Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg of Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills, who took Seder participants on a magical experience with his popular “Hogwarts Haggadah,” is offering a transformative experience this year that relates to American popular culture.
“It started when a student in my school bought a prize at the school auction. The prize was a Harry Potter story with the kid in it, but he was more interested in superheroes,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. “I then watched Iron Man and wrote about Iron Man at Hogwarts.”
In 2019, Rabbi Rosenberg was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and less than a year later the coronavirus pandemic nearly erased his public life and ability to teach in person as he is immunocompromised. “I had great difficulties. My children made a list of superhero movies to watch with me.”
With each episode, the Rosenberg family discussed the backstories, relationships, and lessons. “The movies deal with themes that are universal: figuring out your own identity, maturing, and the definition of a hero,” he said. “What makes them heroes is putting their personal problems aside and their lives on the line.” The result of his students’ interests and watching movies at home is The Superhero Haggadah: A Story of Signs and Marvels, which will be available for purchase ahead of this year’s Pesach. It is not the first.
Rabbi Rosenberg’s students inspired him in 2011 to write Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter, and the 2017 bestseller, The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah, a 148-page book that took the story of an unwanted orphan who saved wizardry and adapted its lessons to the story of Pesach. That Haggadah follows his 2011 book, Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter.
“The idea was to introduce teens to authentic Jewish ideas by using a vehicle with which they were already familiar,” Rabbi Jack Abramowitz wrote in his review of this book for Jewish Action magazine.
The popularity of the “Hogwarts Haggadah” inspired a second edition of Morality for Muggles, and a 2019 follow-up book, The (unofficial) Muggle Megillah, which includes the Megillas Esther in English and Hebrew.
In an online forum at the time, Rabbi Rosenberg wrote about the ability to teach Jewish values to children using the same lessons found in secular sources. “Many values straight out of Pirkei Avos can be fortified through reference to this series of novels that our kids are reading anyway.”
There is a long history of Jewish involvement in the world of comics with many superheroes, illustrated comedies, and graphic novels emerging from the imaginations of Jews with artistic talent and life experiences that reflected in their creations. But Rabbi Rosenberg was not a comic buff in his childhood. “I wasn’t very long in the comics world; there was a bit of Archie and Richie Rich. My yeshivah teaches Torah u’Madda, that with proper understanding of other disciplines you can understand the Torah. You can meet people where they are and connect to the Torah.”
Aviva Shur is the illustrator for the book, having also worked on the Hogwarts Haggadah. “Right now, we have a form to notify people seeking the book for Pesach. Check my newsletter for preview pages,” Rabbi Rosenberg said.
Although his public appearances have been reduced during the pandemic, Rabbi Rosenberg notes that his shul has a busy calendar of online events for its members and the public.
Information on the upcoming book can be found on Rabbi Rosenberg’s Ketoret online newsletter: https://rabbirosenberg.substack.com/
By Sergey Kadinsky