Commentary Magazine


Topic: J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Rabbi

In the Introduction to Listening to God (Toby Press, 500 pages), Rabbi Shlomo Riskin starts off by quoting the Kotzker Rebbe, a notoriously severe Hasidic thinker, then the Bible, followed by another Hasidic tzaddik and the great biblical commentators Rashi and Nahmanides. After this roster of unsurprising Jewish sources comes an entirely unanticipated reference:

I agree with Harry Potter’s Professor Dumbledore that it is the decisions we make, rather than the intellectual gifts with which we are endowed, that are ultimately the measure of the human being and the life that one lives.

Riskin is a name to conjure with in Modern Orthodoxy. Founder of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, he is famous for his outreach to lapsed Jews, winning back many souls for religious Judaism. Listening to God is a collection of inspirational stories very much in the ethos of outreach and “return.” The tone is consistently one of spiritual uplift. Whether Harry Potter belongs in the same category is a question that can only be answered by readers more knowledgeable than I about the books. The “elective affinity,” though, suggests something deeper than cultural fashion and influence.

In the Introduction to Listening to God (Toby Press, 500 pages), Rabbi Shlomo Riskin starts off by quoting the Kotzker Rebbe, a notoriously severe Hasidic thinker, then the Bible, followed by another Hasidic tzaddik and the great biblical commentators Rashi and Nahmanides. After this roster of unsurprising Jewish sources comes an entirely unanticipated reference:

I agree with Harry Potter’s Professor Dumbledore that it is the decisions we make, rather than the intellectual gifts with which we are endowed, that are ultimately the measure of the human being and the life that one lives.

Riskin is a name to conjure with in Modern Orthodoxy. Founder of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, he is famous for his outreach to lapsed Jews, winning back many souls for religious Judaism. Listening to God is a collection of inspirational stories very much in the ethos of outreach and “return.” The tone is consistently one of spiritual uplift. Whether Harry Potter belongs in the same category is a question that can only be answered by readers more knowledgeable than I about the books. The “elective affinity,” though, suggests something deeper than cultural fashion and influence.

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