The Harry Potter books are a series of seven fantasy novels created by British author J.K. Rowling about a teenage wizard named Harry Potter and his companions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is about Harry’s struggle against Voldemort, the Dark Lord who wants to wipe out the wizards and take control of the world. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of children’s literature and is also beloved by millions of adults. The world of Harry Potter lends itself to various interpretations and analyses, some of which we will address below, by brilliantly combining several genres and featuring aspects of mystery, suspense, adventure, horror, and romance.
Rowling revealed in 2014 that there were Jews at Hogwarts, notably Anthony Goldstein, one of the original 40 students featured in the first Potter novel; a minor but heroic figure, he rarely talked but always did the right thing. Rowling has hinted that additional Jewish pupils were at the school without being specific. Tina and Queenie Goldstein, who are almost probably Anthony’s relatives, are the main characters in the first ”The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” film, a spin-off Harry Potter series set in 1920s New York.
Analysts bring their viewpoints to bear on the Harry Potter universe, suggesting exciting and often surprising interpretations. Many people have talked about the connection between the Bible and the Harry Potter books, which have been interpreted in Judaism, Zionism, the Bible, Kabbalah, and Jewish history. Some interpret the entire Potter saga as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with terrible wizards like Voldemort, Baruch Goldstein, and Meir Kahane and good wizards like liberal Zionist Dumbledore leading the charge. Good wizards aspire to build a “two-state solution” in which a governmental Ministry of Magic offers rights to both wizards and Muggles but rejects genuine coexistence in favor of keeping them entirely apart.
In a particularly intriguing Jewish viewpoint, Harry realizes that he is the only known survivor of a killing curse known as Avda Kedavra, one of only three curses wholly outlawed in the world of magic. This curse, as opposed to the more well-known abracadabra, which means “I will create as I speak,” literally means “I will destroy as I speak” (avda = “I will do away with,” “kedavra = “as I have said”) (abra, from the Genesis word for creation, Cadabra, from the Hebrew word for speech). Potter’s name is pronounced “Potter,” which is the Hebrew word for “excuse” or “acquit.”
While there was no such thing as a “magic wand” in the Bible, there are many instances where wand-like implements, such as staffs, sticks, and rods, are used to create miracles (aka, magic? ), beginning with the rod that Moses used to perform miracles in front of Pharoah and to split the Sea of Reeds.
Similarly, just as the house-elves in Harry Potter serve their wizards and witches loyally, one could argue that the Genesis snake who persuaded Eve to eat the apple and Bilaam’s talking donkey are magical beings. Furthermore, the house elves, who loyally served their wizards and witches, would accommodate vegetarian students’ dietary needs when asked politely. However, Rowling never addresses Anthony Goldstein’s nutritional needs; Jewish children believe that the house-elves prepared kosher food for him.
Krulwich also draws parallels between the Jewish concept of yichus (lineage from a well-known and respectable family) and Rowling’s “mudbloods,” who had at least one human father. He also compares Voldemort’s use of dark magic to create a new body for himself to the Maharal of Prague’s creation of the Golem – which, like Harry Potter, is a complete work of fiction – and points out that Kabbalistic literature and the Talmud do contain instances of magic being used to bring bodies to life.
Other fascinating parallels include Voldemort, the wizards’ top foe, and Amalek, the Jews’ perpetual foe, representing the pinnacle of evil and must be annihilated. Both Jews and Wizards, who live in different, sometimes isolated groups, have particular tasks to preserve the world through their practices and rituals. Higher authority leads everything that happens in both the stories and Jewish history.
Professor Lupin advises his Hogwarts magic students that “you can’t merely recite the words [of the incantations],” just as Judaism teaches that prayer must be accompanied by tangible action. Something must be done.” Dumbledore constantly states that the wizards must work together to fight Voldemort; the parallel with the necessity of Jewish unity to the Jewish people is clear. Harry has a permanent and distinctive mark on his body, the prominent lightning bolt scar, just like Jewish men at eight days old. A 2005 symposium at the University of Reading, for example, disputed whether Harry Potter possessed a Yiddish neshama (a Jewish soul).
Some analysts argue, convincingly, in my opinion, that the years leading up to the Holocaust form the underlying framework of the entire Potter universe. A fascist king rises to power, promising glory and a better life for all his followers, but only if the people rid the world of racially impure minorities who pose a clear and present threat to the general good. He seizes control of the entire educational system. After rounding up the undesirables and robbing and killing them, they flee hiding, where the majority occasionally protects them.
As a result, Voldemort is Hitler. Rowling admitted that Voldemort was modeled in part on Hitler after visiting a Holocaust museum in 2004.
According to American Library Association, the Harry Potter books are among the most banned literature in American schools. Some Orthodox rabbis lead the censoring attempts since they oppose children reading books. They compete with all secular literature: it promotes escapism and fantasy rather than focusing youngsters on learning Torah and living in the real world. They compete with the books because they violate the Torah’s prohibition against witchcraft (see, for example, Exodus 22:17 and Deut. 18:9-12), and because of their pagan content, encouragement of mysticism, and celebration of magic encourage children to resort to the occult. The Iranian Islamists aren’t far behind, claiming that the Harry Potter novels are a “Zionist scheme” to dominate the world and inspire Muslims and Christians to worship the devil-like Jews.
Many Orthodox rabbis, if not all, support the Potter books as a way to encourage children to read and think, including the late Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, who said, “In a society where adolescents are precociously adult, and adults are permanently adolescent… [Harry Potter] reclaimed the kingdom of childhood, proving that you don’t have to betray to enchant.”
When the publisher of the Harry Potter books revealed that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in series, will be released worldwide on July 14, 2007, at 2:00 a.m. – which happened to be Shabbat morning – it sparked widespread enthusiasm. Israeli retailers vowed to participate in the release at this time, which Charedi rabbis and others were understandably upset about. Then-Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai, a leader of the SHAS party and a key member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition administration, said that inspectors would be dispatched to report and fine retailers who broke Israeli law selling books on Shabbat.
The Potter books have been translated into at least 80 languages, including Hebrew, and have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, making them the best-selling book series. However, translator Gili Bar Hillel opted to make an unusual alteration in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: She had Sirius Black sing the well-known Hanukkah song, Mi Yimallel Gvurot Yisrael, Otam mi Yimneh (“who can retell the things that befell us, and who can count them?”) instead of translating his parody of “G-d Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” which she determined would not resonate with a Jewish Hebrew-reading audience.
Rowling responded to critics by explaining that she was not “trying to convert Harry to Judaism”; that, in any case, the characters were not meant to be portrayed as inherently Christian (in fact, Rowling publicly stated that Hogwarts students were drawn from all religions, races, creeds, and so on); and that the point of the original text was to express the joy of inventing nonsense lyrics to a familiar holiday song, and that nothing was lost by using In any case, the Hebrew edition is not the only one to alter the text; the American editions, for example, were rewritten in American English to make them more accessible to young American readers.
Rowling has been outspoken in her opposition to antisemitism, notably in her own Britain. Most UK Jews in my timeline are currently having field this kind of crap, so perhaps some of us non-Jews should start shouldering the burden. She wrote in an angry response to a critic who claimed that, as a religion rather than a race, Judaism is wholly irrelevant to defining antisemitism. This is a brilliant argument for antisemites, so tell us: were atheist Jews exempted from wearing the yellow star?” “Know that you aren’t alone and that many of us stand with you,” she wrote to a mother whose son had faced antisemitism at school.
“Split hairs,” she wrote in a vehement attack on antisemites. Discuss etymology. By criticizing the behavior of another country’s government, you can gloss over the abuse of your citizens. Would you squirm, deflect, or justify your reaction to any other form of racism or bigotry?” “This thread is the ultimate litmus test,” Rowling said in response to a posting from a British Jew. You test positive [for antisemitism] if you can read it without feeling empathy for the writer’s suffering and terror; if you immediately presume a plan; and, above all, if your response to the distress of a British Jew is to shrug and talk about the Israeli government.”
Jeremy Corbyn, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign who invited Hamas and Hezbollah to Parliament, was widely regarded as anti-Israel throughout his four years as Labour Party leader (2015-2020). He was also an antisemite, as revealed in an October 2020 investigation by the UK’s human rights watchdog, which decided that he and his Labour party “did not do enough to combat antisemitism and, at worst, may be considered to have embraced it.” Rowling was the first to denounce his antisemitism. “Here’s a Corbyn admirer joyfully contemplating British Jews fleeing their own country out of dread of a Corbyn government,” she tweeted to a Corbyn apologist. “And there we have it…,” she sarcastically said in another tweet. There was no expression of human pity. Israel’s government’s actions warrant making British Jews dissatisfied and terrified. Yes, by being Jewish, Jews bring it upon themselves.”
“Explain it to me, then,” mystery writer Simon Maginn challenged a Jewish complaint in August 2018. Describe how you’re feeling deeply hurt. Describe the wrong that was done to you. Please explain your manufactured outrage. Please elaborate. Publicly.” Rowling responded angrily, writing:
You have no right to call a Jew’s fury “patently manufactured.” You have no right to insist that they reveal their anguish and terror on demand for your assessment. What other group would you address in this manner?
When Maginn defended Corbyn, claiming that his antisemitic statements were little more than “a rather complicated joke” (that Jews couldn’t understand), Rowling responded by citing Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated Antisemite and Jew (1945) and criticizing him for thinking that Jews had any obligation to account for their feelings to him, especially when there were already hundreds of reports and complaints about how British antisemitism had a foothold in the Maginn accused her of libel and demanded an apology for making “a horrible personal charge against a stranger who disagrees with you ideologically.” Still, he lacked the courage to sue her, despite British law favoring plaintiffs in defamation cases. After the Labour Party initiated an investigation into his antisemitism, he left.
Rowling was a fervent supporter of Palestinian rights and repeatedly chastised Israel for causing Palestinians “horrific human suffering.” On the other hand, Palestinian allies and other antisemites slammed her for vehemently refusing to engage in an anti-Israel cultural boycott. “The sharing of art and the literature across borders constitutes an enormous power for good in this world,” she explained, “and at a time when stigmatization of religions and ethnicities appears to be on the rise, I believe strongly that the cultural dialogue and collaboration are more important than ever before, and that cultural boycott has divisive, discriminatory, and counter-productive.” She went on to say that her detractors had overlooked an essential thread running through all of the Potter books: recognizing the humanity in others.
“Israelis will be correct to wonder why cultural boycotts are not also being proposed against… North Korea,” Rowling wrote in an October 23, 2015 letter. Despite her objection to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, she has been vocal against the double standard imposed on Israel and its citizens. Rowling challenges the alleged distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism in her novel Lethal White (2018) (written under a pseudonym). She includes a character whose obsessive anti-Zionism morphs into antisemitism.
When we first meet Harry in Rowling’s first book, we learn that the orphaned and abused child is the heir to both a grand magical tradition and a substantial fortune. The bankers, a persecuted minority of highly clever bald goblins with small, beady eyes who speak a weird foreign language and are obsessed with gold and wealth, are the protectors of that fortune. (The hook noses aren’t mentioned in the novel, but they appear in the Harry Potter movies.) Rowling’s portrayal of the goblin bankers was deemed antisemitic by many commentators, and some even accused her of being an antisemite. Not unexpectedly, some of her harshest opponents were Corbyn supporters who relished the chance to link her to their beloved courageous leader’s antisemitism.
While depictions of goblins in literature and cinema almost undoubtedly have their origins in antisemitism, they often represent a historical archetype and are not necessarily manifestations of antisemitic hatred. I would say that Rowling, who has openly, frequently, and unequivocally opposed antisemitism, referred to the goblins that have become so popular in popular culture.
Finally, “Harry Potter” – clearly not Rowling’s imaginary figure, but a British soldier killed in combat while returning to his base near Hebron during the notorious 1939 Arab uprising – is buried in Ramallah. The headstone of Harry Potter has become a significant tourist attraction, with many Rowling fans making an annual trip to the British Military Cemetery in Ramallah on July 31 to commemorate the fictional Harry Potter’s birthday.