Before I begin, a caveat. This is not an I/P diary, but merely a critique on a current controversey within Israel and a reflection on the divide between secular and religious Jews. I realize no one's going to listen to this caveat and the sniping will probably start within the first five comments, but just think about it. Thanks, GoldnI
In case you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, Harry Potter has been in the news a good deal lately. The seventh and final book comes out on Friday night, and everyone wants to know how it ends. Those of us who are progressive Harry Potter fans are relieved that Christian Right extremists like this Georgia woman did not succeed in convincing everyone that the books are evil and should be banned.
Unfortunately, they're not the only kinds of religious extremists who are taking on the role of Voldemort in this story.
From Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz:
A decision by many Israeli bookstores to release the seventh installment of the wildly popular Harry Potter series along with the synchronized worldwide launch at 2:01 a.m. Saturday - on the Jewish Sabbath - has sparked harsh criticism from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
Why, you ask?
Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party threatened to fine any store that opens Saturday. "Israeli law forbids businesses to force their employees to work on the Shabbat, and that applies in this case as well. The minister will fine and prosecute any businesses which violate the law," said Roei Lachmanovich, a spokesman for Yishai.
Since the inception of the State of Israel, there has always been an uneasy status quo between "religious" and "secular" Jews. Under the original agreement in 1947, the religious Jews agreed to cede most state issues to secular control, as long as the Chief Rabbinate maintained control of Kashruth (kosher) laws, Sabbath laws, and issues pertaining to marriage, divorce, and burials. The fact that the support of the ultra-Orthodox political parties are usually needed to form majority coalitions in the Knesset doesn't help.
However, this status quo has become increasingly untenable. With the current number of secular Jews estimated to make up at least 2/3 of the population, this new "Silent Majority" is beginning to assert its rights.
And one way they're asserting them is through the power of the market.
Take the marriage issue. There are many secular Jews who are either unable or unwilling to conform to the Orthodox standard for weddings. That's why hotels in Cyprus are making a fortune off of Israeli couples who come there to get married. They see no reason why, in a democratic state, they should be forced to give in to the demands of the religious extremists who hold a monopoly on a commodity, so to speak.
And the same thing is true for Harry Potter:
Steimatzky, Israel's biggest bookstore chain, is holding a gala event in Tel Aviv beginning Friday night to launch the book, and the company "has no plans to change the time," said spokeswoman Alona Zamir.
"We're required by our agreement with the book's publisher to launch the book at the same time as everywhere else in the world," Zamir said.
"The chain has already received tens of thousands of advance orders for Deathly Hallows in English, with the book's Hebrew translation due out close to the end of 2007," she said.
The ultra-Orthodox can threaten to fine them all they want, but if the bookstore is going to make a profit by selling Harry Potter on Friday night, then they're going to do it, and tradition be damned. It's the same lesson that the Christian Right in this country is slowly being forced to swallow. They can threaten to boycott companies that are friendly to the GLBT community all they like, but if Ford and Disney are going to make a profit by advertising Jaguars in gay magazines and offering commitment ceremonies in Cinderella's Castle, then religious protests will only fall on deaf ears.
And it seems like there are enough secular Jews who don't believe that the ultra-Orthodox have any right to tell them what they can and cannot do on the Sabbath to make it worth Steimatzky's while.
(A personal note here before I go on...I was reading through the comments posted on this article on both Ha'Aretz's and JPost's websites, and a lot of the posters called for a return to the traditional Shabbat celebration, where Mama makes a big dinner and we all sit around singing and praying. To spiritual but ultimately Reform Jews like myself, this ideal sounds like the Republican version of the 1950s... an ideal that never really existed for most people. My family is probably more observant than many secular Jews in Israel, but if my Mom remembered to pick up a loaf of challah on her way home on Friday and we ate that with dinner, in my house that counted as observing the Sabbath. Ok, /tangent.)
But ultimately, this isn't about the Sabbath laws, is it?
Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism Party slammed the Potter books for their "defective messages."
"We don't have to be dragged like monkeys after the world with this subculture, and certainly not while violating our holy Shabbat," Ravitz said in a statement.
Thought so. It's not about the Sabbath, it's about OMG witchcraft. Harry Potter is EEEEVIL!
But in this case, as in so many others, the market overrules what the religious extremists want.