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

Rebels Without a Cause

Why would some of the top educators in the haredi world fear apostasy in those students exposed to secular life? Is their education so poor, their faith so weak, that any exposure at all will see their beliefs wilt like hothouse flowers brought out into the fresh air?

I gave a lecture on literature last week in the library of Kibbutz Magen, right near the Gaza border.

The Eshkol Regional Council in the northwestern Negev, in which the kibbutz is situated, has been bombarded by rocket fire from Gaza for years, its workers getting killed, its kindergarten a near miss.

Still, despite the recent trauma of renewed hostilities from Hamas terrorists, they took time out to sit and listen to me talk about women writers of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala), and the role of religious women in Jewish literary creativity.

I thought: Wow, these men and women sitting across from me are amazing.

Despite the difficulties in their lives, they bravely sit tight, their presence defending our southern border, without complaining or whining, without “million-man” demonstrations against the army and the government for not doing enough to ensure their tranquility.

As luck would have it, on the cab ride back home to Jerusalem, we entered the flashing lights and traffic jam of yet another haredi demonstration against the new law that insists that ultra-Orthodox do their part to secure the country in which they live, via either national or army service.

“I’m a religious man,” my driver told me bitterly. “I keep Shabbat, I don’t drive my cab on any holy day. I eat kosher. But this bunch, they make me hate religious people.”

That’s funny, I thought, because even though I’ve been an Orthodox Jew almost my entire life – out of choice, not any sort of coercion – it kind of makes me feel the same way.

That being so, I can just imagine what these images of black-hatted hordes demanding special privileges in the name of their religious beliefs must be doing to the non-religious, who will never know how contrary to the laws of the Torah such views are, and will never be tempted to explore the beauty and diversity of their heritage. For despite haredi whining to retain their unfair draft exemptions, the Torah view of this is quite opposed to them.

As stated clearly in Deuteronomy 20:6- 8, the criteria for draft exemptions are as follows : “Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use its fruit.

“And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.

“Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, ‘Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.’” Among the signs of the demonstrators, I saw one that said: “No to the Army of Shmad.”

Why Shmad, which means apostasy, one of the sins that one is expected to die rather than commit? As I saw on a website, some of the more extreme haredi leaders have used this term to urge students to leave the country rather than submit, whereas other, more moderate voices haven’t gone that far.

I thought about it. Why would some of the top educators in the haredi world fear a complete reversal of religious faith – apostasy! – in those students exposed to secular life? Is their education so poor, their faith so weak, that any exposure at all will see their beliefs wilt like hothouse flowers brought out into the fresh air? If so, why is that? After years of immersion in the Torah, the extreme piety of their upbringing and communities, surely injecting them into the secular world should elevate that world and bring religious values closer to the national institution of the army.

Surely, the modern Zionist kippot srugot that haredim look down upon have somehow managed to instill religious values and religious lifestyles in their children, who survive not only the mandatory three-year army service (my sons and grandson included) but also years of reserve duty lasting into their 50s. Why is it that the vast majority of these people emerge with their faith intact to live religious lives and raise religious families? What are the religious-Zionists doing right that the haredim are doing wrong? Might I suggest the haredi establishment look into this? This fear and insecurity that even a tiny glimpse into the outside world will immediately transform their heretofore pious scholars into apostates extends beyond the single issue of army service, to such fraught and burning subjects as computer and Internet use.

“You know, I live in a totally secular area in Gilo,” my driver went on. “And a few months ago, I decided to move and rent out my house. I put the ad in the Friday papers, and Saturday night, I got a phone call from someone who wanted to come over immediately to see it. I said ‘sure.’ Well, an hour later, my doorbell rings and I open it. There is this haredi couple standing on my doorstep. He’s got the black hat and coat, the peyot and beard; she’s wearing a wig. I was taken aback. While I invited them in I thought it only fair to warn them: ‘You know there is not a single religious family in this entire neighborhood.’ “You know what he answered? He said: ‘Baruch Hashem! I live in Betar Illit. I need a computer for my work.

Every morning when I leave for work with my computer, I get spat on, yelled at, pushed. They’ve threatened to throw my children out of school. I just want to get as far away from them as possible.’” My cabbie’s tenant is not alone. The spate of demonstrations against the draft has brought similar opposition from some unexpected sources.

Following the 50,000-person haredi demonstration in New York, haredi columnist Yori Yanover posted an article on the website of the right-leaning Jewish Press with the following title, “50,000 Jews March so that Only Other Jews Die in Wars.” In it, he quoted demonstrator Peggy Blier from Brooklyn, who said: “We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning. The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot.”

Yanover replied: “Every single point… is a blatant lie. Of course the law allows for religious learning, it merely suggests that at some point – way past the age non-haredim serve, and for half the time that normal Israelis give freely of their lives – ‘religious Jews in Israel’ should participate in caring for the security of their country, or, if that’s too much, serve the equivalent time in vital organizations inside their own communities for their own neighbors.”

Yanover was promptly fired by the paper for posting his article “without permission.”

Preceding the Jerusalem “Million Man March” against the drafting of yeshiva students (which garnered less than a third of that number), Rabbi Benny Lau called the demonstration a “tremendous hillul Hashem.”

I guess that just about sums up haredi behavior and their stance on this subject. They take arnona (municipal tax) discounts, subsidies, stipends, child allowances, free medical care and the protection of the armed services, but they are not willing to give back in kind.

And to those who say their learning protects the People of Israel from its enemies, I say maybe it’s the opposite. It’s the people of Israel who protect their learning.

 

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

1 comment to Rebels Without a Cause

  • Miriam

    Dear Naomy I so Agry with you. I finish reading all your book. Unfortunaly haredy people using religion as tool for their dirty work. My writing is not good o want tell u story about group of ultraprdodox people work on kiruv school on Brooklyn. They teach kids ” how to be right religious girl” brain washes them. And take them away from their loving families. Girls becoming
    Maids in teachers house. School uses them as money maker, telling to reach people all lies about our daughters how they need housing and help. Many families devastated and no one there to explore this problem. Pl contact me I ll tell u more information. Pl don’t ignore my letter and don’t publish it thank u may Hashem bless u and your family you doing amazing work