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

“I Want to Serve, but …”

Fear of ostracism—not lack of conviction—prevents some haredi men from enlisting.

A day before the haredi “million man march” called to protest the new drafting of yeshiva students, I sat in my synagogue in Jerusalem’s German Colony as Rabbi Benny Lau got up to speak. This rabbi is no stranger to the haredi world; he is the nephew of the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Meir Lau, and cousin to the present Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau. But the congregation was not surprised to hear him lash out with vehemence against the planned protest. Calling it a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, he declared that those who participated were ingrates to a state that had educated their children, provided subsidized medical care to their families, given them discounts on municipal taxes and protected them from their enemies.

When the march took place with a fraction of the numbers predicted, I wondered if my rabbi’s sentiment might not actually have been shared by many inside the haredi world as well.

Even before the march, Knesset Member Aryeh Deri, head of the Shas party, which represents Sephardic haredim, said, “This sort of thing will only help the enemies of Torah.” Similarly, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism Party was quoted on the haredi website Kikar Shabbat as saying that “the only thing that will increase [MK Yair Lapid’s] number of seats in the Knesset is this demonstration. In the next election, he will show a million people [demonstrating against the bill] and say: ‘I was the only one who fought against them.’”

As predicted, the muscle-flexing did haredim little good. Public backlash was swift, with the Knesset easily passing the law haredim feared most, criminalizing draft avoidance and potentially putting yeshiva students who ignore draft notices behind bars. Lapid, who sponsored the law, crowed afterwards: “A 65-year-old historic distortion has been rectified and Zionism is back.”

Rather than responding with greater fury, the protest movement seemed to run out of steam. In fact, the next protest was held in Manhattan. “It’s no wonder they are traveling abroad to influence others, since, sadly, at home no one is willing to listen to what we have to say,” MK Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses from United Torah Judaism Party reportedly said.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that the most profound effect of these demonstrations has been on haredi society itself, as a growing number of dissenting religious voices have begun speaking up in a way that would have been unprecedented even a few years ago.

Take Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the head of Ponevitch Yeshiva, the Lithuanian yeshiva world’s Harvard. During a discussion on the Talmudic story involving two brothers who admit to a crime they didn’t commit to save an entire city from retribution, Rabbi Edelstein expanded on the idea of self-sacrifice: “What is nationalism? It is love of your people.” In widely reported comments, he went on to praise those who serve in the Israeli army. “If a secular person is willing to sacrifice his life for the good of his people, than he is greater than you and greater than I,” he told his yeshiva students.

A well-known haredi blogger on Kikar Shabbat, who uses the pen name Daniel Yannai, wrote: “The old chestnut claiming Torah study is an important element in the IDF’s victories is an argument that will never convince anyone other than another haredi… it’s false and baseless. While the haredi soldier is fighting, those over and under draft age will continue to learn.”

The real reason for the objection to the draft, Yannai argued, is something else entirely, as is the refusal to come to an understanding with the rest of the country about this subject: “It’s a way for haredi leadership to completely separate their society from Israeli society.” For if the haredim could join the army, “one of the highest walls separating haredim from the rest of Israel would disintegrate… This way, haredi leaders make sure there can’t be a second of solidarity between the two sectors.”

While he himself admits to wanting that solidarity, Yannai says he can’t enlist because it would mean getting kicked out of the haredi world, losing all his friends, his family and any prospect of marriage.

His is not a lone voice. In a letter received by Avishai Ben-Haim, the religion correspondent for TV Channel Ten, an anonymous haredi listener expressed similar sentiments: “Many, many of us want to be drafted. But the government prefers to empower political parties and the heads of haredi institutions that represent no one but themselves.”

Israel, he wrote, should be helping people like him by firing rabbis who threaten yeshiva students and their families to keep them from complying with government draft laws. “A haredi person, as soon as he expresses willingness to serve, is on a lower social level, considered rotten, while amongst the secular he’s a parasite, and a draft dodger… Me and my brothers who want to serve are the big story. We want to serve, but we also want yiddishkeit. We want to continue being invited to the Rebbe’s tisch (table). But we also want solidarity with the greater world and to earn a decent, honest living, not underhanded business dealings. We want Torah and work. But we’re trapped.”

If and when the walls do come tumbling down, it will be in large measure because of such small, anonymous musings, particularly on an Internet that is more and more being recognized as the real threat to haredi political and social hegemony. Three thousand haredim are already wearing army uniforms. Despite protests and ugly slogans, most of us hope this is just the beginning.

 This article was originally published in the May-June issue of Moment.

1 comment to “I Want to Serve, but …”

  • shelley (gaber) novoselsky

    When I read your Rabbi’s name, Rabbi Benny Lau, I wondered if he spent some time in the US. Did he spend time at Camp Yavheh in New Hampshire?
    If not, then I have the wrong person. If it is so, I would like to send my Shalom OOv’rachot.

    Shelley (Gaber) Novoselsky