Naomi Ragen Guilty of Plagiarism

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A Jerusalem Court has ruled in favor of Sarah Shapiro, who wrote four years ago about her plagiarism suit against Naomi Ragen. Ragen is the well-known author of Sotah, Jephte’s Daughter, and other works, all of which use fiction to portray Orthodox Jewish life, especially for women, as a stifling existence of “drudgery and subservience” (from one review). This is from a positive review of Sotah on Amazon:

Naomi Regan [sic] reveals the true twisted world of the orthodox Jews. A world that has the same rules no matter where the orthodox Jewish community choses to grow. The crooked interpretation of the bible, chauvinism, disrespect of woman, and primitive way of seeing the reality. The powerless individual who wants to have a taste of a less restricted world facing the horrors of what the society believes is right.

Well, not only is it a work of fiction, describing a world that bears little resemblance to the vibrancy of the Torah community — it’s also plagiarized, having borrowed content from Shapiro’s work, all of which was, of course, both positive and accurate. More to follow.

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6 Responses

  1. Yaakov Menken says:

    In response to Jacob and Raymond: I posted because Mrs. Shapiro is traveling and hasn’t the time to post directly at this time. I have read more of Ragen’s work than documented by MSS, and found them consistent with MSS’ description and that of the many other reviewers — both positive and negative — who have read her books. If you don’t believe anyone else’s review of a book without reading the entire work yourself, cover to cover, then more power to you, but that’s not the way the world turns.

    Mrs. Shapiro described Naomi Ragen’s writings as having distorted her own first-person life experiences “in such a way that the accounts would conform to the pejorative image of Orthodox Jews which Ms. Ragen’s writings promote. Experiences which were in fact life-giving and positive were given a spin whereby Orthodox observance of Judaism is made to look superstitious, narrow, confining, small-minded, backward, repressive, and whereby haredi adherents are often depicted as either hypocritical evildoers (usually male) or melodramatic, helpless victims (usually female) who must break free, valiantly and courageously, from patronizing religious coercion, rabbinical oppression and their own neurotic dependency.”

    Anyone who has even read the excerpt on Amazon.com would not challenge that description. In particular, I don’t think anyone can read Ragen’s “letter to her sisters” and fail to perceive both her feminist agenda and intolerance of those more traditional than herself. She is not “a corrective” as Raymond would have it, but a source of the problem.

    [UPDATE: This is from the literary expert report prepared by Prof. William Kolbrener, of the English department at Bar-Ilan University:

    Consistent with the method and message of Sotah, the words of rabbis from the Haredi sector never bring out introspection or lead to personal transformation. When the protagonist Dina is transformed in the final section of Sotah, it is the words of the psychiatrist, the secular Joan, and the Berkeley educated Rabbi Eliezer who are given the credit. Where the renowned Haredi rabbi leads Sarah to self-reflection and eventual self-development, in Sotah, Haredim are almost always repressed as rigid, inflexible, and incapable of self-expression…

    In the fictional world of Regan’s Sotah, the voice of reasonable moderation, of honesty, of soul-searching are associated with the secular Joan. Though the character is a secular New Yorker, the voice is unmistakably from Growing with My Children, that of Sarah Shapiro. The tendency towards self-scrutiny, the common language which they use, as well as the common desire for personal change all show Sarah to be the unmistakable source for Regan’s Joan. The Haredi protagonist, Dina, on the other hand is associated with a strict rigidity which is finally transformed only through Joan’s intervention. Indeed, through the moderating influence of Joan, Dina rethinks her past and her conception of the Haredi world. So Dina looks back at the “kollel men indistinguishable in their dark suits” who give “no value to individual human expression,” and in fact do everything to have it “throttled” and “repressed.” Dina’s voice thus becomes one with the other voices in the book that call the Haredi sector “medieval.” The relationship which propels Sarah to a new sense of insight about her own children and shows the complexity and beauty of Sarah’s family relations, in Sotah is used to cast aspersion on the very society which Shapiro’s work so values.

    ]

  2. Raymond says:

    This is the first time that I can recall ever disagreeing with anything that Rabbi Menken has said. I have read several of Naomi Ragen’s books; she is an extremely compelling writer, her works holding my attention like no other author with the ironic exception of the Rambam. In any case, I do not see Naomi Ragen’s books as being feminist propaganda at all. Rather, I see it as serving as a corrective for some of the excesses of intolerance happening in very religious Jewish communities. I am not talking here about women’s issues at all, but about any given Jewish individual, male or female, being harshly, disproportionately, and prematurely judged by so-called religious people all too eager to point out how everybody but themselves are evil.

  3. Jacob Suslovich says:

    Did you read the book? If you did perhaps you can be more specific in describing how the author portrays Orthodoxy in a negative light and perhaps you could say whether the book had anything positive to say about Orthodoxy.

    If you did not read it then I respectfully suggest that you remain silent.

  4. Pinchas Steinberg says:

    I managed to get through the first 3 chapters of “Sotah” before finally becoming too bored to continue any further. Naomi Ragen’s writing style is mediocre at best, which when combined with her cliched and flagrantly biased obsession with haredim, makes for an excruciatingly painful read. The only way Ragen has been able to garner any publicity appears to be by spewing the same “original” anti-haredi drivel already spewed by countless leftist Israeli writers over the decades.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    “I haven’t read the book, I’m not going to pay attention to those who have, but since she has bad things to say about the Orthodox, I bet something in there has merit despite her penchant for theft and mendacity.” That says a lot more about “Shanks” than either Sotah or Orthodoxy.

  6. Shanks says:

    I have not read this book, but I cannot judge her critiques of the Orthodox world on the basis of two Amazon reviews, or on the basis of the fact that she apparently plagiarized. I understand the rabbis here do not hold like Maimonides, but I try to take truth from wherever it comes.