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

Women’s Minyan – Ha’aretz Review

A Minyan of Women  by Zipi Shochat (Ha’aretz, July 4, 2002)

The play, which premieres tonight at Habima in Tel Aviv, is based on a true story: a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman, wife of a rabbi, mother of 12, leaves her home and stays with a friend. The community’s “modesty squad” tries in vain to force her to go back. Her friend is physically attacked, her arm and leg broken. The rabbi’s wife is punished: she is cut off from her children, against her will.

The woman now lives in a small, moldy apartment in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood, trapped by social forces she is unable to overcome. She is ill, and can barely support herself. Her children live nearby, but she has not seen them for seven years.

Novelist Naomi Ragen (“Jephte’s Daughter,””Sotah” and others) learned of this tragic story several years ago from an article in Ha’aretz. “We’ve been together ever since then,” she says. “They simply crushed this wonderful woman who never committed any crime. So when Yaakov Agmon asked me to write a play for Habima, I thought that I would like to tell this woman’s story. It’s not a melodrama. It’s a story of social truth, like Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”

“I tried to write a play about the status of the Jewish woman in the strictly Orthodox world,” continues Ragen. “The religious woman does not have any public place in which she can express her opinions in a natural fashion. Conversely, every man can say whatever he wants from the stage of the synagogue, on any subject, including current events.

“The religious woman has never had access to the stage. In synagogue, we pray upstairs in the women’s section, while the men get up and say what they want to the entire congregation. Why shouldn’t the woman have the same right? Is she less intelligent? Does she have fewer interesting things to say?”

In the play, the part of the ex-wife of the rabbi, Hanna, is played by Davit Gavish. Hanna returns to her family home with a rabbinical court injunction, to see her children. She is received by friends, neighbors, mothers, grandmothers – the usual female suspects of the ultra-Orthodox world – who are angry with her and judge her for her actions. These parts in the play are based on women whom the playwright has met.

“In the Haredi world,” says Ragen, “the method is to frighten the woman, and threaten her that if she leaves home, she will never see her children again. The method works wonderfully, because in this way the woman is shackled to her marriage all of her life, even if it is a bad marriage.

“The Haredi world makes cynical use of religion, with excuses constantly being offered, purporting that something is written in the Torah, when in fact the opposite is true. Take, for instance, the norm of women having to have babies without end on the grounds that this is God’s will, whereas the mitzvah of `Be fruitful and multiply,’ is meant for Adam, not Eve. Jewish law explicitly says that the birth of two children is by all means sufficient, and that there is no need for more than that to fulfill the commandment.

“I say these things in the play. In my opinion, in the Haredi world, the fate of women who run away from home or who stay is basically the same.”

Despite Ragen’s criticism of the Haredi world, she describes herself as a very religious woman who relates to religion with great seriousness. She does not consider herself Haredi. Ragen moved to Israel in 1971 from America, and lives in Jerusalem with her four children and four grandchildren. Unlike the protagonist of her play, she is happily married. Of her husband of 30 years, she says, “He is my best friend. No one understands me better than he does.”

Ragen writes her books in her mother tongue, English.

Aren’t you afraid of how Haredi society or the modesty squads will respond to the play you wrote?

“What can they do to me? If they haven’t yet lynched me for writing “Jephte’s Daughter” and “Sotah,” I’m not going to starting being afraid now. There are a lot of people in religious society who understand and agree with me.”

“A Minyan of Women” is Ragen’s first play. Asked about the differences between writing for the theater and writing prose, she says: “I had a good story, but I had to make it into a good play. There are fewer words and fewer pages here, but the writing is much more difficult than writing a book. The process has been going on for two years, and a great many versions have been written. The difference between a play and prose is not in the words, but in the gestures, the words left unspoken, the background, the costumes, the expressions on the actor’s faces.”

The process was especially long and complicated. Ragen first wrote the play in English, and director Noya Lancet translated it into Hebrew. The result was disappointing, primarily because, as Ragen says, “It looked more novel than theater.” At this stage, dramaturge Miriam Yachil-Wax was brought in. “She tried to turn the good story into a good play. Together, we changed the entire play, and while we were making the change, I began to write in Hebrew. We dispensed with the translated version. She helped me a great deal. If the play is good, then it is to her credit, because she tutored me.”

Before writing this play, what was your connection to theater?

“I saw a lot of plays. Once a year I went to London or New York for the theater. I read a lot of plays, but I never wrote [one].”

In the end, will the Haredi society that you would like to influence through the play even see it performed?

“I am planning to propose to the managing director of the theater that the play be presented to an audience of Haredi women. I think they would identify with it, and that it would spark a lot of questions. If they have an understanding of what is going on in their world, they will have the power to change things. Right now, I don’t think they have enough awareness of the situation. Having a thousand women in a theater hall translates into a great deal of power. The play is also supposed to be able to speak to the secular world, which has the same problems, although they are not as extreme. In the secular world, the man also has control.”

“Women’s Minyan” by Naomi Ragen. Director – Noya Lancet; dramaturgy – Miriam Yachil-Wax; set and costumes – Frieda Klapholtz-Avrahami; music – Haim Parmont; lighting – Amir Brenner. Actresses: Davit Gavish, Dina Doronne, Daphna Armoni, Liat Goren, Lilach Caspi, Ruti Landau, Tal Tsidkony, Orna Rothberg, Inbal Shoham, Revital Snir. Premieres tonight at Habima.