The New York Historical Society’s “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit isn’t quite Hogwarts, but as you step through the doors, it almost seems that as long as you have a wand in your hand, you can do anything.
Broomsticks, plants and other bizarre decorations dangle from the ceiling. Throughout the exhibition, glass cases display historical artifacts linked to legends, many of which inspired ideas in J.K. Rowling’s books. Along the walls are manuscripts of deleted Harry Potter chapters and artwork by the illustrators of the books. There are even a few interactive experiences where you can mix up a virtual potion or wave your hands over a crystal ball and watch images appear in its depths. And of course, there’s a room for nearly every class that the witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books attend. In short, it is the kind of place where magic almost seems real.
As a lifelong Harry Potter fan, this exhibition was unbelievable, but what about as a Jew? When the Torah speaks about magic, it is very often in a negative way. And even if we could, Jews aren’t allowed to cast spells. It is Hashem who controls the world and to whom we look for miracles and salvation. So, is it wrong if we still feel disappointed that we didn’t get “the letter” around our 11th birthdays?
To Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Garden Hills, NY and Judaic Studies teacher at SAR Academy, the answer is obvious, we are just asking the wrong questions. In the introduction to one of his books, “Morality For Muggles,” he says, “If I had a knut for every time someone asked me whether the Harry Potter novels clash with the Bible’s ban on witchcraft, all the vaults of Gringotts wouldn’t be able to hold my fortune… but that’s not why I wrote this book. Frankly, the question has never bothered me… In [the book] I hope to trace some of life’s eternal questions from the vantage point of both Torah and the world of Harry Potter…”
The Harry Potter series is a work of fiction. So, maybe we should just put the witchcraft debate aside and read it from a different perspective. For one thing, it’s a great story. And for another, even though the characters aren’t Jewish, there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the series that we also see in the Torah.
Rosenberg’s books, “The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah,” “Morality for Muggles” and the soon-to-be-released “Muggle Megillah,” explore the similarities between the lessons we can learn from the Torah and from Harry Potter. They share ideas about friendship and ownership, jealousy and self-sacrifice, slavery and freedom, parents and children, good and evil and much more. Rosenberg’s main message to readers is that in a way, magic does exist, and it is all around us. We can find it directly in the text of the Torah and through practicing Judaism. We can connect to it through our favorite books and through doing what we love. Real magic isn’t about wands and broomsticks. It’s waiting for us around every corner, waiting for us to find it or to make it ourselves.
Rena Max is a sophomore at Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.