Monday, December 27, 2010

Clarification of Harry Potter cookbook - and a recommendation

Regarding my previous note about the "Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook" - I had written that the recipies were all Kosher. This is wrong. The author herself keeps Kosher, and most of the recipes there are indeed Kosher, but she writes in her acknowledgments that she had the help of a non-Jewish (and non-Kosher-keeping) chef in preparing a few recipes that are not Kosher.

It still looks to me like this cookbook will be a lot of fun for families with Harry Potter fans, but Kosher-keeping readers should know that (as with all non-Kosher cookbooks) there will be recipes to skip or adapt.

While I'm writing, I'd like to continue to recommend Time Out - Sports Stories as a Game Plan for Spiritual Success by my friend, neighbor, and name-sharer Rabbi Dov Lipman. Sports fans or their parents will find the book a fun way to relate to Judaism and spirituality.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Harry Potter cookbook - Kosher!

I just came across a new book, The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, and not only does it claim to give recipes for all the wizard food mentioned in the Harry Potter series, but apparently everything in it is Kosher as well!

UPDATE: See my follow-up (click here) about the book's being Kosher.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

REPOST: The Divine Hallows (in preparation for the Deathly Hallows movie)

Here's a repost of an article I wrote shortly after the Deathly Hallows book came out. I'm reposting it now in preparation for the Deathly Hallows movie opening soon.

Anyone interested in buying Harry Potter and Torah can click here to buy it at Amazon, or can e-mail me here if you live in Israel.

The Divine Hallows

The final Harry Potter book introduces three magical objects called the Deathly Hallows. Would you believe that two of the three have very close analogues in the Torah and Midrash? Read on!

(If you want to read other Torah perspectives on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, click here or here. Or click here for more about the book Harry Potter and Torah.)

The Deathly Hallows are introduced in a fairy tale that Hermione reads in chapter 21, which tells a fable of three men who were awarded magical prizes from Death:

There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely, winding road at twilight... when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure... And Death spoke to them... and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him....

The oldest brother, who was a combatative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for is owner... So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.

Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from death. So Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead...

The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers... so he asked for something that would enable him to go forth... without being followed by Death. So Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of invisibility."

These three magical gifts, the Elder Wand, the invisibility cloak, and the ressurection stone, are
the three Deathly Hallows that help Harry Potter beat Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

If we look at the Torah, the Midrash, and the Talmud, we'll see very close analogues to two of these three magical objects: the wand and the cloak. The analogous things found in the Torah, which I think of as the Divine Hallows, aren't exactly the same as Harry Potter's Deathly Hallows, but they're intriguingly close. (I haven't found a good analogue for the stone yet, but feel free to add comments with your suggestions!)

In the story of Joseph and his brothers, when the brothers attack Joseph and sell him into slavery, the Torah tells us as follows:

"And when Joseph arrived to his brothers, they removed Joseph's coat, the coat of many colors, which he was wearing" (Ber 37:23).

The Zohar elaborates as follows: "Had the coat remained on Joseph, they could not have overpowered him. So first they stripped it from him...." (#1)

The idea that Joseph's coat being a magical coat that protected him has its roots in several other stories in the Torah and Midrash. The story begins back in the dawn of time, with Adam in the
Garden of Eden. Combining various accounts in the Midrash we get the following history of Joseph's magical coat: (#7)

"And G-d made for Adam and his wife clothes of skin, and clothed them." (Ber 3:21)

"They were embroidered with images of all the animals (to protect them from the animals). Adam bequeathed them to Cain. (#2) They were taken into Noah's ark, and when they left the ark, Ham, Noah's son, took them, and then passed them on to Nimrod... Therefore Nimrod is described as "a mighty hunter" (Gen 10:9) (#3). Later, when Esau saw this coat, he coveted it, and killed Nimrod to take it. This made him also a mighty hunter (Gen 25:27). (#4) Later, Rebekah took "Esau's special clothes" for Jacob to wear (Gen 27:15), which refered to this same magical coat. (#5) When the Torah says that Jacob then gave a "coat of many colors" to Joseph (Gen 37:3) it is referring to this same coat, passed down from Adam, to Nimrod, to Esau, to Jacob, and finally to Joseph. (#6) It was stripped from Joseph by his brothers (#1) and then given back to Jacob(Gen 37:32). (#7)

So we see the Midrash revealing a thread through a half dozen Biblical stories, of a Divinely-given coat the gave strength to whoever wore it. Sound familiar? It wasn't a coat of invisibility, but it was a magical cost that made the wearer a mighty warrior. This coat is what I might call the first "Divine Hallow."

The second Divine Hallow in the Torah, as some readers may have guessed, is Moses's staff. As I discuss in details in Harry Potter and Torah's chapter on magic wands, Moses's staff was linked to magical power throughout the Torah, including the signs shown to Pharoah, the plagues, splitting the sea, and winning battles in the desert. (See the book for more details.)

But the Talmud and Midrash tell us that Moses's staff had a longer and more illustrious history.
The Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers (5:6) tells us that Moses's staff was created on the sixth day of creation, at twilight right before the first Sabbath, when G-d created all the things in creation
that were in some sense exceptions to the rules of nature.

The Midrash (#8) tells the following history of Moses's staff: The staff which was created at
twilight was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Enoch, and Enoch to Noah, and Noah to Abraham. Abraham gave it to Isaac, who gave it to Jacob (Gen 32:11), who took it down to Egypt and gave it to Joseph. When Joseph died, it was taken to Pharoah's palace. Jethro (Yitro) was a palace magician, and he made off with the staff, until Moses saw it and read the letters on it and took it. Jethro realized that Moses was destined for greatness and gave him the staff, and permitted him to marry Tziporah his daughter.

Another Midrash (#9) continues: With this staff Moses split the sea, split the rock to produce
water, and defeated the Amalekites. This rod was then deposited in the tent of meeting, and later in the Temple, until the days of Jeremiah. Then it was hidden along with the Ark... until G-d will deliver the Jews from exile through the Messiah who will use the staff as Moses did.

So we see a second "Divine Hallow," created by G-d to give power to leaders carrying out His
direction in the world.

As I write in the introduction to Harry Potter and Torah, there are a wide variety of opinions of
how to understand stories told in the Midrash. Many take them literally. Many prefer to take them as lessons, which they were undoubtedly intended to teach us. Regardless of whether we take the Midrashim about Moses's staff and Joseph's coat literally, they tell us the source of power and protection in the world: The Al-mighty.

At the same time, however, Harry Potter fans will note the striking similarity between Harry
Potter's Deathly Hallows and the Torah's "Divine Hallows." As we enjoy reading and re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we can also enjoy our own Divine folklore from the Torah.

Comments? Disagreement? Other suggestions for Divine Hallows, particularly the stone? Comments are welcome, just clink the "comments" link below, or e-mail


(#1) Zohar 1, 185a, as cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 37:23
(#2) Midrash quoted by Rav Yosef Karo, cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 3:21
(#3) Midrash PRE, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 10:9
(#4) Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 115, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 25:27; also Midrash Beresheet Rabba 63, cited in Torah Shleima on Ber 25:32.
(#5) Midrash Beresheet Raba 65, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 27:15
(#6) Midrash HaBiur, cited in Torah Shleima on Gen 37:3
(#7) The entire story is summarized by Rashi, commenting on Talmud Psachim 54b.
(#8) Midrash PRE 40, cited in Torah Shleima on Ex 2:21
(#9) Yalkut Shimoni 1, 171, also Lekach Tov, both on Ex 4:17

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The upcoming Deathly Hallows movie and the Torah's view of dealing with dilemmas (Chayei Sarah)

With the upcoming release (November 19) of the movie of the first half of Deathly Hallows, I'm planning to step up activity on this blog. (Of course, the best way to prepare for the movie is to buy a copy of Harry Potter and Torah if you haven't already: click here!)

I think that this movie will include the scene where Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Xenophilius Lovegood, their friend Luna's father. At the door they're greeted rather strangely:

'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.
We find out later that Xenophilius was in fact in a huge dilemma.

Throughout the story (and movie) we see many other people in dilemmas. 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.

We see a fascinating teaching in this week's Torah portion about how we deal with dilemmas. The Torah gives us four prototypes of dealing with dilemmas, some successfully and some not. Read all about it in an essay I wrote two years ago:

Enjoy Harry Potter and Torah, and enjoy the new movie when it comes out!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Harry Potter themes in this week's Torah portion (Vayera)

Here are links to one chapter from Harry Potter and Torah and another article in the same style, both of which relate to this week's Torah portion, Vayera (or "Vayeira"):

Mudbloods, Moabites, and Moshiach:

Shalshelet: Dealing with temptation and uncertainty:

I'll be posting more soon in preparation for the upcoming Harry Potter movie release.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The fight against evil (a NY Times letter to the Editor)

Hi everyone. I want to pass on the letter below that I had published in the New York Times.

I think that the battle in Israel between Israel and the Palestinians is a lot like the battle between Dumbeldore/Harry and Voldemort in book 5. Noone wants to see the Palestinians, and the growing Arab activists world-wide, as evil. Just like the Minister of Magic at the end of book 4 and throughout book 5, it's simply too painful to believe that there are people who cannot be convinced of good, or motivated to do good, in the same ways as civilized society. But as Harry Potter fans know, evil can indeed exist even if it's painful to admit, and defeating evil requires first recognizing it. Let's all hope that the world soon comes to its senses and starts to recognize and address the growing evil in our midst.


The Israeli Commandos and the Flotilla

To the Editor:

If the flotilla activists truly wanted to bring peaceful supplies to Gaza, they would have accepted the Israeli military’s offer to relay all supplies to Gaza after checking them for weapons or explosives. But the flotilla activists did not accept the offer.

If the flotilla activists truly wanted to promote peace, they would have accepted the offer of the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive, to pressure the Israeli government to let the flotilla through, in return for the flotilla activists pressuring Hamas to allow letters and food packages to be delivered to Gilad Shalit. But the flotilla activists did not accept this offer either.

And if the flotilla activists really wanted to stop the three-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza, they would push Hamas to stop the rockets that caused the blockade to be imposed. Then Gazans could return to the freedom that they had immediately after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, when many hoped peace was on the horizon.

When activists can truly work for peace, maybe peace will come.

Bruce Dov Krulwich
Beit Shemesh, Israel, June 1, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The magical powers of Shavuot

I want to wish everyone a happy and meaningful Shavuot holiday!

Harry Potter fans know all about the mirror of ERISED, which shows people what they truly desire. I think that Shavuot teaches us about the Torah of LAITNETOP, which can show each of us how great our potential really is. Read more here:

Shavuot also teaches us about what G-d considers important, first and foremost of which is how we interact with other people. Our interactions with others have a truly magical power all their own. Read more here:

If you're reading this and don't know what the Shavuot holiday is (it's not as widely celebrated as Passover or Yom Kippur) you can read some great articles on it at:

An article I really enjoyed discusses Shavuot and the Greatful Dead. I wrote some of my own thoughts on Judaism and music here:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rebooting our devices and ourselves

I've always believed that different people relate to the Torah in different ways, and that many people are turned off by one perspective who might be ignited by another. Judaism has so many values and benefits, and it's great to see people relating strongly to specific merits of a Jewish lifestyle.

New York (CNN) -- As the story goes, God spent six days creating the world and then rested on the seventh day. He told the Jewish people to always rest on the seventh day of each week, which was to become known as the Sabbath for them for eternity.

This was before Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerries and iPhones, of course. Adam and Eve didn't have friends who would get upset if texts weren't returned promptly, parents who wanted to know where their children were all the time or bosses who had complete access to their employees via work-issued devices. There is no excuse good enough to ignore the boss, even on a weekend.

But one group is trying to take back the Sabbath: Reboot -- a nonprofit organization aimed at reinventing the traditions and rituals of Judaism for today's secular Jews.

Composed of Internet entrepreneurs, creators of award-winning television shows, community organizers and nonprofit leaders, these "Rebooters" are people who typically have their cell phones glued to their palms. Several of them go so far as to say they have an addiction to their devices.

But this weekend they will be observing 24 hours of freedom from their devices: a National Day of Unplugging lasting from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Here's a novel notion, grounded in science: Human beings aren't meant to operate like computers; continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time.

Instead, we're designed to pulse - to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. But we don't.

For the next 24 hours, beginning at dusk tonight, a group called Reboot Inc. is inviting all of us to participate in a National Day of Unplugging. For one day, they're asking us to turn off our email, resist checking Facebook, and reconnect instead with our families, our friends and most of all, with ourselves.

You're connected right now, of course. How many windows do you have open on your computer? Or perhaps you're reading this on your iPhone? When was
the last time you checked email, updated your status on Facebook or watched a YouTube video?

When was the last time you truly unplugged for more than two or three hours, not counting sleep?

We have too many ways to communicate with each other, too easily, about too little. The consequence is that we live in a world of utterly fractured attention.

The more hours we spend plugged in, without real renewal, the more we begin to default reflexively into behaviors that reduce our effectiveness and take a pernicious toll on others: impatience, frustration, anxiety and distraction.

Because so many of us are forever anticipating the next electronic communication - and responding with Pavlovian predictability - we're increasingly unable to invest our singularly absorbed attention or energy in any one person or activity.

Ironically, all this back and forth often leaves us feeling emptier and less connected. Tweeting and texting may keep us up to date, but they're a poor substitute for real connection.

It isn't only during the weekends that we need to unplug. Staying constantly connected takes a toll on our productivity and satisfaction at work, too. How much more could you get done if you turned off your email at certain times and stopped updating facebook and twitter so often?

Reboot's call to unplug for a day is plainly just a first step, but it's also a terrific opportunity to see how it feels to utterly eliminate the noise of technology from your life.

I am typing fast because at sundown (7:20 p.m.), I plan to join in the first National Day of Unplugging and turn my electronic devices off until sundown Saturday. The effort, reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, is the brainchild of Reboot, a nonprofit organization of Jewish professionals who want to adapt the concept of Sabbath traditions to the digital age.

Reboot home page:

Other articles: