July 18th, 2007

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Nine Days

Jewish minutiae follows.

Sunday night began a period known in Judaism as the nine days. The nine days are actually the last part of a three-week period that starts on 17 Tammuz and ends on 9 Av, otherwise known as Tisha B'Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples. The three weeks are generally considered a period of national mourning, and some of the laws of mourning apply.

For example, because this is a solemn period, one of the things we are supposed to do during this time is refrain from eating meat. Nomi and I usually have very little problem with this restriction, as we tend not to eat meat at home. For the most part, except for the occasional shabbat at home or out, we confine our meat eating to the kosher restaurants.

But what do the fleishig restaurants do during the nine days? In general, they offer additions to their regular menus. Nomi and I always look forward to trying out the nine days specials at the fleishig restaurants in Brookline. These restaurants do offer pareve options during the rest of the year, of course, but during the nine days they try to do something extra to encourage people to come anyway.

On Monday night we went to Taam China with norda, and I enjoyed a dish they only make during this time, Sauteed Eggs and Tomatoes. Quite tasty.

Last night, Nomi and I went to Rubin's. I've already praised Rubin's here before for their many specials and other dishes, but during the nine days they tend to go even further, since they know people aren't going to think of them first as a place to dine during this time. As it is, they've actually posted the Rubin's Specials for the Nine Days menu as a PDF, and I encourage you to take a look – especially if you're local and considering your options for meals over the next few days.

Last night, Nomi and I started by sharing both appetizers: the Balsamic Ratatouille with Toasted French Baguettes and the Zucchini Fritters served with Garlic Aioli. I'm not a food critic, so it's difficult for me to find the best words to describe the food, but let me try. Both appetizers were delicious. The ratatouille included a good mix of vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini and tomato, and the balsamic sauce added a tangy taste that did not overwhelm the palate, but instead complemented the medley. The baguettes added a nice crunch to go with the softness of the vegetables. As for the fritters, they were essentially zucchini tempura, and the garlic sauce was creamy and provided just the right hint of flavor.

For our main courses, I enjoyed the Broiled Flounder Stuffed with Salmon-Tarragon Mousse served on a Bed of Chive Mashed Potatoes & Spinach with a Lemon Sauce, while Nomi chose the Seared Mahi-Mahi with Lime-Ginger Glaze, topped with Mango-Pineapple Salsa over Coconut Rice. The flounder was flaky but stayed together well, and the salmon-tarragon mousse melted in my mouth. Nomi allowed me to try her mahi-mahi, and the seared flavor of the fish mixed well with the sauce.

As for dessert...well, Rubin's does offer many dessert options, but we were so sated that we finished with the main dishes.

Tonight we're going to friends' for dinner; I'm sure they'll manage to provide an equally delicious meal. :-)
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Harry Potter and the Jewish Dilemma [no spoilers]

You'd have to have your head buried in the sand not to know that the new and final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is being released this weekend. As with the previous three books, the novel is getting a worldwide release of 12:01 am local time on the morning of Saturday, July 21. And, as usual, this leads to many bookstores sponsoring parties on Friday evening, leading up to the time when they can sell the book to eager customers. In Brookline, the merchants of Coolidge Corner are sponsoring Potterpalooza, and Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge is running a Hogwarts Alumni Reunion. Other merchants and bookstores in the Boston area are doing similar things.

If you're an observant Jew, however, this leads to an interesting dilemma. Because according to the laws of Judaism, you can't engage in commerce on the sabbath, from just before sundown Friday until about an hour after sundown Saturday. Which means that you can't buy your copy of the book until late Saturday night.

Now, I've known about this problem for a while, but it seems like the press just picked it up. A article in USA Today, 'Potter' book launch on Sabbath angers Israeli lawmakers, is one of many I found on the Internet about how many bookstores in Israel are planning to be open on Saturday morning to sell the book anyway. This is actually a violation of Israeli law, which requires most stores to be closed on Saturday.

(The article claims that the stores will open at 2:01 am local time for the simultaneous worldwide release, which confuses me, as I thought that each store gets to start selling at 12:01 am local time. For example, the UK will start selling the books while it's only 7:01 pm EDT here in Boston. But I digress.)

I have to admit that I'm not much concerned with how Israel is handling the issue, nor do I think there is anything anti-Semitic in a planned release on Saturday morning (even if the Iranian news service site also has an article on the subject, in which they refer to Israel as the zionist entity). No, my concern has simply been about getting the book for myself, a concern that wouldn't be such a big deal if it were not the last in the series.

For books number four and six, I waited until sundown on shabbat, and then bought a copy at a nearby bookstore. For book five, I ordered a copy, which arrived on shabbat, but I didn't open the package until after sundown. But when it comes to the final book, I decided to have fun with the dilemma and figure out all sorts of ways to get the book on the sabbath while not violating halakha (Jewish religious law).

So every sabbath, I've been going to my rabbi with many elaborate schemes of how I could get the book even on shabbat. I'd like to think that he's been amused by my proposed ideas. In some cases I was just kidding, like when I told him that if I don't buy the book on the sabbath, I'll be spending too much of the day looking forward to the end of it (which is not something one is supposed to do). In another case, I proposed having someone who is not Jewish acquire the book for me – but of course, that's not halakhic, since you're not allowed to ask someone who's not Jewish to violate the sabbath on your behalf.

The rabbi did suggest one possible loophole, which is that someone non-Jewish who acquires their own copy could conceivably lend their copy to you. But I didn't get that from him as a specific, real ruling, and he advised me that there could be halakhic problems with it as well.

I also proposed walking into a bookstore and sitting there, reading the book. That's a ma'arit ayin problem, but one might argue around it, since people now know that bookstores aren't just for selling books anymore. Given the preponderance of bookstore cafes and comfy chairs, one could argue that many people know that a person might visit a bookstore without the intent of transacting business.

It's been a fun intellectual exercise, but in the end, I know what I'll be doing. Saturday night, around 9 pm, Nomi and I will do Havdalah...and then head out to the bookstore, where I'll pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And I'll bring it home, and read and read and read until I fade off to sleep.

And in the morning, I'll read and read and read until I reach the end.