Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The State of Israel vs. Harry Potter

As the release date of the final Harry Potter book arrives, the frenzy spills over into every country, into every aspect of life. The Israeli government, apparently resigned to the fact that JK Rowling is promoting witchcraft to children, has a larger issue with the fact that the book will be released on a Saturday, and that bookstores all over the country will violate the Sabbath in order to give Potter fans their fix.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Employment, Eli Yishai, is a religious Sephardic member of the Shas party, and is threatening to impose fines on any local book distributor who puts their customers first. Technically, he has the law on his side, the "Hours of Work and Rest Law," which stipulates that businesses must be closed on the Sabbath; in theory, this country was established based upon Jewish (halachic) law. Yishai claims that by violating the Sabbath in order to fulfill the agreement with the publishers abroad - not to mention us crazed muggles -Israel has lost its religious identity as a "light unto the nations," preferring instead to emulate the other inferior nations, and thus bring us down to their level.

This reminds me of the hullabaloo each year as more and more businesses sell leavened bread during Passover, also a technical violation of the law, but the government becomes more impotent each year in enforcing the letter of the law. Yishai fights a losing battle, as more supermarkets and clubs and malls remain open on the Sabbath; there is clearly a victory of marketing and commercialism over religion.

Israelis do what they want, when they want. Over three years ago, a law was passed that forbade smoking in public areas, big red signs with an "x" through a cigarette popped up in every coffee house. Yet another example of a "law without teeth" (as it is referred to in Hebrew). Go to any restaurant or coffee house or office building, and you will find several Israelis smoking in a cluster, happily sitting under the big red sign. If you politely point out that they are in violation of the law and your personal air space, that they are causing irreparable damage to their body and to those around them due to second hand smoke, they merely shrug their shoulders and continue their break.

Furthermore, the Torah forbids smoking, according to the phrase "And you shall live by them," meaning that any action done by a person that will physically endanger their body and their very existence represents a violation of the precepts of the Torah. Yet, the religious are one of the worst offenders, introducing students even of the age of 13, in every religious institution, to the "benefits" of smoking. You don't see their teachers rallying against smoking or trying to prevent its proliferation, just because G-d said so.

While claiming to fight an objective battle for the law, Minister Yishai is in actuality abusing his power as a minister, a position gained by hypocritical party maneuvering, to try to impose a way of life on those who do not have to accept his view of the world, of G-d and of religious observance.

I find it ironic that on the same day that the religious sector of the State of Israel has declared war on Harry Potter, these same members of the Knesset are purposely delaying a law which would protect minors from sex offenders, and would result in hundreds of people who have sexually assaulted minors in the past to freely walk around the streets of Israel without supervision, eager to strike again at an innocent victim. A nation that claims to aspire to be a "light unto the nations" must first re-align its priorities to its citizens and to the planet it inhabits.

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