What makes a great Haggadah unlike any other? For Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, it’s the ability of the book—which contains the order of the Passover meal—to make connections between the world we know and that of the Exodus. Harry Potter seems a perfect fit; he’s a part of our cultural vocabulary, a young wizard fully equipped to wage battle against Those Who Shall Not Be Named—in Pharaoh-form or otherwise.
The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah beckons, both to households that are Pesach-ready and that are thoroughly in the Potterverse. It is full of connections drawn between goblin lore and Jewish law, the Four Sons and precocious wizards-in-training. Humorous and thoughtful, it’s casting spells—and infuriating muggles—already.
For the layperson, can you explain, in brief, what a Haggadah is, and what role it plays in Pesach?
A Haggadah is the companion book that guides Passover’s festival meal, the seder. It contains a traditional text in Hebrew, with some Aramaic, that retells the Exodus story and contains the rituals and instructions necessary to run the Seder in the correct order, such as dipping vegetables in salt water, drinking four cups of wine, reclining in one’s seat at certain points, and so on. The seder is often a very long meal, and so hundreds of variations on the Haggadah and commentaries have been composed over the centuries to keep it fresh and interesting. Many people collect Haggadahs and buy new ones every year. This is the first major Harry Potter themed one, though!
Which of the Hogwarts students do you think would host the best seder, and why?
The point of the seder is to make it about the participants and enable them to apply the lessons of the Exodus to their own lives. The seder leader must guide without forcing. For that reason, Hermione, knowledgeable as she is, would drive everyone crazy. I’d have her there, in an advisory role, but I’d want ideas for activities coming from Fred and George Weasley. Harry would have to preside, simply to exert the gravitas he brought to the DA.
Harry has a Moses parallel in your Haggadah; how do other Harry Potter characters and features factor in?
Many Harry Potter characters parallel many different figures or concepts in my Haggadah’s commentaries, sometimes more than one at different points. There are some basic parallels like, for example, Voldemort and Pharaoh and the similarities in their rhetoric, but there are also some more conceptual parallels, like the Four Sons being emblematic of the importance of teaching each student in their own way, even though the Four Sons do not directly parallel the four Hogwarts houses. There is also some fun discussion of how Jewish Law would apply to certain creatures in the Harry Potter universe—for instance, can goblins sell their hametz (leavened bread forbidden to own on Passover) even though they don’t believe that their ownership rights ever expire?
Which Haggadah do you generally rely on, either at home or in your congregation? What makes it the go-to?
For sentimental reasons, I take to the table a commentary by a seventeenth century Sefardic Rabbi, whose name was Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulay, because it was the one my own father always used and I was thrilled when I found a copy in a bookstore. But I find myself using many different ones and buying at least one new one each year. At our congregational seder, I put out many different editions for guests to peruse over the course of the evening, according to their tastes.
You seem to be having fun with the reactionary mail you’re getting in response to this project. Is there a lesson there?
In general, my policy is to ignore hateful or non-constructive criticism, but my daughter SM thought it would be fun to spotlight some of it and make light of it, and people have been enjoying that. My son Yair has had much success using that method in fighting anti-Semitic Internet trolls in his writing for Tablet Magazine and his work on Twitter. Fighting hate with humor is almost as traditionally Jewish as Passover itself!
What’s next for you in the world of wizardry and Jewish connections?
At the moment, this Haggadah is consuming all my energies (not to mention the energies of my wife and children!), so I haven’t given much thought to a next book. My next big project is an educational enterprise I’ve been developing with Compedia, an Israeli tech company: an inter-school virtual environment where students are empowered to design an educational gaming world in which they can interact, play, and learn. This has never been attempted before, but its potential is endless – magical in its own way. I would be thrilled if the publicity from this Haggadah helps get the ball rolling on that.
Michelle Anne Schingler