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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.


In any case, it being Shabbat protects you from the main problem which forms the principal reason to make sure to get and read early: spoilers on your friends list. So long as you read book before reading flist, you have done the major thing.
I may download my email, but my priority on Saturday night will be to read the book.
Or you could download the version on the web tonight.
How do I know that the version on the web is the real book? That's the question.
Okay, try this.

On Friday afternoon, travel to somewhere that's on Central Standard Time, but right near the border with EST. Set your watch to CST. Hang out.

When your watch hits 11pm, dart across the border, grab a copy of the book at a local bookstore. Then travel home.

When you walk in the door, notice the discrepancy between the clock on your wall and the one on your wrist. Adjust the one on your wrist.

It's a really crude form of "time travel"...
One of the arguments I presented was to say that since the book starts being sold in the UK at 7:01 pm EDT, I should be allowed to buy the book at 12:01 am EDT but pretend that it's only 7:01 pm the night before...

The problem with your proposal is that most places, the sabbath will begin even before 11 pm. What I need is a bookstore near the north pole...
I pre-paid for my copy before I realized it was going to be released on Shabbat. My non-Jewish housemate may pick my copy up while he's picking up his own. Is that not okay?
I don't know if that's okay or not; that would be something to ask your rabbi.
I'm not nor have I ever been as observant as you are, but I'm still chagrinned that this dilemma never even occured to me until you wrote about it here. I can certainly see where figuring all this out is part of the fun. Myself, I pre-ordered a copy on Amazon, so it should be at my door come Saturday, but I find myself thinking about attending a Potter release party at a local bookstore anyway, just for the fun of seeing people in costumes and enjoying the energy of the event. I may yet do it.

Like you, however, I'm planning to pretty much hole up with the book once it's here. I'm trying to be mucho careful about spoilers.
I'm not Jewish, and I certainly do not know the intricacies of Jewish law. Furthermore, it's now too late for this option, but ...

I pre-ordered at Amazon sometime last year. It will arrive in my mailbox
on either Friday or Saturday -- I don't remember exactly which.

No business transacted (I've already paid for it.) No travel involved.
I'm just curious what your rabbi would make of that.

Mind you, I don't really mean to crow -- it's just that my husband will get to read the book first. We made a pact a while ago - he gets first crack at the Harry Potter books, since he reads faster than I do, but I get first crack at the Vorkosigan novels. So I have to crow about something to make up for the extra wait!

And no, I won't read any spoilers ahead of time. I will tape my husband's mouth, if I have to!
If the book arrives on Friday, there is of course no problem. But the books are supposed to arrive on Saturday. According to many Jewish sources one is not supposed to open a package or the mail on Saturday. There's also the question of taking possession of a new item on the sabbath that is not directly relevant to the sabbath.
Exactly why is it a problem to open the delivered package on Shabbat? Assuming your delivery guy knows you can't sign for it, which is true in Jewish areas like Flatbush.

1) the wrapper is not a permanent kli; once open, it's garbage.
2) it's not nolad, like a newspaper (printed as a "new thing" on the Sabbath)
3) it might be "erasing letters" in tearing the tape, but for English that isn't a name of God, that's at most rabbinic, so a shinui should take care of that.
It's a problem to open the package on shabbat because my rabbi told me it was a problem. If your rabbi told you to go ahead and open the package, then I guess you're free to do so.
A few others have raised the question I would have.

I'm Methodist by birth and choice, but my daughter grew up in the loving hands of two different JCC daycare facilities from six weeks to 12 years old, so I learned a lot of Teh Rulz.

Our original one was a real stickler for kashrut, more tolerant to minor violations of sabbath rules. The one here? Totally opposite. A parent could bring in a ham sandwich in a child's lunch with a doctor's note, but the sight of a thin dime from sundown to sundown was strictly out.

Despite that, they did allow prepayment for things like guest passes, towels, whatever you might need in those 24 hours.

So with no money being changed, and assuming the travel issue could be worked out, what?
The final issue is that one shouldn't take possession of an item on shabbat unless the item is specifically relevant for shabbat. Sadly, I could find no way to justify the relevance of the last Harry Potter book to the sabbath.... :-)
I will be at Pandy books on Friday and will happily purchase two copies and hand one to you.

So your not purchasing it. Or you could pre purchase the book, say give Tylor the money before the sabbith starts and then he rings you up when he is allowed to.

I was raised Catholic, we can get around just about any religious law.
I appreciate the offer, but don't worry about it. Like I noted in other comments, there's also the issue of not taking possession of an item on the sabbath that is not specifically relevant to the sabbath.

In honesty, the only way I could have the book for Saturday is if some bookseller was actually willing to violate the agreement with Scholastic (or was forgetful) and let me purchase one, full transaction completed, before the sabbath starts on Friday evening (which is roughly around 8 pm). And given how draconian the agreement is, I sincerely doubt that would happen.
Or, since I am not an HP fan, I can just give you my book as a gift, can you accept gifts. And then you have to promise to read it very very fast, and bring it to the Revere public library first thing Monday morning.
Hirhurim, one of my favorite Jewish blogs, has discussed this matter extensively: follow the links from here.
Seth: Thanks for posting that link. It should be noted that Gil attended YU, and lives in frummie Brooklyn, where he runs a small publishing house for Jewish books. Opening Harry Potter books may be permitted in the hinterlands of Washington Heights and Brooklyn, but in Brookline, they have standards.

But seriously, Michael's right. CYLOR (Consult Your Local Orthodox Rabbi). However, given Gil's points, it might be instructive to find out on what basis Michael's rav forbids. Hinting to a non-Jew is apparently not a problem, as this is at most a rabbinic prohibition, nor is opening the package. And ordering in advance takes care of the "commerce on Shabbat" issue (the basis of which is so that the seller not come to write on Shabbat), since the transaction is completed with your credit card company on Thursday or Friday, when they ship the book to you.

I guess it was the absolute statement that it's a problem for observant Jews because of X, when for other observant Jews, it's not a problem, that rubbed me a bit wrong. It's not such a dilemma, if you take precautions and investigate the issues beforehand.

By the way, 2:01 in Israel is 12:01 in England; Israel is GMT+2. There may be such a unified unveiling time across Europe or Eurasia (or Eastasia?).

Saturday morning, sometime, the book will arrive. Debbie will open it and start reading. She will have to put it down around 12 so we can go to a neighbor's for lunch. After lunch, she picks it up, finishes it, then I start it. All that, of course, IY"H.

According to my cousin Dov Krulwich, it's too late to preorder, so you won't have that option. So you have to go with your original plan. Incidentally, he's a black-hatter (enlightened Chareidi, I call him) who lives in Israel, I think in the Beit Shemesh area, and he evidently has no problem with preordering the book. Then again, in Israel they probably don't deliver mail on Shabbat, so it wouldn't be an issue.

Jon, posting from Debbie's account.
Opening Harry Potter books may be permitted in the hinterlands of Washington Heights and Brooklyn, but in Brookline, they have standards.

If this is sarcasm, note that I do not appreciate it at all. It sounds as if you're telling me that I shouldn't have consulted my rabbi on a question of halakha. You may feel as if you know everything there is to know about Jewish law, and can posken for yourself; some of us would rather get it right.

I guess it was the absolute statement that it's a problem for observant Jews because of X, when for other observant Jews, it's not a problem, that rubbed me a bit wrong. It's not such a dilemma, if you take precautions and investigate the issues beforehand.

Did you even read my post? I quote from my post above: "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." That was the point that had to be addressed. Does your rabbi allow you to engage in commerce on the sabbath?
I hope the book proves worth it!
I can't speak to the religious dilemma, and do hope you work it out to your own satisfaction, Michael.

My HP release dilemma is purely logistical and situational. We've never gone to an HP release event, but since this is the last book in the series, I thought we'd try. However, on Friday, we are loading up the family to go for a long-postponed first visit to my brother's new home in upstate New York. This means that we will not be able to go to our local bookstore's HP event that night. I knew about the trip some time ago, and pre-ordered the book on Amazon. I took Super Saver Shipping because I knew I would not be home on Saturday to take delivery (though Amazon sends me at least two emails a week asking me to upgrade to the Next Day option, which would cost more than they are charging for the book itself.)

I any event, I thought it would be a nice idea to take my two children and my three nieces to an HP event in my brother's new area. My brother tells me now that his girls do not read HP, and have no interest in going to an HP event. So, it looks like we are going to miss all the fun that night, as well as having to avoid spoilers until some time next week.
Maybe you can take your own two kids to an HP event and leave the brother and his daughters at home for a few hours?
Well, I'm going to read the book in the store at the release party, since I'm planning on buying a boxed set of all seven books in British release at a later date.

Alternatively, though, you could reserve a copy at your local store and pay in advance, allowing you to just pick up something you've previously paid for. I don't think it would be any different than staying in a hotel you had paid for pre- or post-Shabbes.

Interesting conundrum, though!

December 2016

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