Identity Theft

Just before Pesach, best-selling novelist Naomi Ragen was socked with the largest plagiarism judgment ever in Israel. District court judge Yosef Shapira ordered her to pay Sarah Shapiro 233,000 shekels for scenes “stolen” from Shapiro’s memoir Growing with My Children for Ragen’s novel Sotah.

Ragen accused Sarah Shapiro of having sued her “out of a desire to silence my criticism of the Haredi community’s treatment of women.” On Israel TV, she derided the verdict as worthy of a “banana republic.”

In a lengthy interview in Yediot Ahronot published over Pesach, Ragen charged that she was the victim of a chareidi conspiracy. Asked how the chareidim had ensnared a highly respected jurist and former military judge with the rank of colonel into their plot, Ragen did not answer directly. Elsewhere in the interview, however, she implied some kind of improper political influence on the judge: “It’s no wonder Shas very much wants this judge to be the next state comptroller.” (I’d be surprised if one Shas MK has ever heard of Ragen.)

Later in the interview, Ragen expressed her wonder that the intelligentsia had not rallied to her cause: “Just as [they] did not initially understand what the mehadrin buses were, now they don’t understand … that the chareidi influence has entered into the judicial system.”

But Judge Shapira did not render judgment in a cultural war. His 92-page verdict was a meticulous examination of the two works, which led him to conclude, “[S]imilarities between the two works are so essential that any explanation other than plagiarism is untenable.”

Ragen’s appropriations from another chareidi woman writer, Sudi Rosengarten, are even more blatant than those in Sotah. The plot and even the descriptive details of Rosengarten’s story “A Match Made in Heaven” appear to have been lifted almost in toto and incorporated as Chapter 24 in Ragen’s novel The Sacrifice of Tamar. (Readers can compare for themselves.) Rosengarten, whose story appeared in Our Lives Vol. I, an anthology edited, ironically, by Sarah Shapiro, has also sued.

Shapiro’s case went beyond the appropriation of one fictional plot into another work of fiction. Growing with My Children is a memoir of her own struggles and sense of failure as a young mother feeling overwhelmed by many children in close succession. The use of her brave and path-breaking account in another author’s fiction was nothing less than identity theft.

How diabolically clever of those chareidim to trick Ragen into copying their works in order to discredit her.

This article first appeared in Mishpacha.

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5 comments to Identity Theft

  • Julie K

    I guess Naomi Ragen doesn’t have much first-hand knowledge of charedi life, if she resorts to copying other writers’ material.

  • Shimon

    I am not a supporter – or critic – of Naomi Ragen. I have not read any of her books and do not pretend to have any startling insights re the plagiarism case.
    However, in the interests of fairness and accuracy, I believe it’s worth sharing a couple of lines from a JTA report on the court’s decision:
    “Ragen deplored the ruling and was quoted in the Israeli media as saying that while she may have been inspired by Shapiro’s book, it was not tantamount to plagiarism. She has said she will appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.
    “In January, Ragen was found not guilty by Israel’s Supreme Court of plagiarizing in her book ‘The Ghost of Hannah Mendes’ from self-published author Michal Tal.”

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    “I guess Naomi Ragen doesn’t have much first-hand knowledge of charedi life.” That’s an understatement. Her misperceptions, misconceptions and downright ignorance rival her pointed antipathy.

  • Steve Brizel

    Look at it this way-Ms. Ragen has joined the long chorus of people whose ideas were either rejected , or worse, proven to have lifted her writings from others without attribution, and then claimed to be either a victim , or a persecuted would be martyr.

  • L. Oberstein

    I just heard that Sarah Shapiro not only won her case in court but that she just got engaged to marry Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum, now of Jerusalem, formerly of Atlanta. MAZAL TOV