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Women’s Minyan

In her powerful and often emotional award-winning play Women’s Minyan (based on a true story), novelist and playwright Naomi Ragen explores the strict rules that govern the lives of Orthodox Jewish women, and in particular, how religious leaders can twist biblical and other holy writings to suit their objectives. But more importantly, Ragen – who once described herself as “a very religious woman who relates to religion with great seriousness” – sheds light on the subject of domestic abuse, especially when it occurs in a close-knit, patriarchal community that prefers to keep its dirty laundry hidden.
In May 2011, a reading of Women’s Minyan was staged at New York’s Westside Theater. The reading was directed by four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh.

Read the story of the production here.

A scene from Habimah’s production of “Women’s Minyan” (photo: Gerard Allon)

Chana Kashman is a respected rabbi’s wife in the patriarchal ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem, a community steeped in religious strictures and customs that strictly control all aspects of women’s lives. After years of  abuse, she finally breaks her silence, only to find herself excommunicated and forcibly separated from her twelve children. In a desperate attempt to break the codes that imprison her, she manages to convene a Minyan  – a quorum – of women closest to her, including her mother, mother- in-law, sister, daughters, and friends, asking them to decide her worthiness to be reunited with her children. But even as they sit in judgment on Chana,  it is ultimately they themselves, and their entire society, who are on trial.

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Women’s Minyan is the longest-running play ever to be presented at the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv (as Minyan Nashim – מנין נשים).

“They enforce marriage and divorce laws that keep us chained like prisoners to men we despise. A man doesn’t need a gun to kill a wife. He can squeeze the life out of her drop by drop.” — from Women’s Minyan

“… the play is a mirror of that society. If one doesn’t like the face, don’t blame the mirror.” — Naomi Ragen, when asked about the controversial topic exposed by her play

Minyan Nashim at Habimah
A scene from Habimah’s production of “Women’s Minyan” (photo: Gerard Allon)

“Naomi Ragen’s Women’s Minyan is a tough play to watch, particularly for any 21st century American women … emotionally volatile … as Women’s Minyan demonstrates, cruelty takes many forms. And sometimes it flows from the similarly oppressed.” — Christine Dolen, Miami Herald

“I admit I didn’t think I’d like it. A play about the aftermath of a divorce in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in Israel didn’t sound very appealing. Turns out I was wrong. I loved it. I laughed. I cried. I was captivated from start to finish.” — SFGN

“[This] powerful drama explores the gulf that separates social convention from fundamentalist faith in a patriarchal society, cutting across religious, gender and cultural boundaries … The haunting message of Women’s Minyan is one that needs to be heard and heeded throughout the world.” — The Sanford Herald

Women’s Minyan is designed to alert the world to a kind of domestic abuse that is seldom discussed.” — Richard Aides, The Other Paper

“… a J’accuse of all injustices against women in the religious world … What the men decide is what’s going to happen.” — Jerusalem Post

“Love, friendship, integrity, anger, jealousy, hate, duplicity, mercy, and honor are all brought forth in Naomi Ragen’s gut-wrenching play.” — KDHX Theater Review — Neville Mur

A scene from the Miami Jewish Cultural Arts Theatre production of “Women’s Minyan”

“Without being preachy, pious or judgmental, and without pulling any punches, Naomi Ragen’s Women’s Minyan brings a sensitive topic to the stage of The New Jewish Theatre in a production and performances which are stunningly powerful, moving and meaningful. Women’s Minyan not only deserves a ‘Bravo’ for directing, acting and script, but for bringing into sharp focus an urgent problem which has been kept under wraps for too many years.” — St. Louis Jewish Light

“Ragen’s script is at its shocking best when it details the many layers of subterfuge embarked upon by the rabbis and her family to both demonize Chana and erase her from their midst. And while there’s little time to fully develop each of her many characters, most are given brief moments that allow the audience into their hearts and souls. (She’s especially adept at quickly delineating their individual strengths and weaknesses.)”

Donald V. Calamia – Encore Michigan

Read some reviews of the play:

The Spanish-language Production – “Tribunal de Mujeres”

Poster for "Tribunal de Mujeres"
Poster for “Tribunal de Mujeres”

“Formalmente la obra puede resultar escasa en acciones físicas. Pero, el suspenso lo suple y el final es catártico. La sabia dirección de Juan Freund, también adaptador de “Tribunal…”, obvió con ritmo vertiginoso la mencionada falencia, aún a riesgo de soslayar momentos significativos. Con gran sentido plástico sorteó las dificultades del reducido escenario del Auditorio Ben Ami y logró un espectáculo de altísimo nivel. Su puesta en escena es ejemplar.

Scene from Buenos Aires, Argentina production of "Tribunal de Mujeres"
Scene from Buenos Aires, Argentina production of “Tribunal de Mujeres”

No menor mérito le corresponde a las actrices Milagros Arbizu, Marisa Roncato, Myrtha Shalom, Isabel Caban. Ester Fleischman, Silvia Franc, Betty Dimov, Myriman Poteraica, Lidia Goldberg y Marta Gimeno. La interpretación es tan sólida y homogénea que sería realmente injusto mencionar a alguien en particular. Contribuyen igualmente a la calidad del espectáculo, la bella música de Sergio Vainikoff y el vestuario y escenografía de Alicia Vera.

Espectadores que aplauden de pie y localidades agotadas avalan este comentario. “Tribunal de Mujeres” se impone como un felicísimo acontecimiento teatral. En resumen: no se la pierdan” — Manuel Lotersztein (Semanario Israelita)

Reviews of the Spanish language production “Tribunal de Mujeres” in Buenos Aires, Argentina: