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Is Harry Potter Anti-Semitic?

Is Harry Potter Anti-Semitic?

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Q. When I saw the latest Harry potter film I was appalled at the clear use of anti-Semitic stereotype in depictions of goblin bankers, miserly, hooked nose and all. And this is what we're showing our kids? Isn’t a tacit acceptance of such damaging stereotypes if we ignore them? Shouldn’t Jews be boycotting Harry Potter?
A. Whoa there! Calling Harry Potter anti-Semitic is downright sacrilegious. In fact, I can make an equally valid case for his being a closet Jew, (a Kabbalist, even), comparing Hogwarts favorably to a yeshiva, and for Rowling’s heroes to be espousing the highest of Jewish values. True, the movie portrayal of the goblin bankers shows them with hooked noses, pointy ears and shriveled faces (read more background here). Further, goblins are systematically suppressed and excluded from their society in the Potter books, much as Jews have been historically. But does that automatically mean that they are being depicted as Jews? I don’t think so. If every grotesque, undersized, shriveled fictitious being were assumed to be a Jew, that would also mean that Yoda, Jewish would be, and E.T. would stop in at shul before phoning home.
Even a critic of author JK Rowling who agrees that the bankers’ portrayal is anti-Semitic thinks we should lighten up about it, because it is very doubtful that there was any intentional malice on Rowling’s part. Others have pointed out correctly that the Potter books is much more clearly a polemic against fascism. The expressions “pure blood” and “half breed” so often used in describing Muggles and Wizards, comes right out of Nazi textbooks. In contrast to the purely evil Voldemort, Harry has what can best be described as a Yiddishe neshama, a Jewish soul, because, as one defender put it, “he cares about how others are feeling, he is kind, and he defends his beliefs; these are a very few examples of proper Jewish behavior.” Heck, the Iranians claim the series is evidence of a Jewish conspiracy. That alone signals us that Rowling must be doing something right.
The larger ethical question here is whether, as a Jew, we are obligated to point out the dangers of ethnic stereotyping wherever it appears. To that the answer is an unequivocal yes. So thank you for your question, which enabled me to do just that, while at the same time defending the Seven Books of Harry as sacred writ for this generation.
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