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

Wifebeating and the Halacha – Time for a Change

For women, silence can be literally deadly.

A few months ago, I attended a prayer meeting at Jerusalem’s Jeshurun Synagogue to mark the annual international day protesting violence against women. Attendance was sparse. The men’s section bare. A young rabbi got up and said this embarrassed him. He said that if the meeting had been about Israel’s special mission in the world, the synagogue would have been packed. He went on to say what a terrible thing domestic abuse was, etc. etc. making all the right noises.

At the end of his – I have no doubt – heartfelt lecture, a lone woman raised her hand timidly. What does the Halacha say about wifebeating ? she asked him. “It’s a non-issue,” he replied, insulted. “I won’t dignify it by getting into a Halachic discussion.”

The woman, mortified, sat down.

“It was a valid question,” I comforted her afterwards.

But only after reading Professor Naomi Graetz ‘s compelling book: Silence is Deadly, Judaism Confronts Wifebeating, did I realize how valid. The case Professor Graetz makes , based on sources in the Talmud, the Mishnah and centuries of responsa of rabbinic authorities, is that, indeed, many Halachic authorities have not only done nothing to punish wifebeaters, but have actually condoned wifebeating, spelling out conditions in which it is not only permissible, but a mitzvah. Moreover, in our own day, current Halachic thinking makes it extremely difficult for an abused wife to get out of her husband’s clutches if he persists in refusing her a divorce.

The pioneering haredi rabbi who opened the first battered women’s shelters for haredi women in Jerusalem, once told me of a conversation he had with a well-respected Sephardic rabbi: “What are you Ashkenazim making a big deal about?” the Rabbi complained to him, “Almost every Sephardic husband beats his wife.”

I have no idea if this is true. But what can’t be denied is that the Maimonides wrote in his colossal work, the Mishneh Torah: “A woman who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod.” (Isshut 21:10).

While this is certainly not Halacha, the religious atmosphere created by such an unchallenged statement may explain the callous attitude exhibited by many religious authorities towards domestic abuse.

Whenever I am asked if there is more domestic abuse in the religious world, I answer no. I think there is exactly the same as in every other society. What makes it worse, is that the religious world finds it difficult to acknowledge the problem and deal effectively with it.

Over a decade ago, when my first novel Jepthe’s Daughter was published, in which I depicted a Talmud scholar as wifebeater, many in the religious world were ready to tar and feather me. I was called a liar outright during lectures, usually by a bewigged matron. I was vilified in haredi publications, denounced by friends, snubbed by former rabbinical mentors.

I couldn’t understand why.

After all, the story was based on that of my neighbor, a haredi woman who committed suicide following severe sexual and physical abuse from her Talmud scholar husband. For many years I assumed that the underlying cause of this response was simple embarrassment.

After reading Naomi Graetz’s book, I’m not so sure.

As an Orthodox woman, committed to Jewish law, I have always believed that the Halacha was the closest thing we were going to get to G-d’s own word. As such, despite appearances, Halacha had to be absolutely just, wise, compassionate, and most of all, unbiased, based on a true interpretation of Biblical law. In that light, I found it shocking — and it would not be an exaggeration to say heartbreaking — to read the many anti-feminine, and almost heartless decrees by some of the most respected Halachic authorities of all time cited by Graetz.

What is one to make of the Chatam Sofer’s responsa, that we do not force a wifebeater to grant a divorce because “it is better to live in two (tan du) than to dwell alone (armalu)”? And how can we accept that it is this ruling and not the liberal one of Maimonides, who states: “Woman is not captive. She should get a divorce if her husband is not pleasing to her,” which is the basis for rulings in our own Rabbinical Courts?

Thankfully, Naomi Graetz points out other rabbinic voices.

Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg who wrote concerning a habitual wifebeater: “If he persists in striking her, he should be excommunicated, lashed … even to the extent of amputating his arm. If his wife is willing to accept a divorce, he must divorce her and pay her ketubah”.

Silence is Deadly is an important book, the kind that insists we examine the sources for some of the most blatant of social problems and why, until now, there has been no outcry from the rabbinical establishment to solve them. Its cumulative evidence cries out for just change within the Halachic framework that today gives abusive husbands almost absolute power over their wives.

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