Joshua Spivak has a great article in today’s Jewish Daily Forward, “The True Story of Harry Houdini’s Tefillin.”
While researching a totally unrelated topic by reading through old newspapers, he came across an article about Harry Houdini’s death. That led him to further research into the newspapers of the time and into an interesting – if occasionally contradictory – depiction of Houdini’s relationship with the Jewish community and his Jewish practices.
One article, collected the perspective of folks who claimed to be former Wisconsin neighbors and friends, claimed that: “They know him as a man devoutly religious, who, wherever his performance brought him, carried his phylacteries and mezuzahs, Jewish creedal symbols, with him…The mezuzahs, strips of parchment with scriptural passages encased in tin, considered effective in warding off evil, he is said to have nailed to the door of the hotel room wherever he lodged for the night, on the true orthodox Jewish fashion. And the phylacteries, little leathern boxes with scriptural parchment recognized as charms, he bound to his forehead and left arm each morning during his prayers, his friends declare.”
Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in N.Y., and blogs at http://recallelections.blogspot.com/