The figure responsible for Israel's latest religious row is a bespectacled British teenager who is gifted with magical powers, world famous and entirely fictional.
The synchronized worldwide launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and last installment in the wildly popular series, falls at 2:01 a.m. local time this Shabbat, when the law requires most businesses to close.
With Israelis already clamoring for Deathly Hallows, many bookstores are planning to launch the book on time anyway. That has drawn fire from haredi lawmakers, including Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who threatened to fine any store that opens Saturday.
"Israeli law forbids businesses to force their employees to work on the Sabbath, 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.
MK Avraham Ravitz (UTJ) 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.
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.
Worldwide, the Potter books have sold more than 325 million copies, have been translated into at least 64 languages, and have been spun off into a hit movie series.
The book's author, J.K. Rowling, has indicated that two characters die in the new book, leading to speculation that one of them might be Harry himself.
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