorable interpretations, which all come true, and the other interpretations of disaster, which also come true. The Talmud teaches us a lesson similar to Dumbledore -- if one never had the dream interpreted, chances are it would not have come true at all.Now, the insight that prompted me to start this thread.

[BIG SPOILER NOTICE FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T READ BOOK SIX.] We learn in the latest volume of Harry Potter that the villainous Lord Voldemort, in his quest for immortality, has learned that he can divide up his soul in pieces and preserve the pieces in objects that he can hide away for safe keeping. In that way, he can never be killed because his soul still lives somewhere. The problem for Voldemort is that in order to divide his soul, he must kill someone, and the process itself -- both the killing and the soul division -- causes huge, undesirable effects (both physical and mental) to the person seeking immorality. Harry, on the other hand, is destined to kill Voldemort for a variety of reasons -- first it is the only way he can live, second, he has to save the world, and third, he seeks revenge. A reader of the current and previous volumes might ask whether Harry's goodness is well served by this mission; won't the act of killing someone, even someone evil, change him for the worst? Guess what? Judaism has explored these issues, too.
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, aka "the Netziv" (1817-1893), discusses this theme in his commentary to last week's parasha, parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1). Some background: Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, had (in the previous parashat) seen a fellow Jew, Zimri, openly fornicate with a Moabite priestess in desecration of G-d's Name. Zealously, Pinchas took a spear and in one thrust impaled the couple in the act. G-d rewards Pinchas for his zealotry with the Covenant of Eternal Priesthood (previously Pinchas was only a Levi for reasons I can go into if you like). Pinchas was also rewarded with the Covenant of Peace. Numbers 25:12. Commenting on this verse, the Netziv says that under normal circumstances, when a person kills another human being, that makes an indelible impression upon him; he is changed forever.
The blessing of peace that Pinchas received for his exercise in violent zealotry to protect the honor of G-d was so that this murder would not have the normal effect upon the soul of Pinchas that it would on others.

The Netziv comments that zealotry is very, very dangerous. In some cases, it can be the most appropriate medicine and other times it can backfire. The Netziv comments to the verses in Deut. 13:13-19, regarding the Ir HaNidachat -- a city that was to be destroyed because the majority of its inhabitants became idol worshipers -- that G-d must state there that if we follow that commandment, G-d will "give you mercy and be merciful to you and multiply you, as He swore to your forefathers." This is the same type of promise that G-d gave to Pinchas. But contrast this with the story of Eliyahu (Elijah), who seized the prophets of Baal and killed them all at the Kishon Brook (1 Kings 18:40). Queen Jezebel heard this and plots revenge, forcing Eliyahu into hiding. At his cave, G-d confronts Eliyahu and asks him why he is there. He responds: "I have acted with great zeal for Hashem, G-d of Legions, for the Children of Israel have forsaken Your Covenant; they have razed Your altars and have killed Your prophets by the sword, so thatI alone have remained, and they now seek to take my life." 1 Kings 19:10. G-d sends him to stand on the mountain, where G-d confronts him with wind and earthquakes and fire and again asks Eliyahu why he is there, and he responds as he did in verse 10. The Midrash explains this difficult story, noting that G-d's questions to Eliyahu imply some measure of criticism. G-d chastised Eliyahu for not talking properly about His people. "Do not say about My People 'they have not kept Your Covenant! Do not talk that way about Jews! You should have said, "They are Your children, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." But when Eliyahu didn't understand the criticism, he sent him to the mountain and asks again, but Eliyahu still responds that he was zealous for G-d's sake. G-d tells Eliyahu "You were zealous at Shittim. Here you are zealous and there you are zealous -- always acting with zealotry!"

According to Rav Mordechai Katz, zt'l, the distinguishing factor of the zealotry of Pinchas and Eliyahu, is that while both acted nobly, Pinchas only defended G-d's honor without defaming the Jewish people, while Eliyahu did both. Our sages tell us that Eliyahu lives today, atoning for this slander, by attending ever brit milah and every Pesach table so he can see first hand that the Congregation of Israel does care about the commandments and observes them.

In Harry Potter, we learn that one can apperate -- travel magically from one place to another -- only through concentrated "Deliberation, Determination and Decisiveness," being careful to know exactly what you're doing, thinking and saying so that your entire body successfully makes it to where you want to go. The Netziv might tell us that Judaism demands the same kind of attitude, because without conscious and careful deliberation, determination and decisiveness, our careless thoughts or words might fail to deliver us to the exact place where we belong.

Here is an update and some additional information from fellow Blogger Dov:

Dov said...
Lots of connections for Jewish Harry fans to explore!Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is more full of repentance than many shuls are on Yom Kippur: his dwelling places are as protected as our Sukkas:!--Dov


Dov said...

Lots of connections for Jewish Harry fans to explore!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is more full of repentance than many shuls are on Yom Kippur:

and his dwelling places are as protected as our Sukkas:



bpositive said...

Thanks I will update my post with this info. How did you find out about my blog?