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By BERNIE BELLAN
It may seem superficial at first glance – using the most popular children’s series of novels of all time to teach Jewish kids lessons in Jewish history.


But, in the hands of a master such as Jason Marantz, the superficial can become quite real and the applicability of using archetypes handed down through the centuries to demonstrate similarities between modern-day tales and ancient ones from Jewish history resonates in ways that might have seemed unimaginable.
When I first learned that Marantz was going to be giving a presentation at Limmud titled “The Only Jew at Hogwarts” – and that was during a Skype conversation that I had with him in February, I thought this was not to be taken all that seriously.
But, during the course of our Skype conversation, as Marantz began to explain the lines of thought that, he said, would permeate his talk, I began to understand the brilliance of his thesis. He asked me, at that time, not to give away any surprises that might be in store for anyone who might be considering attending his talk and, when I did write my story previewing Marantz’s impending appearance at Limmud, I kept true to my word. I withheld mentioning the quite amazing conclusion at which Marantz had arrived concerning a comparison between the Harry Potter books and what is undoubtedly the most important story in our own Torah.
Still, I anticipated that Marantz was going to have quite a bit of fun presenting his case that Harry Potter actually contains a strong similarity to a story that forms one of the bedrock stories in Judaism – and fun he had!
With his ever-present smile, and with the pronounced British accent with which he now speaks, Marantz is a polished raconteur as well as a highly-respected educator in England – or anywhere else he chooses to deliver his message about making Jewish education relevant – which is quite a few places indeed.
In order to make the case that he did Sunday afternoon, March 15, at Limmud, Marantz first gave his audience a primer on the history of the novel. In an illustration which you can see on the opposite page, Marantz drew upon a 2004 book by English author Christopher Booker titled “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories”. The photo shows those seven basic plots. During his talk Marantz referred to the movie “Jaws”, whose story is totally familiar to most moviegoers, but noted that the story is almost exactly the same as “Beowulf”, which was written over a thousand years ago. In both cases the storyline involves “vanquishing a monster”.
Into which category would the Harry Potter series fit? According to Marantz, it would be the “quest”. As mentioned in the other article in this issue which I wrote about Marantz’s appearance at Limmud, he is an avid Harry Potter fan and is now in the process of reading aloud all seven novels in the series with his eight-year-old daughter, Ellie. (Marantz says he will will do the same thing again with his three younger children when they grow older.)
To digress for a moment – let’s remember that the title of Marantz’s presentation that afternoon was “The Only Jew at Hogwarts”. Before he took us on a very entertaining exposition how the Harry Potter story closely resembles one of the most important stories from the Torah, Marantz entertained his audience with an amusing foray into the world of wizards created by J.K. Rowling. It began, Marantz explained, around Chanukah time last year (December 16, to be exact), when someone by the name of Benjamin Hoffman sent this tweet to J.K. Rowling: “my wife said there are no Jews at Hogwarts. I’m a Jew so I assume she said it to be the only magical 1 in the family. Thoughts?”
To which, J.K. Rowling herself tweeted back: “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.”
Naturally, given J.K. Rowling’s renown, that set much of the Harry Potter universe atwitter (no pun intended). Who was Anthony Goldstein any way?
It turns out that there were but two brief mentions of Mr. Goldstein (in the first and fifth book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Philisopher Stone” and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)”, according to Marantz. It occurs when one of the teachers at Hogwarts is taking the roll call and Anthony Goldstein’s name is called out immediately prior to Hermione Granger’s. Other than that, he is mentioned as being part of Dumbledore’s Army, but that’s it, although if you Google his name, you will discover a rich and detailed biography describing his complete background. (Since I’m not a devout fan of the Harry Potter series, I admit I have no idea how such a minor character can have such a fleshed-out back story, but I leave it to others much wiser than me to educate me in this matter.)
In any event, it seems that Marantz’s only reason even for referring to the aforesaid Goldstein was to set the scene for a series of surprises, which he proceeded to unleash upon his audience during his talk.
According to Marantz, Harry Potter himself bears a strong resemblance to none other than probably the most famous and hallowed figure in Jewish history, Moses.
Here are the similarities that Marantz found between Harry and Moses:
1. They grew up in unfamiliar places among families that were not their natural families.
2. They were delivered to those homes by others (Miriam and Dumbledore) and discovered by someone from within the home.
3. They both started their quests as young boys.
4. They were had a close “relation” to their nemesis.
5. They were inspired by “higher powers”.
Marantz noted that he had done a fair bit of the research for this talk during an airplane flight, but that others around him were curious to know what he was working on as he produced some fascinating illustrations that showed Harry Potter and Moses in similar poses. By the end of the flight, he said, he was receiving input from all sorts of passengers and crew as to the similarities between the Harry Potter story and the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
Let’s not get carried away, however, with what is, at heart, a light-hearted look at some interesting similarities between two stories that have been and will probably remain of particular interest to children for as long as books are read to and by children.
The point of Marantz’s oh-so-original talk was how a wildly popular series of books such as the Harry Potter series can be used as a teaching tool for Jewish students. Again – as I noted in my other article about Marantz and how to make Jewish education “real”, he is determined to find new and interesting ways to engage young Jewish students in learning about their Jewish heritage.
As such, Marantz was interested in demonstrating how the Harry Potter books are “infused with Jewish values”, including:
1. Our choices define us.
2. We each have a crucial role to play.
3. We need to work to develop our talents.
4. We should treat everyone with respect.
5. We need to choose our friends carefully.
At the same time though – and this is where Marantz really became light-hearted, he also showed how Harry Potter can well be compared with two other very popular stories: “Star Wars” and “The Greatest American Hero”, as well as the Torah. Consider this comparison, for instance: In all of the stories, there is a trio of major heroes, with two males and one female, e.g.: Harry Potter – Harry Potter; Torah – Moses; Star Wars – Luke Skywalker;
There are also trusted friends who can be counted on to stand side by side with the hero: Harry Potter – Ron Weasley; Torah – Aaron (later Joshua); Star Wars – Hans Solo;
Finally, there is a strong female character who rounds out the triumvirate: Harry Potter – Hermonie Granger; Torah – Miriam; Star Wars – Princess Lea.
In concluding his fascinating talk, Marantz quoted from Elie Wiesel: “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.”
We want what we teach children to be “relevant”, Marantz reiterated, but we also want it to be “fun”.
In every respect he accomplished that with his lecture at Limmud. Now, will some of the educators who were there that afternoon be able to emulate Marantz’s imaginative style of teaching? Who knows, but perhaps this article might offer some tips to Jewish educators how to engage their students in ways that might be somewhat novel. If you think Jason Marantz had something useful to impart to Jewish educators, why not pass this article along to an educator you know who might otherwise not have read or heard of his approach.
And, if you want to contact Jason, his e-mail is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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