The Wizards and The Jews
I was browsing J.K. Rowling's website yesterday and came across the following in the FAQ:
Why are some people in the wizarding world (e.g., Harry) called 'half-blood' even though both their parents were magical?My first reaction to this piece was that it was nice to know that Rowling chose to visit the Holocaust Museum, and more, that she unreservedly denounces anti-Semitism - without, say, equating it to Israel's alleged persecution of the Palestinians, as so many other media figures seem to do nowadays. I've always been a tad disappointed that there don't seem to be any Jewish students at Hogwarts, but this at least shows that it's not due to any apparent prejudice on Rowling's part.
The expressions 'pure-blood', 'half-blood' and 'Muggle-born' have been coined by people to whom these distinctions matter, and express their originators' prejudices. As far as somebody like Lucius Malfoy is concerned, for instance, a Muggle-born is as 'bad' as a Muggle. Therefore Harry would be considered only 'half' wizard, because of his mother's grandparents.
If you think this is far-fetched, look at some of the real charts the Nazis used to show what constituted 'Aryan' or 'Jewish' blood. I saw one in the Holocaust Museum in Washington when I had already devised the 'pure-blood', 'half-blood' and 'Muggle-born' definitions, and was chilled to see that the Nazis used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters. A single Jewish grandparent 'polluted' the blood, according to their propaganda.
This item also started a couple of trains of thought rolling. First, there's the issue of those of my co-religionists who object to reading the Harry Potter books from a halachik standpoint. I can respect - though I personally reject - the Jewish viewpoint that shuns all secular literature and culture across the board, from Harry Potter to Halloween, from Shakespeare to the Sopranos. While I personally disagree with this isolationist approach on many levels - intellectual, religious, and emotional - I can acknowledge that it is at least self-consistent. However, I believe those authorities who prohibit reading Harry Potter in particular, while allowing secular books in general, are severely misinformed.
The apparent grounds for this prohibition is the tacit assumption that the Harry Potter books depict - or even promote - the type of witchcraft/sorcery that is forbidden by the Torah (Exod 22:17, Deut 18:10). The Rambam explains that the Torah's forbidden sorcery is a form of idol worship, since it inevitably involves calling upon demons and other evil powers. And in fact, this form of witchcraft can certainly be found in the pop culture landscape; e.g., Dr. Strange, Charmed.
But as even the casual Potter reader knows, the witches and warlocks of Harry's magical world do not call upon the forces of darkness, nor does their sorcery have anything in common with religion. Rather, magical folk and "muggles" (non-magicals) are born that way. Hogwarts is a school that trains young wizards and witches to use, in more specific ways, the inner powers they have had all along. Similarly, they are not "granted" such powers through their spells; rather the spells are ways of focusing those powers.
Thus, the hidden magical community in the Harry Potter reality has much more in common with the hidden mutant community shown in Marvel Comics, than it has with the pagans, Wiccans, and demon-worshippers of other mythologies. In fact, I've always felt that was one of the aspects of the series that made it so interesting to me personally, as I've been a Marvel fan as long as I've been able to read.
And perhaps there's more to it than that. For an analogy can also be made between the wizards of Harry Potter and the Jewish nation itself, at much more than the simple racial level Rowling noted in her comment. In both cases, we have a community with a community, a group with is both within and set apart from the larger world. A group with its own rich culture, language, dress, customs, and lifestyle, often misunderstood, mocked, and feared by the larger group. A group that has always had a special role within humanity, giving to the nations around them far more than they can ever know nor appreciate.
Far from banning the Harry Potter series, perhaps the Jewish leadership should look at how it can be read as a mashal - a metaphor - that can enhance our appreciation of our Jewish identity and our own magical mission in the world.