Naomi Ragen is an American-born novelist, playwright and journalist who has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. Naomi has written for the Jerusalem Post and other publications in Israel and abroad, as well as to her mailing list, about Israel and Jewish issues.

Naomi's tenth novel The Devil in Jerusalem has been chosen by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as the number one Jewish book of the season.
The story - inspired by true events - begins with an ambulance screaming through Jerusalem’s quiet streets. Inside, a toddler fights for his life, his parents nowhere to be found. With profound shock, an emergency room doctor realizes that the child’s mother, a young American, is already at the hospital sitting at the bedside of yet another child with traumatic injuries, devoutly reciting Psalms and stubbornly refusing to answer any questions. “שטן
The Devil in Jerusalem is a chilling tale of the paths that so easily lead us astray, and the darkness within us all. Click the book’s cover to learn more.

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Naomi has published ten internationally best-selling novels, and is the author of a hit play (Women's Minyan) that has been performed more than 500 times in Israel's National Theatre (Habimah) as well as in the United States and Argentina.
An Orthodox woman, feminist and iconoclast, Naomi is a tireless advocate for women's rights in Israel, waging a relentless campaign against domestic abuse and bias in rabbinical courts, as well as a successful Supreme Court case against gender segregation on Israeli buses.
With her tenth novel, The Devil in Jerusalem, Naomi continues her ground-breaking exploration of women in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world she began in 1989 with Jephte's Daughter, followed by Sotah and The Sacrifice of Tamar.
Naomi is a sought-after lecturer all over the world. If your group is interested in hosting Naomi, please click here.

October 2016 - The Devil in Jerusalem is published in paperback.
November 2015 - The Jewish Telegraphic Agency puts The Devil in Jerusalem at the top of its list of the best Jewish books of the season.
November 2015 - Naomi lectured in Newton (MA), Boca Raton (FL), Miami (FL), St. Louis (MO), New York City, Atlanta (GA), Cherry Hill (NJ) and Santa Fe (NM).
“שטןAugust 2015 - Naomi’s new book, שטן בירושלים, a translation of The Devil in Jerusalem, is published.
Le Dixieme Chant8-19 March 2015 - Naomi toured France and Switzerland, speaking to her readers in Paris, Marseilles, Strasbourg and Geneva about her new French book, Le Dixieme Chant, a translation of The Tenth Song.
12-20 November 2014 - Naomi lectured at the Windsor Writer’s Conference in Windsor, ON as well as in Detroit, Toronto and Winnipeg.
The Sisters Weiss7 October 2014 - Naomi's ninth novel, The Sisters Weiss, was published in paperback. It's the story of two sisters from an ultra-Orthodox family in 1950s Brooklyn who take very different paths, and then find their lives unexpectedly intersecting again forty years later. To order the book from Amazon, click the book cover above.

8-17 August 2014 - Naomi was the scholar-in-residence on Kosherica's Kosher Baltic Cruise aboard the Norwegian Cruise Lines Star. The 9 night cruise visited Copenhagen, Rostock, Tallinn, Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Stockholm.

Salone Internazionale del Libro 8-9 May 2014 - Naomi took part in a panel discussion on women in Israel, together with Fiamma Nirenstein and Elena Loewenthal, at the Salone Internazionale del Libro 2014 in Turin, Italy.

December 2013 - Watch an interview (in French) with Naomi about her struggle against the haredi war on women in Israel.
Watch an interview (in French) with Naomi about Le Serment.

December 2013 - Naomi visited Île-de-France to promote her new book Le serment (the French translation of The Covenant).

Sotah 15 March 2012 - Sotah was published in Italian as L'amora proibito. Read a review (in Italian).

Jephte's Daughter March 2012 - Jephte's Daughter was published in an Italian paperback edition, as Una moglie a Gerusalemme.

Le Fantôme de Dona Gracia Mendes October 2011 - The Ghost of Hannah Mendes was published in French as Le Fantôme de Dona Gracia Mendes. Read a review (in French).

The Tenth Song October 2011 - The Tenth Song was published in paperback.

May 2011 - Four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh directed a staged reading of Women's Minyan at New York's Westside Theater. The reading was produced by One Circle Productions, in partnership with Safe Horizon.

Watch the reading. Watch an interview with Naomi and Tovah Feldshuh.

Le serment November 2013 - The Covenant was published in French as Le serment.

November 2013 - Watch an interview with Naomi by Sharon Mor of Shaulina Productions about Naomi's new book The Sisters Weiss in Hebrew or in English.

6 November 2013 - Israel's Supreme Court reversed the District Court's decision against Naomi in the Shapiro case and ordered Shapiro to return the money she was awarded. Naomi agreed that the money be donated to charity.
October-November 2013 - Naomi toured the US, visiting twelve US cities and speaking about her new book, The Sisters Weiss.
The Sisters Weiss October 2013 - Naomi's ninth novel, The Sisters Weiss, was published. Read an article about it in the San Diego Jewish World.
Chains Around the Grass August 2013 - Chains Around the Grass was published in an Amazon Kindle edition.
July 2013 - An interview with Naomi about her trips to Spain to research her best-selling The Ghost of Hannah Mendes was featured in Jewish Travel.
December 2012 - Naomi's play Women's Minyan was performed by the West Boca Theatre Company at the Levis JCC in Boca Raton, Florida.
November 2012 - Naomi visited Île-de-France speaking about her books.
5 November 2012 - Naomi spoke at the Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue in London, England.


Author’s Novels Evoke World of the Ultra-Orthodox

by Shelley Kleiman

On the face of it, there seems little in Naomi Ragen’s life to suggest the ultra-Orthodox world she’s so successfully evokes in her three best-selling novels.

Her large suburban home in Ramot, a mixed religious and secular neighborhood in Jerusalem, seems more than a cultural stone’s throw away from Mea Shearim and B’nei Brak where much of her fiction is set. But if it is esoteric to some, this world of matchmaking and wig choosing, of morals patrols and seminary study, is as familiar to Ragen as toast and jam.

Ragen’s novels have sold more than a half million copies, and aside from the American and English editions, her first novel, Jephte’s Daughter, was translated into Finnish; Sotah her second into Norwegian. Sotah has just come out in Hebrew, leaving the American-born Ragen a little nervous about the exposure here.

Mother of four and grandmother of a 2-year-old, Ragen, 47, writes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Those hours are sacrosanct,” she says, then laughs: “Except when a kid gets sick and you have to run to the doctor.”

Ragen is a woman with a mission. Blind conformity, the kind that feeds upon what the neighbors will say, the kind that suppresses individual freedom, is this novelist’s muse.

Jephte’s Daughter was based on a true story of an ultra-Orthodox woman who leapt to her death with her 3-year-old daughter. Physically and mentally abused by her husband and confined to a world in which “what’s nice you don’t show” or talk about, she took what she saw as her only way out. Shocked by the story (it turns out they had been neighbors) Ragen gives her fictional character a second chance.

“It would have served no purpose for her to have died in Jephte’s Daughter, explains Ragen. “I wanted to bring her back to life, to show others like her what should have happened.” In her own way, Ragen wants to make the world a better place.

A portrait of oppression and letter-of-the-law rigidity, Ragen’s first novel left this devoutly religious writer feeling a bit guilty.

“There are many wonderful aspects of the haredi world – their family values, the way siblings care for each other, the way children respect their elders – that didn’t surface in Jephte’s Daughter.” says Ragen.

She did not want the book to be translated into Hebrew and would not sell the film rights because she didn’t want the image of a religious Jew beating his wife flashed on the screen. “I just couldn’t do it.”

Ragen calls Sotah her tshuvah, or repentance, for her first novel. It is peopled with warm supportive and kind people, but Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community is still not exactly paradise regained. About an ultra-Orthodox woman wrongly accused of adultery and banished from the community by a religiously ordained purge, Sotah is also about acceptance and forgiveness.

Ragen’s third novel, The Sacrifice of Tamar – the story (also based on fact) of a haredi woman raped by a black man – takes place in a religious enclave in Brooklyn, where Ragen herself spent a year attending a women’s teaching seminary.

Ragen likes to talk. Her speech is so fast that listening to her is like riding a New York City subway during rush hour – the words keep tumbling out, each pushing their way to exit first. She talks so intimately about her characters, it is a bit of a disappointment when they don’t knock on the door to borrow some sugar to tea.

“They don’t always cooperate,” she says as if describing some recalcitrant children. “That’s why I never know how my books will end until I get there.”

Ragen’s most deeply felt persona, though, is not a character, but a city, described in such intimate detail it is brought anthropomorphically alive.

“I’m so deeply in love with Jerusalem,” says Ragen, echoing the sentiments of many of her characters.

“See the hills from my house?” asks Ragen. “Somewhere out there David fought Goliath. Over to the right is the tomb of Samuel the prophet.”

To Ragen, Jerusalem is more than the concrete reality of cars, office buildings and hotels. “There is an otherwordliness here,” she says. “What you are looking at is a palpable 2,000-year-old longing.”

Born in 1949, Ragen grew up in the Rockaways, NY, in a racially-mixed low-income – “deadening to the imagination” – housing project. Her father died when she was five and an unredeemable $5 application fee landed her in a religious girls’ school as a scholarship student. Ashamed of her financial status, she was even ashamed she didn’t have a father.

“Isn’t that strange?” Ragen asks, baffled by her own self-consciousness. it was in school that Ragen began her life-long love affair with Orthodox Judaism. And writing.

In 1971, Ragen and her husband moved to Israel without even having been there: “We didn’t want to be like the biblical spies.”

She wrote freelance articles, suppressing, she says, an almost pathological fear of being considered a housewife who writes on the side.

By the time she decided to tackle fiction (she already had a BA and MA in English Literature), she and her husband traded their brand of ultra-Orthodoxy for something more modern. Straddling two worlds, Ragen is as comfortable discussing D.H.Lawrence as she is explaining Jewish ritual.

Although she has read and admires Amos Oz and David Grossman – she finds the Hebrew a bit tough going despite her 25 years in the country – she admits to living in a sort of literary no-man’s land.

“Israelis will never consider me truly their own,” says Ragen, who writes in English, primarily for American audiences.

Ragen answers all her fan (and occasionally hate) mail and had not read reviews of her books since a New York Times reviewer hailed Jephte’s Daughter as a new genre of Jewish Gothic. “As if I had made the whole thing up,” fumes Ragen.

She is currently at work on her fourth novel. Taking her leave of the ultra-Orthodox world, she is approaching the Sephardi Jewish community with great awe. Three years into research, Ragen says she is only beginning to scratch the surface. Although the novel takes place in New York, Ragen feels confident her characters will end up in Jerusalem.

“It is,” she says, “where all roads eventually lead.”

This article originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and is reprinted with permission.