Wingardium Leviosa! If you’re seeking to make your seder more enchanting this year, you might find your solution in “The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah.”
The new bestselling 148-page paperback penned by educator and author Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg is a self-published success story.
As if the aforementioned Harry Potter spell magically gave the book wings, the title has soared to the top of Amazon’s list of bestselling haggadot, as well as its titles on Jewish life and Jewish holidays. It currently ranks No. 1 across all three categories and has sold more than 10,000 copies, with sticker prices ranging from $16.77 on Amazon to its list price of $27.95. At Jerusalem’s Pomeranz Bookseller, the book is priced at NIS 79, or about $22.
“We are holding pretty steady in the top 30 of Amazon’s top 100 books, peaking at No. 10. We don’t have numbers on bookstore sales yet, but we know they’ve been very strong,” he said.
Like a fast-paced game of Quidditch, the supernatural spin on the annual Passover text has quickly captured the imagination of the Jewish public since its release on March 13.
“The actual writing began about a year ago and concluded around February 2017,” Rosenberg told The Times of Israel. “The idea had been germinating for years before that, of course.”
The Harry Potter bestselling fantasy novels by British author J.K. Rowling have inspired a plethora of spin-offs since their 1999 import to the United States from across the pond. Perhaps the best known co-brands are the eight-part blockbuster films, the Harry Potter theme parks and the latest official film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” released on Blu-Ray and Digital HD on March 28.
The franchise’s astounding success has spawned assorted licensed merchandise including replica magic wands, hats and scarves from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, lightning bolt temporary tattoos, toy spectacles and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor (certified kosher jelly) Beans in an array of disgusting flavors including dirt, earthworm, earwax, vomit and rotten eggs.
This spring, Rosenberg’s contribution, created in collaboration with designer Aviva Shur, is likely the most Jewish of them all.
“The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah,” however, is not Rosenberg’s first tribute to the humble hero. In 2011, Ktav Publishing released Rosenberg’s “Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter.”
Rosenberg’s latest employs a wealth of Potter plot points. Lightning bolts — a facial scar designating the boy’s unique resilience in the face of evil- – serves as a tag for material relating to the fictional account. The book nods to Harry’s loyal friends, Hermione, Hagrid, Ron and other characters, the four houses of Hogwarts, Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, and the classic Passover song, “Chad Gadya” with this revision.
Harry disarmed Malfoy ‘cause Wormtail hesitated/
‘Cause Harry saved his life/
Though he betrayed his mom/
Whose love had saved her son…
“The most striking parallel between Hogwarts and haggadah has to be the four houses of Hogwarts and the four children of the Seder,” Rosenberg writes. “While they are not and need not be exactly correlated, these categories of students agree on a major principle of education — each student is an individual, endowed with unique character traits, aptitudes, and passions.”
So precisely what Harry Potter charms and potions led the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, New York to apply the teachings of Wizarding, Hogwarts and the Muggle world to the annual celebration of the Exodus from Egypt?
Lumos Maxima! As Potter himself might mutter, The Times of Israel aimed to shed more light on the phenomenon in this extensive interview with Rosenberg, who also works as Judaic Studies fifth-grade teacher and coordinator of technology integration at SAR Academy in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. At Harry Potter themed nights, he leads activities as part of an eponymous student club.
Legilimens! Rabbi Rosenberg, Legilimens! Let us into the workings of your mind. How is your new haggadah more than a fan book?
It is a fully functional haggadah, with the complete Ashkenazi Hebrew text and English translation, so it can be used at any number of sedarim.
Could you really conduct a seder with it?
Yes, absolutely! That was always the intent.
Why did you decide to create a convergence of wizarding with the miracles and wonders of Pesach? And how do you explain to the mere mortals known as muggles the decision to write a Harry Potter haggadah?
There are so many parallels between Harry Potter’s journey from unwanted orphan to the savior of wizarding that I’m surprised this is the first major haggadah to be written about it. The Harry Potter books contain many of the key elements and lessons of the Exodus story — uplifting the downtrodden, sharing our current wealth and prosperity with others, education, different learning styles, parent-child relationships, unconditional love and kinship with one another, and so on.
The parallels between Harry Potter and Passover make it a natural fit. And seeing the recent hubbub around “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” assured me that there is still an enormous appetite out there for Harry Potter projects, so I decided it was about time I wrote it. Children are actually excited about it!
What do you love about your haggadah?
So many things, but what I’ve found particularly gratifying is that children are actively reading it and are excited about it. The whole purpose of the seder is to engage and teach the next generation, and this is serving that purpose.
For the unfamiliar, what else is Jewish about Harry Potter?
Many of the human themes and values portrayed in the Harry Potter series are analogous to Jewish themes and values. The importance of caring for the “other,” the emphasis on education, the necessity of curiosity and questions — so many lessons that I teach in my Judaic studies classes have parallels in Harry Potter, and being able to point them out to my students helps the lessons hit home in ways they might not have otherwise.
What has been magical about the book’s reception?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. My family has of course been supportive and enthusiastic from the get-go, with my children taking on very real editorial and promotional roles — it’s thanks to them and their social media skills that this has become such a widespread phenomenon.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous expressions of well-wishes from colleagues at SAR and members of my community. I am especially gratified when I hear that kids are reading the haggadah from cover to cover, even before the holiday. That means it is serving its purpose. People from all over and from all denominations of Judaism are sending in pictures of their haggadahs. Everyone is talking about it and how it will enhance their Passover this year. It’s been incredible to watch.
We’ve been contacted by Jews in places as far flung as New Zealand and Estonia, all inquiring about the haggadah. Also, Chelsea Clinton tweeted about it! That was a surprise.
It has been successful beyond even our most optimistic hopes. If that’s not magical, I don’t know what is!
In the classical treatment of the holiday, do the plagues and Moses’ transforming staff represent a form of Jewish magic?
I discuss this in a section of the haggadah. In short, no. All the miracles performed by Moses represent that he was a conduit of God, not that he was performing any magic himself.
How do you feel about popular and academic interest in the topic of Jewish magic and kabbalah?
While I do own “Jewish Magic and Superstition” by Joshua Trachtenberg, a classic in that realm, it is more of a curiosity in my library than a staple.
Your earlier book clearly did not satisfy your desire to merge these two worlds. For you, why was one Harry Potter Jewish title not “dayenu”?
Well, if seven books weren’t enough for J.K. Rowling, why should one book be enough for me?
“Morality for Muggles” was a natural outgrowth of the work I had been doing with my students. In fact, one chapter is devoted to student writing connecting Harry Potter, Judaism and an examined life. The book enabled me to flesh out the sporadic lessons and comparisons with which I had sprinkled my classes for years. “The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah” of course has a much more specific purpose that Jewish people of all stripes can easily connect to, and therefore a much more immediate appeal.
How do you reconcile your role as a rabbi with this exploration of pop culture?
As I hope is clear from my book, I take Torah seriously and I take Harry Potter seriously. My point is to show that both of these streams of wisdom, without needing to rank them, can teach us eternal lessons on how to live a meaningful life.
Do you have more Harry Potter-themed projects up your sleeve?
I haven’t had time to give it much thought, but it’s certainly possible. Stay tuned!