It was a life-changing moment for me when Grant Franklin introduced me to “Harry Potter” in Mrs. Dean’s fourth-grade class in 1999. What makes “Harry Potter” beyond special to me is that it’s about a kid who’s trying to find his place in the world, and that’s something I’ve always related to. Harry and I basically grew up together, so imagine how stoked I was when I heard “The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah” is a thing that now exists in the world.
The latest from Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, author of “Mortality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter,” this Haggadah seeks to include “the voices of children who are, after all, the stars of the seder” (page 5). And “Harry Potter,” beloved by all who read it, is the perfect conduit for doing so. Rabbi Rosenberg attempts to convey “the message that everything you read, learn, and experience can be drawn upon to deepen your service of God” (page 5). Which is all well and good, but he’ll go to any length to get us there, twisting plot and projecting unsupported assumptions onto facts.
A Haggadah is a Haggadah. “Harry Potter” is the reason someone would buy this Haggadah to begin with, right? So we’re going with that. And as a hardcore fan of all things literary “Harry Potter” (a purist at heart, I plan to never watch the films), I have to say something. Cultural deference aside, this pop-culture money grab into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is more clumsy than Neville Longbottom in Potions.
Spoiler alert reading forward: The entire “Harry Potter” book series.
This Haggadah is fraught with errors—from typos to formatting inconsistencies to the essay that ends mid-sentence on page 140: “His generosity is reined in only by his desire not to embarrass those who might”
To the “Harry Potter” fans this was written for, even bigger than the mistakes that would have been avoided by enlisting a copy editor are the glaring inaccuracies, including but certainly not limited to:
- Who cast the fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement? Was it “let loose by Crabbe” (page 34) or “unleashed by Goyle” (page 138)? (Hint: It was Crabbe.)
- “[Harry] believed that there was good in Malfoy that was worth saving” (page 34). He despises Malfoy across all seven books; Harry’s just not a killer.
- “Whereas the greatest wizard would be rendered powerless in the absence of a wand…” (page 52). If Sirius and Pettigrew transformed into animals, Harry freed a boa constrictor and Ariana Dumbledore couldn’t control her magic, all without wands, then wizards totally have powers without wands.
- “…when [Voldemort] discerns the ‘real’ Harry flying with Hagrid on the way to Shell Cottage, his wand betrays him…” (page 69). OK. First of all, Harry and Hagrid are en route to the Burrow via Portkey at Tonks’s parents’ house, not Shell Cottage; Hagrid and Voldemort never go to Shell Cottage. And second, Voldemort’s wand (actually Lucius Malfoy’s because it was given not won) didn’t “betray him.” Dumbledore shares his hypothesis with Harry in Kings Cross, and Ollivander explains wand lore throughout book seven.
- “[Harry] seems to have followed the suggestion of one student who said that you can trust someone who sees you through both good and bad times” (page 94). I bet my broomstick this didn’t happen.
Perhaps the Hametz and Korekh sections are what I had imagined the Haggadah would be: a deeper look at a step in the seder and insight about its connection to “Harry Potter.” In Hametz, goblins are used to explain the principle of ownership. The Korekh sandwich is juxtaposed with sandwiches that frame the “Harry Potter” series: Ron’s corned-beef sandwiches on the Hogwarts Express in book one and the sandwich Harry wishes Kreacher would bring him after the Battle of Hogwarts in book seven (pages 78-79).
Rabbi Rosenberg gets props for pulling minuscule moments like those from all over the saga. Yet even though he expounds on “how every step counts” in his spin on “Chad Gadya,” he omits crucial events from the series (pages 124-127). Like Ron.
Where is Ron Weasley?
On page 94, “[Harry] bonded with Hermione as a result of facing a troll together.” Ron was there too! (To take that further: It was Ron’s comment during Charms that drove Hermione to cry in the bathroom to begin with and his wand that made the troll’s club fly up and knock its owner out, and Hermione, his partner in Charms, was the one who taught him how to properly pronounce that spell.) The horcruxes wouldn’t have been destroyed and therefore Voldemort wouldn’t have been defeated if Ron hadn’t rescued Harry from strangulation/drowning and retrieved basilisk fangs from the Chamber of Secrets.
Another missing element is an examination of house elves, especially given Passover’s theme of slavery and freedom. Harry’s relationship with Kreacher would have been really interesting to explore. Despite their mutual contempt for each other, Kreacher is the only one who could reveal the truth about the stolen locket horcrux, even though he has no choice in the matter. But when Sirius was alive (cue tears), Kreacher had the freedom to lie to Harry.
And I am fortunate to have the freedom to declare “The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah” a frustrating disappointment at best, despite all the press it’s getting. By the end, I wanted nothing more than to stab it with a basilisk fang.