Potter, Paltry?

31 Jul

“Put aside the paltry contents and the moral of the book,” Avraham Ravitz, a Member of Knesset from the United Torah Judaism, said in a statement.”But the intention by booksellers to hold this party while blatantly violating the Sabbath is doubly sinful,” he raged.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)I have a confession – I don’t read Harry Potter books (although my son Yoni is well into the seventh and final book in the series – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”).  I don’t dismiss the books because of their content, but simply because of their weight and length – those books are big and long! 

I am happy to follow the story via the movies (I know, I know, the books are much better!) Having just thoroughly enjoyed the fourth Harry Potter movie last night, I thought I would take a moment to consider what it is that draws me to the stories, and what it is that has lead certain Jews, like MK Ravitz, to speak out against them.

 I have to admit, the Friday night debut of the latest book was unfortunate for Jews who care about strict Shabbat observance.  My son had ordered the book ahead of time, and was perfectly happy to pick it up at the book store first thing Sunday morning.  It would have been nice to feel that we in the State of Israel could wait those few additonal hours.  However, given that the vast majority of the Jews who do live in the State of Israel today are not strictly observant of Shabbat, and many stores, restaurants, and attractions are open on Shabbat, then I don’t see why the MK’s needed to make any bigger a stink about this occasion. Seems like it was just an excuse to express further sinat chinam during the week right before Tisha B’av – but, that’s water under the bridge, and not really the issue I want to address.

Next week, in Parashat Re’eh, we will read of the warning: Beware of being lured into their ways.” (Deuteronomy 12:30) This prohibiton on mimicking the ways of the other nations has been extended throughout our history to disallow us from all sorts of behavior – be it our language, our dress, our music, our artwork, etc.  We have been determined not to follow in “their ways,” concerned that doing so will take us a step closer to becoming just like them – relinquishing our special ways and unique mission.

That’s fair – I understand that concern – I think most Jews can understand that. However, to say that the Harry Potter saga has paltry contents and lacks in terms of its overall message is to clearly disclose that one has no idea of what one is talking about!

Have you heard about the Harry Potter Alliance? (http://www.thehpalliance.org/)

The Harry Potter Alliance, founded by 28 year-old Anrdew Slack, is a mostly online social action group that urges Harry Potter fans to “to spread love, the greatest form of magic, and fight the Dark Arts in the real world, using Harry and Albus Dumbledore as inspiration.”

In the past, the group has tackled issues like global warming (“denying global warming is like denying Voldemort’s return”), the seal hunt in Canada (“we are responsible for the care of magical creatures”) and Wal-Mart’s practices, the latter through a YouTube video called “Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Waldemart.”

In fact, it has been suggested that the story of Harry Potter is the story of the Jewish people.  Rabbi Jack Abramowitz of the Orthodox Union wrote:

Harry is Jewish. His parents died so that he might survive and carry on their legacy. Voldemort isn’t an evil wizard, but he does represent the forces of evil. He is Egyptian slavery. He is the Syrian-Greeks. He is Haman. He is the Roman persecution. He is the Spanish Inquisition. He is pogroms and Crusades and the Holocaust and the Intifada. He thought he had destroyed the Potter family, but you know what? They survived in Harry, much the same way the Jewish people lives on in you.

(http://www.ou.org/ncsy/projects/5764/oct31-64/harry_potter_is_jewish.htm)

Maybe if someone translates the series into Yiddish, changes Harry’s name to Hershel, and relocates the story to Brooklyn, then certain skeptics out there might be surprised to find out that Jewish inspiration can come from many different places.

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5 Responses to “Potter, Paltry?”

  1. Ruth Bigus Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 6:07 pm #

    Rabbi:
    I appreciate you taking contemporary news and issues and putting it into a Jewish context. Our kids, while aware they are unique s Jewish, still live in the real world and have to learn to cope with what surrounds them. Your take on Harry Potter is a great lesson for them to use!
    Ruth

  2. Yanki Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 10:39 am #

    I beg to differ, yet I agree with most of ur comments.
    The fact that we had to be just like the goyim and release the latest HP saga when the rest of the World did is the issue! We do not have the Jewish pride of our heritage, at best or at worst follow the Mitzvot of the Torah, so our soccer teams and basketball teams & who knows if our baseball teams will play whenever, before Shabbat is out after Shabbat has entered on Rosh HaShana etc. Menachem Begin walked to the White House on Shabbat in Washington! Who would do that today, not to speak of the need to Kasher the Blair House!
    The issue is not the content of fantasy works like Harry Potter but the total trend in our generation to be exactly like the Goyim.
    In our attempt to conform with ‘the modern’ world we also ‘allow’ or ‘do not see’ how it is viewed by our children!
    We are losing, not Ravitz & his cronnies, we the modern Orthodox are losing, our children and our ideology is bankrupt! We cannot talk from both sides of our mouth.
    Ravitz is right, despite the majority of non-committed, a Jewsih State must have certain elements which make it Jewish, and we the modern Orthodox, despite the lack of ‘glamor’ must stand with the Kharedi on this issue, buses still don’t run on Shabbat!
    Yanki

  3. Morey Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 11:21 pm #

    Hey Yanki,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I think the world changed while you weren’t looking.

    Demanding, forcing, and in general, defining what makes this state Jewish through policing bookstores on Shabbat is not the way to make this state Jewish. If the hiloni population is meant to conform to these “shoved down their throat” standards then we are not really achieving anything substantial, we are just shaping the already shoddy veneer.

    I am NOT at all interested in standing together with the Kharedim on this issue, since it is the image of coercion that they have lent to Judaism in Israel that forms the base of most of our dilemma. We are no longer living in times where rabbinic decsions are binding on all Jews, since Jews have by and large voted out with their feet. Instead, to make this Jewish State dream come alive, we will have to begin with common ground and then work towards mutual respect….we will learn to show them that we value them as Jews, and in turn, they will choose to support us in maintaining a state where Shabbat is sacred to all – there are no short cuts here.

    However, if the Ravitz-like rhetoric doesn’t change, then we will never get there…unless of course, you want to consider another kind of two-state solution….

  4. Yanki Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 9:53 am #

    In every State (country) in the World there are laws & customs that one must uphold. In Singapore if u throe the gum you are chewing into the street you are jailed. And not every State in the World has the same laws.
    Statistically the Kharedim are more succesful in their Judaism and maintaining their way of life than the Modern Orthodox because they do not compromise and shove it down their own throats.
    The Modern Orthodox approach of compromise is bankrupt. We are Middle Eastern in our temprament, compromise is a sign of weakness which will be taken advantage of, by the hiloni. So your approach leads us to a World of dichotomy which excludes the Judaism which in fact is middle of the road!
    This weeks Parsha states clearly what is good for the Jews and what G-d wants of us, to follow the Mitzvot set forth in the Torah. Compromise is not a way to do what G-d wants.
    Acceptance of others and their ways of demonstrating belief is not compromise. We as a State and a people with a heritage from the Torah cannot compromise on basic foundations of our belief like Shabbat, even for Harry Potter!

  5. Morey Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 10:11 am #

    Whst the Charedi to only works for the charedei – it won’t ever work for again for Am Yisrael – not for Modern Orthodox, not for hilonim.

    I completely disagree with you, but will suffice it to day that I beleive on many levels Am Yisrael has moved forward….halakhic observance has been compromised, and yet, there are there have been many other very positive Jewish achievements…we will talk more on Shabbat.

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