mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

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.
Tags: books, jewish, personal

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