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.


“The
Naomi's just-published 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.


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.

Categories

Compassion

Whether it is a tolerance for radical and objectionable political views, or a lax and forgiving response to dangerous and illegal behavior, sometimes the compassionate thing to do breeds a culture of forgiveness towards wrong and evil that contaminates and weakens our attempts to live moral lives, creating only more misery.

I came across a video someone sent me on Facebook about a haredi grandfather in B’nai Brak whose five year-old grandson was left accidentally in a hot car by a young teacher and neighbor who was asked to drive him home as a favor. The child died. The grandfather, a G-d-fearing and compassionate man, now made it his task in life to embrace the newly-married young teacher and to encourage him to get on with his life. “My grandson is gone,” he says. “But X is still alive and has his whole life ahead of him.” He arranged a meeting between X and his son – father of the dead child–trying to create a loving and forgiving bond that would help the young teacher forgive himself. Together, grandfather, son, and perpetrator, started an organization to help prevent such accidents. All of those involved were haredi Jews.

This video, which I found brought me to tears, left me with mixed feelings, perhaps because of the young teacher’s obvious discomfort in the face of such compassion.

These kinds of things are normal in Israel, common-place among Jews. My father-in-law, may God rest his soul, lived into his nineties. But despite the fact that he had walked shoeless through the wilds of Russia as part of a slave labor brigade for the Hungarian Nazis, and returned home to find his wife and two children had been gassed in Auschwitz and all his belongings stolen by his neighbors, he never said a hateful word. He was the kindest, most compassionate man I ever met.

But sometimes there is a danger in such compassion.

A few weeks ago, when the country was reeling from the accidental death by pesticide poisoning of two little girls, members of the same family, I attended synagogue. To my surprise and shock, our rabbi chose to address his sermon to this tragic event. He knew the alleged poisoner, a seventy year-old religious man whose name, Yossi Barkan, was until very recently hidden from the public by court order apparently to protect his reputation. Our compassionate Rabbi, who never disappoints in his big-hearted and often unconventional take on being a G-d fearing person, told us that he knew Mr. Barkan, and had only the highest praise for him as a human being. You look away for one minute and make a mistake. It could happen to any one of us sitting here in the congregation judging this man for his part in this tragic accident, he told us.

I have not stopped thinking about his message, which I found, and continue to find, both uplifting and upsetting in equal measure. It did not help that Mr. Barkan, whom a compassionate court sentenced to house arrest, was sent back to court when it came to light he had gone out on yet another exterminating job during his confinement. He hadn’t used any poison for that job, he told investigators. He’d just set traps. The response of the court was an additional home arrest, and the publication of his name “to protect the public.”

Similarly, in the sad and shocking case of convicted sexual offender, the once much respected Rabbi Mordechai Elon, Rabbi Chayim Druckman has allowed Elon to continue teaching young boys, supporting him through his trial and conviction. Rabbi Druckman, who received the Israel Prize, has been accused of covering up for another sex offender , Rabbi Ze’ev Kopolovich whose tenure at the prestigious Netiv Meir yeshiva in Jerusalem under Druckman coincided with the suicide of several students. Druckman reportedly failed to report Kopolovich to police and instead harassed the victims in an effort to persuade them to withdraw their complaints.

Naftali Bennet, head of the political party which revers Druckman as its spiritual leader, has said nothing. He too has compassion.

Sapir Sabah, a 17 year-old student in Kiryat Tivon, walked into her high school civics class taught by Adam Verete, and according to her, her teacher “stressed that the Israel Defense Forces acts with unusual brutality and violence,” and that “he doubted the statement that the IDF is the most moral army in the world.” As a self-proclaimed radical leftist who admittedly voted for Israel’s Communist Party, Chadash, Verete believed that “the state did not belong to the Jews at all but to the Arabs, and as far as he was concerned, the Jews had no business being in Israel at all.” As Sapir told Channel Two News, “I am supposed to join the army in less than a year, and my teacher is telling me that the army is immoral, and that anyone who joins it is forced to do cruel things.”

Her letter of complaint to Education Minister Shay Piron went viral. But despite widespread calls to fire Verete, the ORT school system where he works decided, I’m sure with a measure of compassion as well as fear of legal consequences, to keep him on. This capitulation was not wasted on Verete. At the end of the ORT hearing reinstating him, he urged teachers to continue expressing their opinions in class “as, the Education Ministry makes clear, significant learning involves teachers expressing their opinions, in a pluralistic atmosphere in the classroom that respects all opinions.”

Unlike Verete, Professor Robert Aumann, 2005 Nobel Prize winner for economics, was denied a compassionate hearing before facing consequences for his democratically expressed views, the University of Haifa last month canceling plans to award him an honorary doctorate. Apparently, there were objections from by some faculty members for his right wing stance, although 160 supported him.

Similarly, the Israeli Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Music (ACUM) downgraded a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to Ariel Zilber, an Israeli pop star who, like Verete, has embraced radical, often objectionable, political views. Unlike Verete, however, Zilber is on the other side of the political spectrum, supporting the transfer of Arabs, and even writing a song in 2011 entitled “Kahane Was Right.”

Following objections from fellow awardees like singer Achinoam Nini (who once sang “Ave Maria” to the Pope at the Vatican), ACUM caved in to the pressure, renaming the prize to Zilber as an award “for a contribution to Israeli music.”

Michael Handelzalts writing in Ha’aretz on Feb. 13, 2014 compared the cases of freedom of speech this way: “At first glance, then, it seems that two individuals – an artist and a scientist – had to pay a not-too-heavy public price (a sort of highly visible “snubbing”) for adhering to radical right-wing views, whereas a civics teacher got off relatively lightly (in effect, unscathed) for holding radical left-wing views.”

This desire to avoid taking a firm stand because it might cause pain has its admirable qualities. As Jews, we are taught that to embarrass someone in public is like murdering them. Thus bending over backwards to see the other fellow’s point of view is a democratic value and forgiveness a divine one.

“Jews are the compassionate children of compassionate parents,” the Talmud teaches. “One who is merciless toward his fellow creatures is no descendant of our father Abraham.”

But as Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe writer, recently said: “We live, these days, in a sea of nonjudgmentalism … Even after September 11, there were prominent voices that refused to categorically condemn the terrorists who had slaughtered so many innocent people. Reuters, the British wire service, decided as a matter of policy not to call Al Qaeda and the hijackers “terrorists” — on the grounds that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

It is not easy to be a good person. Taking a moral stand is often uncomfortable. It makes you feel bad to be negative and judgmental, a position condemned by modern society no matter the circumstances. But it’s important to recognize that this attitude can weaken the resolve, encouraging good people to do nothing, and allow evil to flourish.

As Jews in a Jewish country, we need to remember the words of Psalm 97: “Those who love God, hate evil.” In our attempt to balance our compassion with moral judgment, we must be aware of the very fine line we tread. Whether it is a tolerance for radical and objectionable political views, or a lax and forgiving response to dangerous and illegal behavior, sometimes the compassionate thing to do breeds a culture of forgiveness towards wrong and evil that contaminates and weakens our attempts to live moral lives, creating only more misery.

For everything there is a season. Compassion too has its time and place. It’s up to moral people to forcefully and clearly hold the line.

 

This article was first published in the Jerusalem Post on 28 February 2014.

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