Who Was Harry Houdini?

Back to Story Central
Back to Parent Guides

Who Was Harry Houdini book coverWhat the Book is About:

For kids who love magic, this is a fast-paced, informative, and exciting biography of the legendary Harry Houdini. The mystery surrounding Houdini begins with his origins: while records show that he was born in Hungary, Houdini sometimes claimed to have been born in America, and he often gave different birth dates. While painting a picture of his struggles, his persistence in becoming a master of illusion, his successes in America and Europe, and his marriage, this biography looks at Houdini’s motivations and ambitions, and even reveals some of the tricks behind his magic.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Beyond being born Ehrich Weiss, the son of a Hungarian Rabbi, Judaism was not a big part of Houdini’s everyday life. Houdini married Bess Raymond (Wilhelmina Rahner), a woman who was not Jewish and who never converted. Despite the fact that he did not identify as a religious Jew, Houdini was shocked at the anti-Semitism he witnessed in Russia, and was buried near his parents in New York’s Jewish Machpelah Cemetery.
  • Kibbud Horim (honoring parents): Houdini truly exemplified the Jewish value of honoring one’s parents. Before his premature death, Houdini’s father made Houdini promise that he would always take care of his mother. Houdini was true to his word and loved and treated his mother with the utmost respect for the rest of her life. Even when Houdini was struggling financially, he made sure to provide for his mother and make her comfortable in his home.

Positive Role Models

Harry Houdini’s immense ambition and need for public attention fueled his determination to become the best magician and escape artist the world had ever seen. Houdini’s illusionary tricks and escape acts took exceptional skill, creativity, and tremendous practice. He demonstrated determination, persistence, and a natural knack for self-marketing!

Content Advisory:

No content advisory.

Topics to Discuss

Emet (truth) is an elusive concept when dealing with magic and illusion. Houdini concealed his personal life and background to heighten his mystique, and most of his tricks involved misdirection, such as “magician’s patter”. Is it always wrong to fool people? Is it ever okay to tell a lie?

More for You: Don't Trick the Innocent

The Torah verse Lifnei iver lo titen michshol (Before a blind person do not place a stumbling block) (Deuteronomy 19:14) is generally understood as a prohibition against tricking people. Ironically, while Houdini’s career was based on tricks, he was an outspoken critic of Spiritualism, a popular post-World War I movement that promoted communication with the dead. While his illusions were performed for pure entertainment, Houdini felt that Spiritualism was the worst kind of trickery because it exploited the vulnerabilities of people who felt empty after the loss of a loved one.