Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Potter and the Clash with the Sabbath

"Israeli Minister Warns Against Harry Potter Sales"

The international released of the seventh Harry Potter book conflicts with the Jewish Sabbath in Israel. Due to time differences, the book will launch in Israel at 2 a.m. on Saturday. Booksellers are contractually bound to launch at this specific time - and yet an ultra-Orthodox government official intends to fine every bookstore which participates. All stores which are open during the Sabbath are required to pay fines, although Eli Yishai seems to be particularly fervent about going after the bookstores.

Of course, the revenues from this book will likely offset the cost of the fines, as well as the mandatory overtime they are required to pay their employees. I know that Israel is governed by the laws of Judaism, and that they can't necessarily make a special case for one book. And yet this article points out that "most Israelis are secular." I find it frustrating that although Israel seems to be a somewhat secular country, it's still bound by these laws. But perhaps Israeli citizens nonetheless prefer the sense of tradition.

I think what frustrates me most is how restrictive rules can be, without leaving room for much personal interpretation. I was discussing the Sabbath issue with my fiancé, who often breaks Sabbath rules because things which the Torah forbids are actually ways he relaxes and enjoys the time off. Playing his musical instruments, writing stories and poems and songs, are all ways for him to rest and not focus so much on work. And yet these things still count as "work," and so technically, he's not supposed to partake in the things he finds most relaxing and rejuvenating.

Harry Potter is a book that brings many people great amounts of joy. And reading the novels certainly isn't work, unless for some reason a teacher has assigned it. I know that in several bookstores in the U.S., employees are asked to volunteer to participate in the book's release, and do so willingly because they see it as part of the fun. But I suppose ultra-Orthodox members of government aren't going to incorporate many ideas about personal interpretation, especially when the book's release is going to violate a pretty big rule: exchanging money on the Sabbath is definitely forbidden (so every time my fiancé and I spend money to see a weekend movie . . . ).

I understand why the Sabbath rules for businesses are in place. But I'm frustrated that government officials are so unforgiving. What about someone who finds a great deal of enjoyment in his/her business? Everyone needs a day off now and then, but I am definitely someone who really enjoys doing a little "work" every day, because my academic writing, while part of my career, is nonetheless enjoyable for me, much more so than the less-demanding part-time job I have to help pay for school. If Israel is becoming more secular, if individuals are making more personal interpretations of their faith, why isn't the government becoming more secular as well? As I mentioned above, it could be a respect and appreciation for tradition. But it still seems to me that eventually, a more liberal government would come into being.