Harry Potter's Israel launch pits wizard vs rabbis

JERUSALEM Wed Jul 18, 2007 2:09pm EDT

Boxes filled with editions of the latest Harry Potter book, ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' stand stacked inside a Barnes & Noble distribution center at an undisclosed location in the northeastern United States July 16, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Boxes filled with editions of the latest Harry Potter book, ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' stand stacked inside a Barnes & Noble distribution center at an undisclosed location in the northeastern United States July 16, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Harry Potter, the world's most famous boy wizard, has fallen foul of Israel's rabbis.

Plans to launch the last installment in the best-selling children's book series in Israel over the Jewish Sabbath have drawn threats of legal action by a religious government minister.

Israeli stores have pledged to go ahead with the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" at 2 a.m. on Saturday (2300 GMT Friday), noting that it will be part of a global media event for a book expected to be the fastest-selling in history.

"We will hold the launch as planned because we are contractually bound to do so. The book will go on sale here at the same time as in other places around the world," Alona Zamir, a spokeswoman for the Steimatzky book chain, said on Wednesday.

The Sabbath runs from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, during which pious Jews shun business dealings. While most Israelis are secular, the country's shops generally close over the Sabbath out of convenience, a sense of tradition, or to avoid paying mandatory fines and overtime to staff.

Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai, whose ultra-Orthodox party Shas is an important member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government, said he would dispatch inspectors to report on stores that take part in the book launch.

"It is forbidden, according to Jewish values and Jewish culture, that a thing like this should take place at 2 a.m. on Saturday. Let them do it on another day," he told Israel Radio.

"We will certainly issue fines and prosecution orders, but I hope it won't come to that," Yishai added.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is the seventh and last adventure for the boy wizard created by British author J.K. Rowling. Many religious Jews have tried to prevent their children from reading the books, citing its "pagan" content.

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