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

The Wonder Workers

Several high-profile Israeli rabbis have come under fire for less-than-holy schemes

On November 17, 2013, to the disgust and embarrassment of Jews all over the world—but particularly religious Jews in Israel—Israeli police arrested the former chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger. The former occupant of the highest official rabbinic office of the land and also a dayan, or judge, on the Rabbinical Supreme Court, Metzger was accused of receiving bribes, money laundering and fraud amounting to millions of shekels. He is accused not only of pocketing money earmarked for charity, but also of accepting bribes to forge or falsely sign religious documents.

What I personally found most disturbing was the allegation that four and a half years ago, when Metzger surprisingly supported the outrageous cancelling of hundreds of conversion certificates issued by a religious panel headed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman—thus, as Haaretz reporter Yair Ettinger put it, “spitting in the face of the government system, [and] sucking up to his Lithuanian haredi patrons who were waging an all-out war against rabbis suspected as Zionist”—his real motive was outright greed. As Ettinger wrote: “While loftily joining the choir of haredi black hats who claimed Druckman’s conversions were unacceptable because they did not require taking on all religious commandments, he was secretly involved in a system of issuing conversion documents, propelled mainly by cash flowing into his pocket.”

The disgraceful spectacle of rabbis using their position to acquire riches is not new. Before the Metzger allegations, there were the Sephardic “wonder-working” kabbalists, who give out advice, blessings and amulets while attending their followers’ family events, and who collect sums for these and other services so mind-boggling that several of them were featured on a 2012 Forbes list of the 10 richest rabbis in Israel.

Heading the list was Rabbi Pinchas Abuhatzeira, worth an eye-opening $356 million. Several other family members also made the list, all direct descendants of the revered Baba Sali, who died in 1984. Uncle Yekutiel Abuhatzeira is worth more than $7 million. Their cousin, rabbi and kabbalist Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, is No. 7 on the list. He has also been the subject of a police investigation for allegedly questionable financial conduct and real estate deals.

Two members of the Ifargan family also made it onto the Forbes list with a combined worth of $30 million: Rabbi Yaakov Israel Ifargan (No. 5), known as the “X-ray rabbi” for his supposed superpowers of divining and healing illnesses and providing impeccable advice and blessings, and his sister Rebbetzin Bruria Zvuluni (No. 10), known as the “CT” (as in scan).

Like Pinto, Ifargan advised some of Israel’s most important businessmen and politicians—for a fee. These included Nochi Dankner, who was—until his spectacular recent reversals—chairman of the IDB group responsible for about 5 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product. Dankner was once ranked as the third most influential person in the economy, behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. In a 2010 film, Dankner spoke of his long relationship with Rabbi Ifargan, attesting to the rabbi’s “abilities in areas that certain people think incomprehensible or difficult to explain, but for many others, they seem natural, what they call the supernatural.”

In recent municipal elections held in Netivot, hometown to the Ifargans and Abuhatzeiras, scandal raised its head again when another charismatic “wonder worker,” Rabbi Yoram Abergel (worth $9 million), was apprehended at the airport on his way to China. He was accused of having played a part in suspected mobster Shalom Domrani’s alleged extortion and intimidation campaign against supporters of a rival mayoral candidate. (One such supporter and alleged target was Ifargan, the X-ray rabbi.)

Like the recent elections, which ousted religious deal-makers, the recent tsunami of rabbinic scandals has shaken up even the most fervent believers, paving the way for much-needed reflection and reform among Israel’s most religious citizens. I saw concrete proof of this just the other day during a chance stroll along the old cobblestoned streets  of Jerusalem’s Knesset Israel neighborhood, directly across the street from Mahane Yehuda’s bustling shuk.

Joining old women in colorful Sephardic headdresses, long-skirted English-speaking Breslover adherents and black-coated haredim, I wandered past the century-old homes, stopping to read the wall posters. One outdated poster read:  “Issued by the Beit Din Tzedek Haredi Sephardi [a religious court]. It is completely forbidden for men or women to participate in elections which are connected to many sins and forbidden acts, all of which are outlawed by earlier sages.” But the admonition that struck me most was a handwritten poster hanging outside a modest house in the area, which proclaimed: “All the blessings you are seeking, all the success, healing, income, marriage partners, everything you could want in life rests with God alone, and not with any earthly man. Pray to Him alone.”

I took this to mean that, as I was taught many years ago in the Orthodox Hebrew Institute of Long Island where I spent grades 1-12, any intermediaries between ourselves and God are idolatrists and should be avoided. And this includes kabbalist wonder workers.

This advice might come a little late for some adherents to wonder workers. Dankner, for instance, might want to rethink all that advice he got from Ifargan.  This December, by order of the Tel Aviv District Court,  he lost control of his IDB holdings—which include corporate giants Cellcom and the Supersol chain—following debts that had reached $486 million to bondholders and  $300 million to banks.

Perhaps Rav Ifargan will give him a refund, or at least offer more advice, this time free of charge? Dankner is going to need it.  For in addition to his corporate woes, he now faces personal bankruptcy to the tune of one billion shekels, which will likely leave him homeless and penniless.

This article first appeared in the January-February issue of Moment.

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