All the Hidden Jewish Students at Hogwarts
Right before winter break, there was a small backlash against JK Rowling online. She was answering a fan’s question, and she stated that there had been a Jewish student at Hogwarts all along, even though there was nothing marking him as Jewish in any of the books:
.@benjaminroffman Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 16, 2014
I was always okay with there being a dearth of Jews at Hogwarts, just as I was okay with every other group not represented in the books. I mean, would it have been nice if every person on earth could find someone to identify with at Hogwarts because they saw their own life experience reflected back? Of course. But I enjoyed Middle Earth even with its absence of Jews and Narnia which couldn’t have gotten less Jewish if you tried (hello, Aslan?). If you create a great world, I’m going to enjoy said world, even if I don’t see myself reflected in it.
What I can’t accept is going backwards in time and stating things that are clearly not in the text. At no point is Anthony Goldstein identified as Jewish. At no point are we told that Anthony Goldstein needed off for the High Holidays. Or that he couldn’t partake in the meal and had the elves prepare him a kosher option. He isn’t munching on a piece of matzah during the final spring DA meeting. He doesn’t even have a Bar Mitzvah in Book Three.
If Rowling had kept it non-specific, I could have nodded and rolled with it. If she had said, “don’t worry; there have been Jewish students at Hogwarts,” I would have said, “oh, okay, maybe there weren’t any during Harry’s time, but I can accept the idea that there were Jewish students there before and after.” I think that type of statement can be particularly helpful for parents who have children struggling with the idea that there would be no place for them at Hogwarts.
But if she didn’t take the time to write it (and I don’t think she should have taken the time to write it; this wasn’t Anthony Goldstein’s story), she doesn’t get to claim it after the fact. She can’t suddenly start sticking labels on everyone in the book, insisting that this person was really a vegetarian and this person was blind and this person was gay despite providing no evidence within the text. She wrote the book she wrote, and now she needs to own that. And I mean that in the nicest way: she wrote some wonderful books. Don’t undo it by shoving things into the pages that aren’t there.
I am bothered that she’s telling us that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish now, because if he is, she has written someone who is so deeply assimilated that there is no evidence of his culture left. Which makes me think — since she is the author — that she sees the best kind of Jew as one who doesn’t admit he is Jewish at all. It makes me think that she sees the best kind of Jew as the kind that could pass as Christian. Perhaps not fair, and I think this is definitely a case of ignorance and not hostility. Which is to say that I am not bothered by her not knowing about Judaism; I’m only bothered by her getting Judaism so incredibly wrong.
Though perhaps this Twitter exchange has opened Rowling’s eyes and made her realize that if she wants diverse characters in her books (if that is important to her, since she is the author and gets to make choices for her books), she needs to write diverse characters into her books. They don’t need to always be in the foreground, but the details need to be there.
You know that I hold the Harry Potter series as sacred, and they will always have a place in our house. I love them and I never needed a Jewish character to love them. I don’t mind follow up details that better explain relationships or situations in the book as she did with the Draco Malfoy passage on Pottermore. But it’s too late to go backwards and insist things were there that never made it into the books.
Totally off-topic reminder that tomorrow is #MicroblogMonday, so get writing.