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Jewish Journal

Wonders, Wizardry and Magic

Harry Potter's Jewish Values

by Rabbi Toba August

November 15, 2001 | 7:00 pm

"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" opens in movie theaters today. Will it just be a magical adventure that entertains us, or are there deeper lessons that our Jewish souls can learn?

Below are seven middot (Jewish values) found in Pirkei Avot and in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. You can use these themes as a guide as you enjoy the movie.

1. In a place where there is no leader, strive to be a leader

B'Makom Sh'ain Ish -- T'heyeh Ish.

Harry Potter has a built-in sense of right and wrong. He always stands up for the underdog and fights for justice. Harry protects the weaker students from bullies like Crabbe and Goyle; and with best friends Ron and Hermione, he goes through life-threatening ordeals to protect the "Sorcerer's Stone" before evil hands can get it.

Q: What other incidents can you find where Harry does what is right and behaves like a leader?

Q: Were you ever the "Ish" -- the person destined to do what is right?

2. Cleaving and having loyalty to friends

Ahavat Achim and Debuk Chavairem

Hermione tells Harry, "You are a great wizard, Harry, you have friendship and bravery!"

Q: Where do you see Harry and his friends showing loyalty and respect for one another?

Q: Do you have times when it is difficult to love your friends?

3. Fighting evil

Yetzer ha'Tov vs. Yetzer ha'Rah

Jewish tradition teaches that we are born with an ability to do good and bad. Harry Potter and the evil Lord Voldemort are exact opposites. Though they are different, they still have much in common. Both have the potential for doing great good and great evil.

When Harry and his friends first arrive at Hogwarts, their school, they go through a Sorting Hat ceremony, to find out which one of the four houses they will belong to. The hat tells them:

"Nothing hidden in your head that I can't see so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be."

When Harry wears it, it tells him that he would be great in Slytherin, the house of trickery and deception. But Harry insists he should be put in Gryffindor, a place of integrity and ethics.

Q: Can you find the times when characters in the movie are forced to chose between good and evil?

Q: How would you would choose?

4. The importance of deeds over thoughts

Lo HaMidrash H'ekar, Eleh Hama'aseh

The "Mirror of Erised"linstructs him: "It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live!"

Q: When does Harry take action in the movie?

5. "I have given you a great heritage; do not abandon it."

Ki Lekach Tov Natati Lachem ... Al Ta'azovu

Harry receives his father's invisibility cloak and is told to use it well.

This is like a tallit, a precious cloak that protects him and guards him on his journeys. As Harry learns about his wizarding heritage and about who his parents were, he feels the need to become all that he is meant to be.

Q: Do you have a symbol that represents your heritage?

6. You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor

Al Ta'amod Al Dam Rayecha

Q: Who saves Harry when others of his kind will not?

Q: Can you recognize other times when characters do not stand by idly?

7. Redeeming the captive

Pidyon Shevuyim

Q: What magical creatures do Harry and his friends rescue and save?


Think Jewish -- Win Toys!

You can win a terrific Harry Potter LEGO set just by entering our Harry Potter Essay/Drawing Contest.

To enter, read the seven middot lessons above. Then, send us your own 200-word opinion on, "What's So Jewish About Harry Potter?" or send us a drawing and caption that illustrates this question.

All entries will be included in the prize drawing. Journal editors will select a handful of entries to publish on an upcoming Kids Page, and one of those entries will be randomly selected to win the prize.

Please, one entry per child.

All entries must be received by Dec. 3. We'll announce the winners on the Dec. 7. Kids page. Good luck!

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