Monday, February 26, 2007

Soon on Amazon, but at a higher price

Harry Potter and Torah should be available soon on Amazon and other on-line bookstores, for anyone who prefers buying there instead of through the publisher.

BUT the price will probably have to go up when it's made available at Amazon.

SO if you want to buy it at the current price of $15, I suggest you buy it in the upcoming week.

I truly wish I could keep it at the current price, since I want people to buy it! But ... making it available in other stores changes the way the book is priced, and I have no choice but to raise it a bit.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Purim is coming!

Purim is coming in just a week! This year the holiday of Purim is celebrated on Saturday night March 3 and during the day on Sunday March 4. I'll write more next week about Purim, including the three Purim themes that are discussed in Harry Potter and Torah.

You can find a lot of on-line material about Purim by clicking here, and more in-depth material here.

The Torah of L-A-I-T-N-E-T-O-P

A few weeks ago the weekly Torah portion, Yitro, discussed the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. One of the things that we discussed at Shabbat lunch was an idea presented by the Midrash that every Jew at Mt. Sinai heard the giving of the Torah from G-d slightly differently, each one according to his or her individual potential.

This is a very intriguing concept, because clearly the commandments of the Torah were not different for each person. The Torah says clearly that its laws apply to all Jews. The same Sabbath is the Sabbath for all Jews, pork is non-Kosher for all Jews, etc. But nonetheless the Midrash says that each Jew at Mt. Sinai received his or her own personal telepathy from G-d, hearing the Torah in a special way that reflected his or her own potential. The laws were the same, but each Jew was shown the spirituality, inner meaning, and special connection that he or she could find with each particular law.

When I raised the subject at lunch I hadn't intended to relate it to Harry Potter. (Not every word out of my mouth has to do with Harry Potter, sorry!) But one of my kids (I've trained them well!) realized that this concept, that each Jew receives Torah in a personalized way that reflects their own potentials, is analogous to the "mirror of ERISED" in chapter twelve of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The mirror, as Harry Potter fans all know, magically shows each person the deepest desire of their hearts, reflecting (so to speak) their strongest personal desire. Harry saw himself with his parents, Ron saw himself standing out from the rest of his brothers, and we're told that the most content person would see himself exactly as he is.

It's interesting to contrast seeing your deepest desire with seeing your potential for greatness. Neither reflects your current reality, and neither may be in your future. One is what you'd like the most, but which you may never achieve. One is something you have the ability to achieve, but might not want to enough to try.

Of course, anyone who gets the most enjoyment out of achievement, out of personal accomplishment, would probably have their potential greatness be similar to their deepest desire. Maybe they'd desire to be even greater than their potential, but presumably they'd be similar. But for most of us, our deepest desire are for other things, not for our own greatness but for something we're missing or something that would give us the most pleasure.

The message of the Midrash is that each of us has unique abilities to be great, and that the Torah can somehow help us all achieve that greatness. Someone might be great in the "chessed," helping others, that they can do. Someone might be great in truly caring for other people as he/she cares for themself. Someone might be great in achieving truly spiritual prayer or meditation. Someone might be great in scholarship. But somehow each of us has a truly unique way that we can be great.

I think that this tells us something about how we look at Torah. A lot of schools and books push us to look at Torah "the right way," to see Torah and Judaism all in the same way. But this seems to be missing the point. While we are all commended to keep the Torah's laws, we also need to look at Torah in our own unique ways, to find how we can all reach our potentials.

The Torah is not a mirror of ERISED, focusing us on whatever we most want. But psychologists know that what we most want may not be what's best for us. The Torah is, I think, a mirror of LAITNETOP, reflecting all of our unique potentials for greatness.

Comments welcome, either by clicking on the "comments" link below or by sending e-mail to

I hope everyone has a good week and a great Shabbat.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Prohibited magic -- Harry Potter themes in parshat Mishpatim

This week's Torah portion, parshas Mishpatim, includes the commandment that "you should not allow a sorceress to live." (Ex 22:17). Lots of questions can be raised about this:

1. Does this mean that the Torah would require that Harry Potter (or Hermione) be given the death penalty?

2. Are magic shows prohibited?

Harry Potter and Torah includes a chapter that talks about these two questions in depth.

In a nutshell, it appears that the Torah's prohibition of sorcery, like most of the Torah's laws, is only meant to apply to Jews. The Torah was given to the Jews, and the laws were taught to Moses to teach to the Jews, so they for the most part do not apply to non-Jews. As long as a non-Jews's sorcery didn't involve idol-worship, the Torah has no problem with it. It's only Jews that are prohibited from using sorcery.

As for magic shows, all authorities agree that there's no concern at all for Jews to attend magic shows performed by non-Jews. As I said about regarding sorcery, non-Jews are not bound by the Torah's laws, and there's no reason for a Jew not to enjoy a magic show from a non-Jew.

The harder question is about magic shows being performed by Jews. Anyone really interested in the subject should read the chapter in the book, but the bottom line is that the biggest authorities on Jewish law nowadays say that it's fine for Jews to perform magic shows, or to attend magic shows performed by Jews, because nowadays everyone knows that magic shows are not real sorcery. Until the past hundred years Jewish magic shows were prohibited by most authorities because the magic was considered by the audience to be sorcery, and therefore the actions were prohibited as what was called "achizat einayim," fooling the eyes. But again, contemporary authorities, at least for ashkenazim, permit magic shows because everyone knows that they're just tricks.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!


For anyone interested, the contemporary authorites that permit magic shows for the reasons I discussed are Igros Moshe vol 8 siman YD 4:13 (confirmed with the letter recipient) and Teshuvos ve'Hanhagos vol 1 siman 455.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Moment Magazine reviews Harry Potter and Torah

Moment Magazine's review of Harry Potter and Torah just came out, in the issue that's reaching subscribers and newsstands today, Feb 11, 2007.

As always, comments are welcome. Just click the "comments" link just below this message, or send e-mail to

Sunday, February 4, 2007

More about magic on Shabbat

In Harry Potter and Torah there is a chapter that explores whether performing real magic (such as creating fire) would be considered a violation of the Sabbath. The conclusion, based on writings in the Talmud and Jewish law, is that magic may violate the Torah's prohibition of non-Jewish sorcery, but is not considered "constructive work" (melacha in Hebrew) that is prohibited on Shabbos.

In yesterday's Torah portion, Beshalach, I saw a discussion of this that I hadn't seen before. As I discussed previously (click here), the manna that the Jews ate in the desert for 40 years could magically change to taste like whatever the person eating it wanted it to taste like. The book Talelei Orot (p252) quoted a Midrash that said that this included the method of preparation: if the eater wanted it to taste baked, it would taste baked, and if the eater wanted it to taste cooked, it would taste cooked. The Torah says explicitly that the manna had to be baked or cooked before Shabbat, leading to the conclusion that magically making the manna taste cooked or baked would be considered a violation of the Sabbath.

So the sources quoted by Talelei Oros seem to contradict what I wrote in the chapter in Harry Potter and Torah.

I think, however, that the Midrash quoted in Talelei Oros is a minority opinion. Rashi's commentary to the Torah interprets the verse about cooking and baking the manna (Ex 15:23) differently: "Whatever you want to bake in the oven, bake today (on Friday) for two days, and whatever you need to cook in water, cook today (on Friday). Baking refers to bread, and cooking to boiled things." Rashi specifically is saying that the Torah's prohibition of cooking and baking on the Sabbath is true baking in an oven or cooking in water, not to causing the manna to be cooked or baked through thought.

I haven't yet looked at more commentaries on the Midrash to see if this is discussed, but it seems that Rashi's commentary is consistent with all the sources in Torah writings that I quoted in the book, that conclude that magical acts are not prohibited on Shabbos, and that the Misrash quoted in Talelei Orot must be a minority opinion.

I'll post more if I find more on the subject.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Harry Potter themes in Parshat Beshalach

Parshas Beshalach contains the following Harry Potter themes:

  1. Why did Harry Potter's boggart effect him like a dementor: Written just for this blog! Click to read part 1 and part 2.
  2. In Ex 14:16 Moses uses his staff in a magic-wand-like way to split the sea, in Ex 17:5 he uses it to magically bring water from a rock, and in Ex 17:9-12 he uses it to magically win the war with Amalek. Magic wands are discussed in depth in Harry Potter and Torah, and summarized here.
  3. The splitting of the sea (Ex 14:13-31) is described in Psalm (114) as "the sea saw and fled." What did the sea see? The Midrash says that the sea saw the bones of Joseph, that were being transported to Israel for burial, that had a magical protection from his act of dedication to G-d years earlier. This is described in Harry Potter and Torah's chapter on Magical Protection, part of which is excerpted here.
Have a Shabbat Shalom!

Harry Potter book seven available for pre-order

Amazon is now taking pre-orders for Harry Potter book seven. Pre-order now and get it as soon as it hits the shelves!