Monday, December 29, 2008

Good article in Wall St Journal

I recommend the following article to everyone interested in understanding the war underway in Gaza:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel finally defends its citizens

Hi everyone. Here in Beit Shemesh we heard warplanes, and possibly missile explosions, today right before Shabbat lunch. As of now the news is good -- Israel appears to finally have done something right to defend its citizens against the thousands of rockets that have been fired from Gaza since Israel withdrew from Gaza.

We're all praying that the Israeli army finish its mission successfully, quickly, with as few casualties as possible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shalshelet: Dealing with temptation and uncertainty

The Harry Potter books are filled with people who are having a hard time dealing with temptation, and are feeling a lot of uncertainty about what to do. In Deathly Hallows we see Xenophilius Lovegood trying to decide what to do when Harry visits:

'Would it be OK if we came in?' asked Harry. 'There's something we'd
like to ask you.'
'I ... I"m not sure that's advisable,' wispered Xenophilius. He
swallowed and cast a quick look around the garden. 'Rather a shock ... my
word ... I ... I'm afraid I don't really think I ought to -'
His good eye moved again to Harry's scar. He seemed simultaneously
terrified and mesmerised... He kept swallowing, his eyes darting between
the three of them. Harry had the impression that he was undergoing some
painful internal struggle.

Later, of course, we find out that he was torn over whether to help Harry or whether to turn Harry in to the death eaters in order to save Luna.

Many other times we see people in similar dillemas. The Malfoys are torn between their alliegence to Voldemort and their desire to save Draco. Harry is torn between searching for horcruxes and seeking hallows. Harry is also torn between believing in Dumbeldore and distrusting him.

The Torah identifies four people that epitomize dillemas. Each of them are marked with a special "trop" note, a special way of singing that word. This note is called a "shalshelet," and it appears only four times in the Torah. The note is shaped like a zig-zag line, signifying someone being torn between two sides, two possible decisions. The tune for the note is similar, a very long note sounding like someone going "back and forth" over a dillema.

The first shalshelet in the Torah was read in last week's Torah portion, VaYera. Angels go to the town of Sedom (Sodom) to destroy it, and save Abraham's nephew Lot and his family. As they lead them away, Lot is torn - does he stay in his town, his home, with his people, or does he leave with the angels? Gen 19:16 tells us "and he hesitated," and the Hebrew word, "va'yit'ma'ma," is marked with a shalshelet, telling us graphically and musically of Lot's dillema. Lot ends up saved from his indecision by the angels who "grabbed him by the hand" and led the family to safety.

The second shalshelet is in this Shabbat's Torah portion, Chayei Sarah. Abraham asks Eliezer his assistant to travel to Abraham's birthplace to find a wife for Abraham's son Issac. The Midrash tells us that Eliezer was conflicted about his task, because he truly wanted his own daughter to marry Issac. He knew that he could return to Abraham and say that he was unsuccessful, and Issac would likely marry Eliezer's daughter. Instead, as he arrived at his destination, overcome with indecision, the Torah tells us that he prayed to G-d for guidance and help in finding a suitable young lady. When the Torah tells us that Eliezer prayed, in Gen 24:12, the word is again marked with a shalshelet.

The third shalshelet is in the story of Joseph becoming a slave in Egypt, in the Torah portion of VaYeshev. After becoming a slave to Potifar, one of Pharoh's ministers, Potifar's wife attempts to seduce Joseph into immoral activities. Gen 39:12 tells us that "Joseph refused," again punctuated with a shalshelet. Joseph first tried to convince Potifar's wife that it would be wrong to do what she was suggesting, and then he simply ran out of the house.

The fourth shalshelet is found in an unlikely place, towards the end of the Torah when Moses is inaugurating Aaron's sons into their roles as priests (Lev 8:23). On the surface there's no dillema here, but the Midrash tells us that, similar to Eliezer, Moses wanted his sons to follow in his footsteps, but G-d decided that Aaron's sons would be priests but that Moses's own children would have no future role. In this case, the dillema didn't show itself in action, since Moses had the inner strength to simply perform the inauguration service. The shalshelet signifies how Moses felt, but he didn't let the feelings get in the way of what he had to do.

So we see in the Torah four different ways of dealing with dillemas:

1. Pray for Divine assistance (Eliezer)
2. Take active steps to reach the right decision (Yosef)
3. Just do the right thing, feel the dillema but don't act on it (Moses)
4. Fail the test (Lot)

Xenophilius Lovegood seems to have failed the test, and was saved from the consequences by Hermione. But Draco's parents passed, as much for self-interest as for doing the right thing. And of course Harry worked his way through his own dillemas, as victorious in his decisions as he is in his wandwork.

How are we at dealing with dillemas? If we can't just do the right thing, we can pray for clarity or we can take active steps to move away from temptation. Either way, if we want to succeed like Harry, one way is to learn the lesson of the shalshelet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Donated 10% of book proceeds

Just wanted to let everyone know that 10% of my proceeds from recent sales of Harry Potter and Torah was just donated to the Ahavat Yisrael school in Beit Shemesh. This was my periodic donation in keeping with my statement (not an oath or unbreakable vow) on the book cover that 10% of book proceeds would be donated to schools in Israel addressing the educational needs of recent immigrants.

Anyone who would like to donate to them or similar institutions, send me an e-mail and I'll give you the appropriate contact info.

Tales of Beedle the Bard coming out soon!

J. K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard will be available soon, and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon! This will be a great gift, and a must-have, for Harry Potter fans.

Click here:

to pre-order the book now, for only $7.60

Thursday, November 13, 2008

VaYeira: Mudbloods, Moabites, and Moshiach

The following is excerpted from a chapter of Harry Potter and Torah, and never before published on-line. The complete version can be read in the book. Enjoy!

Mudbloods, Moabites, and Moshiach

Throughout the Harry Potter series we read (or hear) about the following question: How important is it for a wizard (in the world of Harry Potter) to have pure wizard ancestry? This is the conflict summed up well by Harry's friend Ron in Chapter seven of Chamber of Secrets, after Hermione is called a "mudblood" by another student (in the movie this is said by Hermione herself):

"Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born, you know,
non-magic parents. There are some wizards who think they're better than
everyone else because they're what people call pure-blood.... I mean, the
rest of us know it doesn't make any difference at all."

Throughout the series this debate rages on, as Dumbeldore says to the Minister of Magic at the end of Goblet of Fire (chapter thirty six) :

"You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called
purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is
born, but what they grow to be!"

What do you think the Torah says about the subject?

There is a surprising attitude towards "purity of lineage" at the end of Parshas VaYeira. After G-d destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham's nephew Lot hides in a cave with his two adult-age daughters. Having seen their whole town destroyed by Divine wrath, they thought that they were the only people left alive in the whole world. The Torah describes what happened next:

"The older daughter said to the younger, 'Our father is old, and there is not any man [left alive] in the world [to marry us].... Let's give our father wine and get him drunk, ... and have children from him.' "[1]

They proceeded to carry out their plan, first the older daughter and then the younger. The Torah concludes the chapter:

"The older gave birth to a son, and called him Moav (meaning 'from the father' in Hebrew), the ancestor of the Moabites. And the younger also had a son, who she called Ben-Ami, the ancestor of the Ammonites."

This is not exactly the kind of story we expect to see in the Torah! Besides showing us Lot's family's moral depravity, why does the Torah tell us about this?

One answer lies in the role that the nations of Moav and Ammon have later in Jewish history. The book of Ruth details how Ruth, a Moabite woman, converted to Judaism and married Boaz the sage, and gave birth to the grandfather of King David. King David became the ancestor of all Jewish kings, and also of the future Messiah (Moshiach). As a Moabite, Ruth was descended from Lot's older daughter's son.

At the same time, the Book of Kings tells us that King Solomon married a woman named Naama the Ammonite, who, similar to Ruth, converted to Judaism and gave birth to King Solomon's successor. Naama, as an Ammonite, was descended from Lot's second daughter's son.

So we see an amazing thing here: Both of Lot's daughters had their descendants, from their immoral relationships with their father, included into the Jewish royal bloodline! The Moshiach will be descended on two sides from the union of Lot and his daughters! Hardly the noble bloodline that we expect!

The Midrash takes this one step further, saying that the very reason that Lot and his daughters were saved from Sodom was in order to give birth to nations that would lead to the Moshiach:

"[The angels said to Lot] 'Go, take your two daughters who are found here...'[2]. Rabbi Tuvia the son of Rabbi Isaac said, This alludes to two who were found: Ruth the Moabite and Naama the Ammonite. Rabbi Isaac said: The verse[3] says 'I found King David my servant,' where was he found? In Sodom!"[4]

This Midrash is saying, in terse Talmudic style, that when the angels told Lot to take his daughters from Sodom, the reason was that Ruth and Naama had to descend from them. In other words, the immoral relationships and their consequences were actually part of G-d's Divine plan for the royal and messianic bloodline! The Midrash then identifies Sodom, the city so immoral that it had to be Divinely destroyed, as the root source of King David, the place where King David's origins can be found.

If we look more closely, we see that King David's and the Moshiach's roots in impurity go beyond Lot and his daughters. Boaz, Ruth's husband, is from the tribe of Judah. In the Torah portion of VaYeshev[5] we get a look at the early days of the tribe of Judah.

Until shortly after Talmudic times, the practice was that when a husband died without having had children, his younger brother would marry his widow (Levirite marriage) in order that the original husband's family line continue through his wife.[6] Judah, however, prevented his younger son from marrying his older son's widow, as the Torah describes:

"Judah took a wife named Tamar for his first-born son Er. But Er was evil in G-d's eyes, and he died.... And Judah told Onan [his middle son] to marry his brother's wife, to carry on his brother's family... but he did wrong in G-d's eyes, and he also died. Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'live as a widow in your father's house until my [third] son Shla grows up.' He was worried that Shla would also die. Tamar went to live in her father's house, and the years went by."

The Torah continues: "After a long time, Judah's wife died, and he went to supervise the shepherds.... Tamar took off her widow's clothes, and covered herself with a veil, and sat at the entrance of the wells....

"Judah saw her and thought she was a prostitute. He turned aside to her on the road, not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law...."

The Torah continues to tell us that Tamar became pregnant from Judah, and gave birth to twins, one of whom was Peretz, the ancestor of Boaz the sage, who married Ruth and was the great-grandfather of King David.

This is amazing! Events seem to have been Divinely orchestrated so that King David's ancestry on both Ruth and Boaz's sides would come from highly ignoble circumstances. (And we haven't mentioned the questionable appearance of how Ruth and Boaz met!) This seems to hardly be fitting for a king, let alone the Moshiach!

The Midrash[8] makes an interesting point about great people with murky ancestry:

"Who can withdraw purity from impurity? Abraham came from Terach [an idol-worshipper], Yoshiah from Ammon, Mordechai from Shimi, Israel from the nations, the messianic world from this world. Who could do this? None but G-d!"

The Midrash seems to be saying several things.

First, there is no limit to the purification that a person can achieve. No one is ever lost from morality, spirituality, or a successful and productive life. A descendent of Yehuda's relationship with his daughter-in-law can marry a descendent of Lot and his daughter, and give birth to King David and the Moshiach. G-d can always withdraw purity from impurity.

Second, G-d in fact crafts the events in the world, specifically the seemingly-improper events, to bring about His Divine purpose. Every event, every action, and every decision will be woven into G-d's plans for the world.

Third, seemingly immoral people and events may contain the building blocks for the noblest of G-d's Divine plans for the world. These building blocks are hidden in the "shells" of impurity, waiting to be released (with Divine assistance) by people who choose to "plug in" to G-d's plan through their choices and actions.

But why is this particularly found in the royal and messianic families? Shouldn't royal families have pure origins, and the above lessons be taught in other places? Rabbi Yehuda Leow, known as the Maharal of Prague, provides a deeper understanding of things, explaining as follows:

"The King Moshiach will be descended from other nations, as King David's line is descended from Moav and King Solomon's from Ammon. The reason is that when G-d wants to bring a new element into existence, it needs to be a new creation, different from what came before, otherwise it wouldn't be truly new. Therefore, when G-d wanted to bring the Moshiach's family into existence, He did it in a way that created a new element... specifically out of the non-Jewish nations, and the further away from perfection the roots were, the more the result was a new creation. That is why G-d started with Ammon and Moav, because there were no nations further from morality and perfection that Ammon and Moav.... Because of that, they are the ideal source for G-d's new creation."[10]

Other sources take this even further. The whole goal of the Moshiach is to elevate the Jewish people (and the whole world) from the immoral and violent state of the pre-Messianic world to the moral and peaceful world of the Messianic era. This will be accomplished by a person who himself came from immoral roots and achieved moral and spiritual perfection. As one commentary explains:

"Immediately before the Moshiach's arrival, the Jewish people will be in a dark and terrible state, the worst ever... and it will be the Moshiach's job to raise them to the highest levels. For him to have the power to do this, Divine providence will have it that even the Moshiach's birth will reflect transforming definitive evil to the highest spirituality. Everyone alive will know that he has the ability to similarly transform all."[11]

This is why, the Maharal says, Moses grew up in Pharoh's house, as the son of Pharoh's daughter. The redeemer of the Jews in Egypt, and the leader of the Jewish people for 40 years in the desert, had to be someone who had himself grown from an impure Egyptian environment to the highest of the Jewish prophets.

Based on everything we have said, it seems that the Almighty deliberately wants some great people, with the most exalted roles, to come from less-than-noble circumstances!

Returning to our original question, we see that being a "mudblood" is not only OK, it gives someone an important ingredient for greatness that a "pure-blood" will never have: the demonstrated ability to rise from less-than-noble roots and achieve greatness. Whether this point will be shown in the Harry Potter series is up to J.K. Rowling, but we can all hope to see it soon in the real-world Moshiach, as well as in our own lives.

As Dumbeldore said: "It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."

[1] Gen 19:31-33
[2] Gen 9:15
[3] Psalms 89:21
[4] Midrash BR 50:10
[5] Gen Chapter 38
[6] This process was obviously only carried out with the wife's agreement, and was stopped when society changed and younger brothers stopped being able to do this with the proper motivations.
[8] Bereisheet Rabba 19:1
[10] Maharal, Netzach Yisroel Chapter 32
[11] Mi'maamakim vol 1 p. 95

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

REPOST: Fawkes the Phoenix in Noah's Ark

Could Fawkes, Dumbeldore's immortal phoenix, have been in the Garden of Eden or on Noah's Ark?Read the answer in the following excerpt from Harry Potter and Torah, which was printed in the Washington Jewish Week last July:

Was Fawkes the Phoenix on Noah's Ark?

When we think about Noah collecting the animals to bring into the ark, most of us tend to imagine lions and tigers, cows and rams, and other "regular" animals. After all, Torah does not talk about mythical animals like those found in Harry Potter.

Or does it? Might Fawkes the Phoenix have been on Noah's ark?

The Talmud tells the following midrashic story about Noah on the ark:"Noah found the phoenix hiding in the bottom of the Ark. He said to it, 'Don't you want food?' It replied, 'I saw you were busy, and did not want to trouble you.' He said to it, 'May it be God's will that you never die.' "

The midrash elaborates on the phoenix's immortality as follows: "It lives for a thousand years, and at the end of this thousand years, a fire emerges from its nest and incinerates it. A volume equivalent to an egg is left, which grows limbs and lives." The Prophet Job refers to the phoenix's immortality when he says "Like a phoenix I increase my life's days."

So we see the magical phoenix quite clearly in Torah literature! This sounds just like Dumbeldore's explanation to Harry in the middle of Chamber of Secrets (chapter 12):

"Fawkes is a phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flame when it is time for
themto die and are reborn from the ashes."

Interestingly, the same midrash gives a second, very different explanation of the phoenix's immortality: "Eve fed the animals and birds from the Tree of Knowledge. They all listened to her, except for one bird, called the phoenix."

Since all people and animals were immortal until eating from the tree of knowledge, the phoenix's not eating from the tree of knowledge meant it would never die.

So which is the reason that the midrashic phoenix lives forever? Is it because it did not eat from the tree of knowledge, or because of Noah's blessing?

Commentaries on the midrash give two possibilities. One is that the sages simply disagree, that the sage quoted in the midrash attributes the phoenix's longevity to the Garden of Eden, and the sage quoted in the Talmud attributes it to Noah's blessing.

The second possibility is that the phoenix's longevity was earned in two stages. It lives a long time, and does not die a natural death like other animals, because it did not eat from the tree of knowledge. Then Noah's blessing added to its immortality, either by giving it the process of rejuvenation by burning up and being reborn, or by giving it Divine protection from hunters and accidents.

Many commentaries, however, take all the biblical and midrashic discussions of the phoenix to be metaphorical. The Book of Job, for example, used the bird as a metaphor for long life, and did not refer to actually seeing one. Both the above stories from the midrash can be understood this way, as lessons about the importance of caring for other people's difficulties (the midrash of Noah) and about doing the right thing in the face of a temptation (the midrash of Eve). Each, according to the midrash, merits a lot of Divine reward, metaphorically earning long life or immortality.

Other commentaries say that the phoenix is used by our sages as a metaphor for "the soaring of the intellect, which continues even when man's body becomes weak." Others see the phoenix as a metaphor for the Jewish people throughout history, often appearing "burnt up" but always being reborn.

All in all, the magical phoenix has left us a lot to think about. Anyone intrigued by the existence of magical animals has no shortage of Torah sources for them. And anyone looking for metaphors for a soaring intellect or the everlasting Jewish people need look no further.

But, most important, we see two things that we can think about in our own lives, doing what is right when we're given a temptation not to (as in the story of Eve) and caring that others not work too hard for our own sake (the story of Noah). According to the midrash, these are how immortality is earned, either real or metaphorical. Even without spells or incantations, our own behavior can be as hot as a phoenix.

Interested in more about magical creatures in Torah? Harry Potter and Torah discusses talking snakes, owl post, and more! I also recommend Rabbi Slifkin's new book Sacred Monsters.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I think that a lot of fans of Harry Potter and Torah will like a new book written by my neighbor Rabbi Dov Lipman, called Timeout: Sports Stories as a Game Plan for Spiritual Success:

The book is a great collection of lessons learned from sports, and how they relate to Jewish teachings. From Michigan's "Fab 5" to Rick Barry to Gilbert Arenas, there's no end to the lessons that can be learned from sports stories.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Harry Potter thoughts related to the story of creation

On Simchat Torah we re-start the Torah cycle from the beginning, starting with the creation story. The following articles from the Harry Potter and Torah blog relate to the creation story:

  1. Snape's love for Lily: True Love or Obsession?
  2. Love, Relationships, and Souls
  3. The Divine Hallows

I hope everyone has a great holiday!

Starting the new Torah cycle

If you haven't bought Harry Potter and Torah, now's the time!

We're about to start the new cycle of Torah portions back at Bereisheet (Genesis), and Harry Potter and Torah has chapters for every Torah portion in Bereisheet, along with many throughout the rest of the Torah. So you can have Harry Potter perspectives for every week's Torah portion!

Below is the full table of contents. Click here to buy it now!

  1. In the Beginning There Were Magic Words
  2. Talking Snakes and Human Souls
  3. Day of Rest, Day of Magic
  4. Noah's Care of Magical Creatures
  5. Owl post, Raven post, and dove post
  6. Ghosts and curtains
  7. Mudbloods, Moabites, and Moshiach
  8. Whomping Willows & Monotheistic Maples
  9. Everyday Magic, Everyday Miracles
  10. Nicolas Flamel and the Children of Ketura
  11. When One Rises, the Other Will Fall
  12. Destiny and Decisions
  13. Magic Wands
  14. Go to the Hippogriff, thy Sluggard
  15. Creating Bodies
  16. Rights of Magical Creatures
  17. Dreams: Divination or Digestion?
  18. Everything Happens for a Reason
  19. We are as Strong as we are United
  20. Magic Shows: Kosher Fun or Idolatry?
  21. Magical Protection

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Laws of a Sukkah according to Dr. Seuss

I just came across this on a few other Web sites, and thought that readers of Harry Potter and Torah would enjoy it:

You can build it very small (1)
You can build it very tall (2)

You can build it very large (3)
You can build it on a barge

You can build it on a ship (4)
Or on a roof but please don't slip (5)

You can build it in an alley (6)
You shouldn't build it in a valley (7)

You can build it on a wagon (8)
You can build it on a dragon (9)

You can make the s'chach of wood (10)
Would you, could you, yes you should

Make the s'chach from leaves of tree
You shouldn't bend it at the knee (11)

Build your Succah tall or short
No Succah is built in the Temple Court

You can build it somewhat soon
You cannot build it in the month of June (12)

If your Succah is well made
You'll have the right amount of shade (13)

You can build it very wide
You can not build it on its side

Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim

Build it if your name is Sue (14)
Do you build it, yes you do!

From the Succah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home (15)

You can invite some special guests
Don't stay in it if there are pests

You can sleep upon some rugs
Don't you build it where there's bugs

In the Succah you should sit
And eat and drink but never...

If in the Succah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain (16)

And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you're bold

So build a Succah one and all
Make it large or make it small

Succah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Succos, rejoice be happy.


1. Maimonides (RMBM) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Succah, Chapter 4, Section 1. The minimum height of a Succah is 10 tefachim. A tefach is a measure of the width of the four fingers of one's hand. My hand is 3 1/4 inches wide for a minimum Succah height of 32 1/2 inches. The minimum allowable width is 7 tefachim by 7 tefachim. This would result in a Succah of 22 3/4 inches by 22 3/4 inches.

2. The maximum height is 20 Amot. An Amah is the length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. My Amah is 15 1/2 inches for a maximum height of 25 feet. Others say that 30 feet is the maximum.

3. According to RMBM the Succah can be built to a width of several miles. Shulchan Aruch also says there is no limit on the size of the width.

4. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6.

5. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 11. RMBM states that one may construct a Succah by wedging poles in the four corners of the roof and suspending s'chach from the poles. The walls of the building underneath are considered to reach upward to the edge of the s'chach.

6. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 8-10 discusses the ins and outs of building your Succah in an alley or passageway.

7. There is a location referred to in the Talmud called Ashtarot Karnayim. According to the discussion there are two hills, with a valley in between where the Sun does not reach. Therefore it is impossible to sit in the shade of the roof of the Succah. I can't find the reference...hopefully next year.

8. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6. You can go into a Succah built on a wagon or a ship even on Yom Tov.

9. RMBM Hilchot Succah Chapter 4, Section 6. OK, RMBM says a camel but dragon rhymes with wagon a lot better, don't you agree. Anyway, RMBM says you can build your Succah on a wagon or in the crown of a tree, but you can't go into it on Yom Tov. There is a general rule against riding a beast or ascending into the crown of a tree on Yom Tov.

10. Chapter 5 deals with the rules for the s'chach. Basically, you can use that which has grown from the ground, and is completely detached from the ground. So, for example, you cannot bend the branches of a tree over the Succah to form the s'chach. But you can cut the branches from a tree and use them as s'chach.

11. This would be a violation of the rule cited in the prior footnote.

12. Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Succah, Perek 636, Section 1. The Succah should not be built sooner than 30 days before the Chag. However, if the structure is built prior to 30 days, as long as something new is added within the 30 days, the Succah is kosher.

13. Of course it's a well known rule that you must sit in the shade from the roof of the Succah and not in the shade that may be cast by the walls. It seems that this might affect the height of the walls, depending on the longitude of the location where you are building your Succah.

14. Technically, women, servants and minors are exempt from the Mitzvah of Succah. In our day we hope we know better than to read out half the Jewish people from the observance of Mitzvot. Of course, that's just a personal opinion of the author.

15. RMBM ibid Chapter 6, Section 6 explains that you should eat, drink and live in the Succah for the 7 days as you live in your own home. One should not even take a nap outside of the Succah.

16. RMBM ibid, Section 10. If it rains one should go into the house. How does one know if it is raining hard enough? If sufficient raindrops fall through the s'chach (roof covering) and into the food so that the food is spoiled - go inside!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Harry Potter thoughts in preparation for the High Holidays

Sorry everyone that I haven't written Harry Potter and Torah essays for the past several months -- in the past six months I've gotten remarried, moved two homes into a new home, and taken a blended family on a vacation abroad. It hasn't been boring!

Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are now officially a month away, and we've started the Jewish month of Elul in which we prepare for the holidays. In that spirit, here are links to some essays I wrote previously on Harry Potter themes related to the High Holidays:

Harry Potter and the Power of Repentance:

Percy's rependance:

Even Malfoy's or Wormtail's repentance counts:

Harry Potter's advice of feeling remorse:

More notes about repentance:

I hope that everyone has had a great summer, and hope to have more Harry Potter and Torah thoughts for you soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Harry Potter ideas related to the story of the Spies (Shlach)

Here are links to three Harry Potter and Torah articles I wrote last year:

The importance of self-confidence discusses the Torah's message that self-confidence and self-image determines a lot of how others see us and how successful we are, as much as our abilities:

Magical wisdom and the magical Land discusses the magical wisdom that Jews can get from the air of the Land of Israel:

Fighting the right battles discusses the importance of fighting the true enemies:

More soon!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Harry Potter and Torah reader feedback

Anyone deciding whether to buy my book Harry Potter and Torah can read some reader comments here, including a new comment just left by a reader:

If you've read the book and have comments of your own, feel free to click the "Post a comment" link below, and leave your own opinion!

Ever-lasting fire

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix we learn about Gubraithian Fire , ever-lasting fire that's hard to conjure, that Dumbeldore makes as a gift for the giants.

The Torah tells us that the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple also had ever-lasting fire. In this week's Torah portion (Be'ha'a'lot'cha) we see Aaron commanded to light the Menorah. The Torah elsewhere tells us that this light has to be an ever-lasting fire that Aaron and his descendants are commanded to keep lit. This is commemorated nowadays by the "ner tamid" that virtually every synagogue has, a constantly burning light that shows us that Divine light is always coming into the world.

I plan to write more about this in the future, but for now, I encourage everyone to read an interesting article on the significance of ever-lasting fire, on the TorahLab web site at:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pesach Sheni and second chances

Several times in the Harry Potter series Hagrid says:

Great man, Dumbeldore... He gives people second chances, see...

We see this also with Snape's story at the end of Deathly Hallows.

Pesach Sheni is a minor holiday, celebrated today (May 19, 2008), where the Torah teaches us the principle of second chances. 3300 years ago, when the first Passover holiday was celebrated a year after the Exodous from Egypt, some of the Jews had missed celebrating the holiday because they weren't in a state of purity to be able to bring the Passover offering. G-d told Moses that they could do so a month later.

While we don't truly celebrate Pesach Sheni in any way nowadays, since we can't bring the Passover offering at all, we still remember Pesach Sheni as the day that G-d taught us about second chances. If someone has the desire to do the right thing, there will always be a second chance for them to do so.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Voldemort, Palestinian terrorists, and the fight against evil

At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we see the Minister of Magic so stunned by the idea of Voldemort's return that he can't bring himself to believe it.

"You-know who ... returned? Preposterous... you - you can't
seriously believe that. ... It seems to me that you are all
determined to start a panic that will destabalize everything we have worked

In later books we see him even more unable to consider Voldemort's return, unable to bring himself to face the facts, because of what it would mean.

Ultimately, of course, the facts became clear, and the wizarding world had to fight against Voldemort without the benefit of an earlier start.

It seems to me that the same thing is happening now, in much of the Western world, regarding Arab terror. Acknowledging the reality of Arab terrorists that kill out of hatred, not for a goal that we can understand but simply out of hatred, is too hard for people to handle. Like the Minister of Magic, people need to find something else to believe, anything else to believe, rather than face the fear of Arab terror.

Like "Cedric Diggory's death was an accident!" we hear "All they want is land for a state," ignoring that when given land they chose terror over building a state. Like "Barty Crouch was just a lunatic," we hear "They're mad at Israel for putting them in refugee camps," ignoring the fact that Egypt and Jordan put the Palestinians into refugee camps, not Israel. Like "Harry's making it all up!" we hear that the Palestinians only want a state on the West Bank and Gaza, forgetting that they said no to exactly that at Camp David ten years ago.

Like the Minister of Magic, the world will wake up eventually to the fact that responsibility for terror must be on the terrorists, and that the civilized world cannot excuse terror as a valid means to an end. And like the end of Deathly Hallows, we'll eventually reach a point where evil is destroyed and peace can spread.

Hopefully it won't take seven books for us to get to that point.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chassidic Raggae and rebounding curses

I was thinking more this morning about my message from a few days ago about Passover Salvation and Voldemort's rebounding curses, and I realized that this is in fact the message of Matisyahu's song "chop 'em down."

The song is basically a raggae version of the Passover story of the exile and exodus from Egypt, from Joseph's being sold as a slave to the Jewish people leaving Egypt and the splitting of the sea. But it starts with the line "from the forest itself comes the handle for the axe -- chop 'em down, chop 'em down...."

The point seems to be the same one I made in that previous message -- that the power to defeat evil comes by utilizing something of the evil itself in our combat. Chopping trees is done with some wood in the axe, and defeating Voldemort used his own actions against him.

You can hear Matisyahu's "Chop 'em down" here.
And can buy the album I was listening to here.

I hope everyone had fun Passover Seders, and is having a great holiday!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More on Passover and Unity

(See here for a completely new Harry Potter related thought about Passover.)

I wrote previously about the importance of unity, both in Harry Potter and in Torah thought, particularly around Passover:

A friend of mine wrote another note about Passover and unity, noting that we start the Passover Seder with an invitation to others to join us at our Seder, underscoring the importance of Jewish unity specifically on Passover.

I'd like to add two additional thoughts about Passover and unity.

First, in the discussion in the Hagadah of the four sons, we see that the wicked son, the "rasha," would apparently still have been saved from Egypt despite being wicked, until he excludes himself from the people of Israel. Only excluding oneself from the Jewish collective results in the Hagadah saying that were he to have been in Egypt he would not have been saved. Being wicked in the first place was not as bad as excluding oneself from unity with the rest of the Jewish people.

Second, we say at the beginning of the Hagadah "not just once have our enemies rose up against us." If you look carefully at the Hebrew, the literal translation is "that not only one, our enemies rose up against us." I saw commentaries that interpret this to say that our enemies will always rise up against us when we're not one, when we're not unified together.

I hope that all of our Passover Seders can lead to the strong Jewish unity that we need.

Happy Passover everyone!

Passover salvation and Voldemort's rebounding curses

A lot of people have discussed a particular aspect of Harry's victory over Voldemort at the end of Deathly Hallows, that in fact Harry didn't destroy Voldemort, rather Voldemort killed himself, with a curse that rebounded on him when it collided with Harry's curse. I've written previously (here) that I actually don't like this aspect of the story, since I think that Harry should have killed Voldemort directly, but as I write below, there's a definite analogue to this in the Torah.

In fact, we see throughout the Harry Potter stories that Harry's defeats of Voldemort are most often because of something that Voldemort himself did. When Harry was a baby he defeated Voldemort because of Voldemort's having killed Harry's mother unnecessarily. The same enabled Harry to defeat Quirrel (posessed by Voldemort) at the end of Sorcerer's Stone. Harry beats Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire because of Voldemort's wand. He escapes Voldemort at the end of Order of the Phoenix because of Voldemort's damaged soul. Over and over, Harry defeats Voldemort because Voldemort's own actions turn against him.

This is a theme that we see throughout the Torah as well. Jewish salvation is very often enabled specifically by the things that our enemies themselves do.

In the Passover story, we know that Moses was raised in Pharoh's house, as Pharoh's son. The plagues are each brought as a consequence of Pharoh's actions as well. In the Purim story, Haman's downfall is due to Esther's position as queen, which was a result of Haman and the King's immoral process of choosing a new queen.

This is even hinted in the Passover Hagadah, in the song "ve'hee she'amda." We say "This (G-d's pact with Abraham) supports us forever, because not only once but in every generation someone stands up against us (the Jews) to destroy us, but G-d always saves us from their hands." The phrase "from their hands," in Hebrew "mi-yadam" (מידם), hints to us that G-d's salvation always utilizes our enemies "hands" in bringing about our salvation - G-d always saves us through our enemies hands.

Besides learning about the nature of Divine salvation, that it seems to operate similar to Voldemort's rebounding curses, we can see a new perspective on things that others do to us. Not only do we know that G-d will always save us, we can look at things that our enemies do as the potential sources of our future Divine salvation.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy and meaningful Passover, both the seder and the holiday itself.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Discussion of Harry Potter and Torah on Israeli radio

Yesterday (Sunday) I was on Israeli radio station Arutz Sheva discussing Harry Potter and Torah. It was a lot of fun talking with the show's host Walter Bingham, who asked me a lot about religious opposition to Harry Potter, and why I maintain that books like Harry Potter and Torah are important despite the concerns.

You can listen to the radio program at the following web addresses:

Thanks to Walter and Arutz Sheva for the fun program and the great radio station!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

On the radio...

In a few minutes I'll be on Internet radio from Israel:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Afikomen present for Harry Potter fans

Looking for an afikomen present for Harry Potter fans?

If they're teenagers or older, how about the book Harry Potter and Torah?

You can buy it through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or at Jewish bookstores in New York, New Jersey, Seattle, and Israel.

More information is available on the book's home page or blog, or by e-mail at

Site for mobile blog browsing:

I'd like to suggest that anyone browsing here on a cellphone or mobile device check out

It's a site for browsing on a cellphone that restructures sites, especially blogs and news sites, to fit well on a cellphone-sized screen. Their biggest innovation is working specifically with blogs and news sites, using RSS to get just the content.

Here's how the Harry Potter and Torah blog looks through Mippin:

Each article can be browsed and read easily, and note that the picture at the bottom is shown at a size that's appropriate for the screen.

But when I browse to the blog directly, instead of using Mippin, I see the following rendition of the blog, as written for a computer screen but shown on the cellphone:

and then when I scroll down, I see this:

All in all, Mippin makes blogs and (reportedly) news sites much easier to read.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Harry Potter and Purim

Purim is coming!

For a Harry Potter related thought about Purim, you can see an article I wrote last year titled The King's Magical Book:

I also related to Purim briefly in talking about the power of attributing ideas to people who said them.

There are several more Purim-related ideas in Harry Potter and Torah, and I'll try to write more between now and Purim. But I want to take this chance to wish everyone a fun and happy Purim!

Dov Krulwich

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Back in stock in Ramat Beit Shemesh

Harry Potter and Torah is now back in stock in Yerid HaSefarim in Ramat Beit Shemesh. It's also still in stock at Sefarim Ve'Od in Beit Shemesh.

In the USA, you can buy it at J Levine Judaica in Manhattan, Judaica House in Teaneck, and Tree of Life Judaica in Seattle.

Or of course, you can buy it on-line from anywhere.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Love, relationships and souls

In a previous message, I opened with the question of whether Snape's so-called love for Lily was in fact true love, and discussed the Torah's perspective on the purpose of relationships. I'd like to now discuss this from a different angle.

Several times throughout the Harry Potter series, Dumbeldore tries to teach Harry about the difference between Voldemort's mutilation of his soul and Harry's pure soul characterized by his ability to love. But what does the ability to love have to do with the soul? Isn't love simply an emotion, that can be felt by anyone regardless of the state of their soul?

The Talmud has interesting discussion about how Adam and Eve were created. According to one of the sages, Adam was first created with two faces, essentially comprising Adam and Eve in a single being. When G-d seperated Eve from Adam, He essentially split a double being into two single beings.

What's the point? Was Adam the Torah's version of Dr. Doolittle's PushMePullYou?

Commentaries elaborate that the splitting of Adam and Eve into two beings should be seen as a lesson for married couples throughout time. The Torah's ideal marriage is when a couple see themselves as two halves of the same being, with a single set of goals, aims, and even feelings, which collectively are accomplished by the two of them. It might be building a home together, raising children together, or changing the world together. It might be each person accomplishing different things that collectively fulfill their shared dreams. It might be a lot of things. But it should reflect shared feelings.

The Zohar takes this one step further. The Zohar says that every person has only a half a soul, and the other half of each person's soul is the half-soul of their soulmate. A "soulmate" is just that -- the person whose half-soul is the exact mate of the other's half-soul.

So we see a clear connection between love, love in a relationship and by analogy Harry Potter's ability to love, and the proper state of a person's soul. A person who can love is a person whose soul is in the shape that it was created, the half-soul that will perfectly match their soulmate's half-soul.

There's a lot more to say about this concept, interested readers can read this article for more exploration.

Any opinions or feelings on the subject? Feel free to leave comments below!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

For Hebrew speakers: הארי פוטר והתורה

To any Hebrew speakers (non-English readers)...

הבלוג הזה עבור הספר הארי פוטר והתורה
שנכתב באנגלית
אם אתם מעוניינים לקרוא בנוסא הזה ולא יכול לקרוא באגלית
בבקשה תשאיר הערה פה
או תשלח דו'א ל

דב קרולוויץ

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

NYC's J Levine Judaica now selling Harry Potter and Torah

To all you New Yorkers who want to see a copy of Harry Potter and Torah before buying it, head over to J Levine Books at 5 W 30th Street in Manhattan.

Besides having copies in their store, they're also selling it on-line.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Magical snow

Several of the Harry Potter books mention snow, and talk about Hogwarts students bewitching snowballs to fly at other kids or into high-up windows.

As you may have heard, it's snowing right now in the truly magical city of Jerusalem, which is a once-every-few-years experience.

In honor of the snow in Jerusalem, I thought I'd write a little bit about what Jewish writings say about snow.

Of course, we all know that snow is somewhat magical from a purely scientific perspective. In general, all substances in the world contract as they get colder. This is part of the fundamental way that the elements work. But water is the one element that actually gets somewhat bigger as it freezes, absorbing air. If this didn't happen, water life would be destroyed when a lake froze, since it would be dragged to the bottom under sinking ice. But because of this unique property of water, the tops of lakes freeze, the ice floats and provides insulation, and lake life is preserved. Snow also provides a layer of insulation for everything under it. Just another magical property of the world that enables life.

So what do Jewish writings say about snow? I found some fun things in a book called "HaNoten Sheleg" that was written in Israel (in Hebrew) a few years ago.

The one mystical thing I found about snow is that kabbalistic writings connect snow to forgetfulness. This is because the gematria numerical value of the word snow, "sheleg" (שלג) is the same as the gematria of the word forgetfulness, "shikcha" (שכחה). Based on this, books of kabalah teach that anyone who takes snow, especially freshly-fallen snow, and rubs it on his forehead three times, while concentrating on the letter "alef" (א), will earn Divine help in remembering things, against forgetfulness.

I certainly don't claim to understand Kabalah, but I saw this quoted from the AirZal and Rabbi Chayim Vital.

Personally, for anyone who wants a magical remedy for forgetfullness, I have another suggestion: study!

Other Jewish writings concerning snow are less mystical.

For example, there is a debate between scholars whether eating snow (or ice cream) is considered drinking or eating. If you put snow in your mouth, are you eating something or drinking something? This has some ramifications in Jewish law. For example, if eating snow is considered eating, then eating a handful will need a blessing to be said afterwards. But if eating snow is considered drinking, since a handful of snow is actually a tiny amount of water, no blessing will be needed. For eating it depends on solid volume, for drinking it depends on liquid volume. The consensus seems to be that snow, as well as ice cream, is considered more like drinking than eating, and so no blessing is required afterwards.

Another debate among scholars is whether it's permitted on the Sabbath to make and throw a snowball. Some say that taking a bunch of seperate "stuff" like snow, and constructing from it a new thing (the ball) that didn't exist before, is considered an act of creation, and would be prohibited (Shmitas Shabbos Ke'Hilchasa, Rivevos Efrayim). But others say that snowballs don't last long enough to be considered creations, since they will either break apart, or melt, or mix into other snow, so making them is permitted (Be'er Moshe, Piskei Teshuvos).

I hope all Jerusalem readers continue to enjoy the snow, and that everyone has a great winter!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Harry Potter and Torah reader comments

Hi everyone! I just read the comments left by readers on Amazon. One commenter didn't seem to have read the book, but thought that the book must be an insult to Torah. Another commenter had read the book, and complained that the book was too much Torah.

Maybe I can introduce the two commenters to each other?

Comments from readers are always welcome, either here on this blog (just click on "comments" below), or at Amazon, or by e-mail to

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Snape's love for Lily: True love?

I've been wanting to write about this subject for a while. I mentioned previously when I first commented on Deathly Hallows that I didn't think that Snape's love for Lily was true love, but rather seemed like obsession to me. But in the style of Harry Potter and Torah, I wanted to write about it based on a Torah perspective.

In the meanwhile, I happen to have gotten engaged a few weeks ago, so the subject has been on my mind. (Love, that is, not obsession.)

So, was Snape's so-called great love for Lily true love, or not?

I think that the starting point is to see what the Torah says a relationship is all about. Why do couples love each other?

Many people have the impression that a religious marriage is only for the purpose of having children. Certainly having children is a mitzva, and the Torah commands us to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and tame it." This is a mitzva, a commandment, and obviously a reason to get married.

That said, I think that it's clearly not the reason that relationships exist.

In the book of Genesis, in the story of the creation of mankind, the Torah tells us that G-d said "it is not good for man to be alone," and then proceeded to create the entire gender distinction in human beings. After G-d seperated men and women into two distinct genders, the Torah says "therefore a man leaves his parent and joins his wife."

It's clear from this that the entire creation of relationships in the world was for a simple reason: it's not good for people to be alone. We've been created, straight from the beginning of Creation, in way that it's better for us to be in a relationship.

So phase one of my conclusion about Snape and Lily was that whatever there was between them, it wasn't true love, at least not from the Torah's perspective. True love needs a relationship, needs two people to be together, not to be alone. Lily was with James, and Snape was apparently alone his whole life. That's not a relationship in the sense that the Torah tells us that people should have.

Obviously there's a lot more to write about this. The Torah elsewhere defines "love" as doing for others. The ethical book Michtav MiEliyahu (translated into English as Strive for Truth) defines love as doing for another without wanting to get anything in return. But I'll stop here for now, and write more later.

Comments are very welcome, just click on the "comments" or "post a comment" link just below this message)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Repost: Why did Harry Potter's "boggart" effect him like a "dementor?" (Parshat Beshalach)

I posted this article in two parts about a year ago, when we last read the Torah portion of Beshalach that we read this upcoming Shabbat. It doesn't appear in the book Harry Potter and Torah, but is written in the same style.

I'd like to start with a question from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the 3rd book and movie):

Why did Harry Potter's "boggart" effect him like a "dementor?"
As background to the question, "boggarts" and "dementors" are both fictional magical creatures from the Harry Potter stories. Each one has magical powers that we learn about in the 3rd book.
Dementors are introduced in chapter ten, as Professor Lupin explains to Harry: "Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth... they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air... get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you... you'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life...."
Boggarts are introduced in seven, as Hermione answers in Defense class: "(A boggart) is a shape-shifter... It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most." As the story continues, the boggart proceeds to take the forms of whatever will most frighten the student closest to it. When Harry Potter faces a boggart in chapter twelve, it takes the form of a dementor, and, as dementors do, it causes Harry to relive the worst experiences of his life.
But this brings us to a question: Boggarts only take the form of whatever will frighten us, they don't actually become those things. The boggart facing the defense class didn't actually become Neville's grandmother or a mummy, it just looked exactly like them. So when Harry faces the boggart that looks like a dementor, why should it effect him like a dementor does?
Believe it or not, we can see a perspective on this question from the Torah. Obviously beggarts and dementors aren't real, but the Torah does talk about things that are analogous to shape-shifting creatures in Harry Potter. To ask a more general question: if something has the ability to magically take the form of something else, would it have the essence of that thing, or only the form of that thing?
In the Torah we learn of the manna ("mon" in Hebrew) that Divinely fell from the sky when the Jews were in the desert after leaving Egypt. The Midrash (Shmot Raba) says that the manna contained the tastes of all foods, and that it magically tasted like whatever the person eating it wanted it to taste like. Someone who wanted pizza would eat manna that tasted magically like pizza. Someone who wanted steak would have manna that tasted magically like steak.
Rephrasing our question from above, did the manna in the desert remain essentially manna, and simply taste like steak or pizza, or did it actually take on the essence of the pizza or steak? To explore this, we can consider a few discussions in Torah literature in which this distinction between taste and essence is important.
Suppose on Passover in the desert the Jews had taken manna and desired it to taste like matza, the unleavened bread eaten at the Passover Seder. Could they then have eaten this manna/matza at their Seder and fulfilled the commandment to eat matza? The Ritva commentary on the Talmud (Kiddishin 38a) describes the sequence of events when the Jews arrived in the Land of Israel after the forty years in the desert. Ritva says that the Jews ate manna until the 16th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, as described in the Torah, but that on Seder night, on the 16th day of Nissan, they ate matza made from new crops of wheat. (This is significant in the Talmud's understanding some of the Torah's laws about agriculture.) This implies that the manna could not be eaten to fulfill the Seder's requirement of matza, and that the Jews had to instead eat from the new wheat crop. We can infer from this that according to the Ritva the manna did not take on the essense of the food being desired, only the taste.
Other Torah sources, however, are of the opposite opinion. The Igra De'kalla (*) is reported to have been of the opinion that manna could have been eaten as matza, and the appropriate Blessings could have been said exactly as if regular matza were eaten.
Suppose someone took a piece of manna and desired that it taste like a cheeseburger, a pork chop, or another non-Kosher piece of food. Would the manna have the non-Kosher taste, and would the eater transgress the Kosher laws by eating it? This too is the subject of a disagreement among Torah authorities. The Chiddushei HaRim (*) (from the Gerrer chassidic dynasty) stated that the manna would not take on the forbidden taste, implying that the manna does take on the essence of the desired food, and that G-d prevented it from causing a transgression. But the Chida (*) stated that the manna could in fact taste like forbidden foods, and that it was permitted to eat it, the obvious implication being that the manna adopted the taste but not the essence of the desired food.
Like many areas of Torah literature, we're left with a Rabbinic disagreement over whether manna adopted the essence or just the taste of the food that was desired. While Rabbinic disagreements in practical areas are most often decided conclusively, since people need to act in accordance with one of the opinions, in non-practical areas of Torah thought there is often no conclusive answer. This appears to be one of those times.
Returning to our original question, it appears that the Chiddushei HaRim and the Igra De'Kalla are of the opinion that something that magically takes on the form of something else also takes on the actual essense of the thing. This is analogous to Harry Potter's boggart effecting him like a dementor. But the Chida and the Ritva seem to say no, taking on attributes of something doesn't mean taking on the essense of the thing. In the analogy to Harry Potter, this would lead us to conclude that Harry's boggart should not have effected him in this way.
Obviously these analogies are meant for fun, to make us think about Torah concepts in new and interesting ways, and should not be taken too far. (See the preface of Harry Potter and Torah for more on this.) That said, we have seen some Torah thought that seems very analogous to the issue in Harry Potter, and this Torah thought is also something that many of us have not previously considered.
So if anyone reading this comes across some manna right before Passover, I do not suggest eating it as matza at your seder. But if you're reading Harry Potter (or anything else), and some interesting thoughts come to mind, remember this: Somewhere, somehow, Torah literature has discussed the subject.
Torah sources marked with an (*) are those that I have not yet seen in the original, but were quoted in secondary sources. For more in-depth coverage of this subject, see the fascinating article in English by Rabbi Ari Zivitofsky, "Bacon bits and non-Kosher taste."