Monday, July 25, 2005

Reading Harry Potter

I sent this in to Avodah yesterday but should probably have posted it here first.

Someone asked: The possible issur in reading HP that comes to my mind stems from the shulchan aruch in orach chaim 307, where "sifrei milchamos" are deemed inappropriate. Opinions anyone? Does this apply to HP? Heterim? What is the nature of the issur?

Here is my response (lightly edited):

The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 307:16) gives the following reasons for the issue:
1) Moshav Leitzim (a sitting of scorners)
2) Al tifnu el ha-elilim (turning away from God)
[3) Giruy yetzer ha-ra (enticing one's evil inclination) applies to romance novels]

Regarding 2), the Magen Avraham and Bi'ur Halakhah hold that this prohibition only applies to looking at something made for the sake of idolatry. It does not apply to reading history or fiction. Regarding 1), the Magen Avraham points out that this applies equally to attending a circus or theater. That is why I wrote on my blog that "[l]et us assume that your rabbi is lenient and allows going to baseball games and reading Harry Potter." Generally speaking, the two issues go hand in hand.

The Arukh Ha-Shulhan (Orah Hayim 307:10) writes that the Rema is lenient on this issue. He holds that the only potential problem is the decree against reading shtarei hedyotos (business documents) on Shabbos. But if the decree does not apply, e.g. if the book is in Hebrew, then it is permissible to read these books. By implication, during the week it should be entirely permissible in any language. The Eliyahu Rabbah (307:40, cited by the aharonim) writes that books from which one can grow in fear of God are permissible to read on Shabbos. If you can derive yiras shamayim from a Harry Potter book, then according to the Eliyahu Rabbah you may read it on Shabbos.

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