Monday, October 29, 2007

Dumbledore Outed - So What?

This month, Newsweek reported that, in front of a "full house of hardcore Potter fans," at Carnegie Hall, J.K. Rowling "outed" her character, Dumbledore. She told them that, in her mind, "Dumbledore had an unrequited love affair with Gellert Grindelwald."

I can't say how this news played out in other communities, but in at least some parts of the Orthodox community, it was fairly predictable. Disgust and anger. Statements about how no one should read Harry Potter books anymore, much less let their children read them.

And me? I say, SO WHAT?!

Now, I don't really mean "so what if he's gay." I actually do think that could be problematic, particularly for kids. It helps make homosexuality acceptable, and even somewhat normal - if you can call Dumbledore normal. It's clearly not what we believe in. The Torah is unequivocal in its condemnation of homesexuality, calling it a To'eva - an abomination. No, I mean, "so what if she says he's gay." She's allowed, and I'm allowed not to agree.

See, once the author releases the book into the public, it sort of takes on its own life, and the author loses some of the control of those characters. Much like the works of poets and other artists, the same work can mean different things to different people, and none of them necessarily mean exactly what the work-creator intended.

Now, if she had specifically written that into the books, that would have been different. But, wisely, she decided not to step into that fight directly - it would have hurt book sales. She wrote it with what could be construed as allusions to it, but not necessarily so. And I'm entitled to interpret those allusions as I please. Well, I choose to disagree with her as to the sexual predilections of her fabulous but flawed Headmaster.

But stop my kids from reading those wonderful books?! Books that have almost single-handedly brought Reading back to the forefront among this country's children? Books that have made reading "cool" again, and that are so skillfully written that both adults and children can enjoy them equally? Now that would be a shanda!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Man of the Earth

During his speech last week, the Rabbi noted that there's a not-so-often-quoted midrash at the end of the parsha that compares Noah to Moshe. The Midrash points out that, at the beginning of the story, Noah is referred to as Ish Tzaddik - A righteous man. At the end, he's referred to as Ish Adama - a man of the earth. It then contrasts the Torah's descriptions of Moshe. At the beginning of the Moshe story, he's referred to as Ish Mitzri - a man of Egypt, but at the end of his life, he's referred to as Ish Elokim - a man of God.

So Noah went spiritually downwards, while Moshe went upwards. Why? The Rabbi explained that it was because of how they went about trying to perfect themselves. Noah went for isolation. The world was a bad place, and the best way for him to stay right with God was to keep to himself; to work on himself, and his family. Moshe, on the other hand, was always outwardly focused. He focused on helping everyone else, and by so doing, was raised up himself in the process.

Now I found that fascinating, and immediately related it to a conversation I had, about a year ago, with a young man from a very charedi family. He told me about an article he had read, in Israel, about a group of secular Jews trying to start a Rabbanut Chiloni - a secular rabbinate. He thought it was funny, in an ironic sort of way. What does it mean to have a rabbinate if you're secular?

I answered that I thought it was very sad. Here was a group of secular Jews looking for some religious experience in their lives. But not like those Charedim! Anything but that!

And why? I think it's because, by and large, the Charedi community isolates themselves from all external influences. Of course the do it for their own protection, but in the process, they have often become insensitive to the needs and concerns of those outside their own folds. They take very hard-line positions, and often refuse to budge a millimeter - they're on the metric system there. ;) - on those positions. They are too often terrified of anything "modern," and very quick to point the cherem-gun at those who choose to view things differently. (Just look at what they did to Natan Slifkin! Moreover, look at how they did it!)

The Charedi community, at large, has not done much to endear itself to the non-Charedim, much less the secular. And that's a shame, because there's much within their communities to praise: Their commitment to Torah and its values; their commitment to family, and much more.

But look at the ones who have put themselves out to the broader Jewish community! Look at Aish HaTorah and Ohr Someach - both having a clear Charedi bent. Look at Meir Schuster's Heritage House. Look at (my alma mater) Neveh Zion, which has been working with "At-Risk Teens" since before there was such a term! These, and many others, are the ones working from the bottom up - the ones growing toward kedusha.