Court rules Naomi Ragen plagiarized in best-seller

American-Israeli author says she’s victim of campaign aimed at silencing her criticism of ulra-Orthodox community.

Naomi Regan 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naomi Regan 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A best-selling American-Israeli author said Monday there is a campaign being waged to silence her, a day after she was found guilty by a Jerusalem Court of plagiarism.
Naomi Ragen, a New York native and a Jerusalem Post columnist accused the plaintiff, author Sarah Shapiro of “working out of a desire to silence my criticism of the Haredi community’s treatment of women, which I have done for years.”
“This is a sad day for Israeli society and Israeli authors in particular, who will have to deal with the language of abrasive lawsuits from people looking to suppress freedom of expression and creativity in Israel.”
She said she and her lawyer are still reading over the verdict and will decide whether to appeal when they are finished.
Ragen said the NIS 1 million lawsuit “deals with similarities in a few small pieces of sentences that are in my book and that of the plaintiff. In regards to the verdict, I am in shock and pain from the distortion of justice that was done.”
In the Jerusalem District Court’s 92- page ruling, the judge describes what led to Shapiro’s lawsuit against Ragen, who she said plagiarized from her first book Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother’s Diary for her best-selling novel Sotah.
The 1990 book is based on Shapiro’s diary from 1986-1989, when she was a young, inexperienced haredi mother exhausted by the burdens of motherhood.
Both Shapiro’s book and Sotah describe the fears and anger of an ultra- Orthodox woman who has recently given birth and hopes the illness and nausea she feels is the result of a virus, and not a new pregnancy.
The court found that in Ragen’s book there was “a resemblance in the subjects and motifs, resemblances in language and terminology, similarity and resemblance in dialogue, at times word for word, and cumulative violations.”
Shapiro said, according to the court, that her experiences, and by extension ultra-Orthodox life, were painted in a negative light in Ragen’s book.
In 1990, Ragen and Shapiro were introduced by the head of Targum Press, who gave Ragen a copy of her book.
According to the court, the two then met at Ragen’s house in Jerusalem, where Ragen told Shapiro she enjoyed the book and encouraged her to keep writing.
The court ruling says that a few years later Shapiro began hearing rumors that Ragen had copied a passage from her book and she bought Sotah at a secondhand book store, where she said she was shocked to see her words appearing on the pages, including words she had exchanged during a personal conversation with Ragen. The court said Ragen denied all wrongdoing, which the plaintiff said also came as a shock.
“In downtown Jerusalem, I found a copy of Sotah in a rack of best-sellers right by the entrance and started leafing through the pages. In just moments, to my shock, I started finding words that I recognized... With a pounding heart I rushed home and immediately dialed Ms. Ragen’s number. I told her what I had found and she said she didn’t know what I was talking about,” the ruling quotes Shapiro as saying.
In an interview with the Post in 2007, Ragen said “that woman has been hounding me for 13 years because two pages of my book resembled two pages in hers.”
Sunday’s court ruling includes quotes from a passage in Shapiro’s work where she seeks counseling with her rabbi, and compares it to a passage in Sotah where the protagonist reaches out to her husband.
In the passage, on page 343 of Shapiro’s work it reads “you don’t understand Americans; we don’t make it our business to produce perfectly behaved angels,” a nearly identical statement to one found on page 348 of Sotah that read “you don’t understand Americans... American mothers are not in the business of producing perfectly behaved little angels.” Shapiro was born in the US and immigrated to Israel in 1976. She lives in Jerusalem where she makes her living as a writer and editor of works marketed to the English-reading haredi community.
Ragen has written a series of best-selling books, including The Sacrifice of Tamar, The Saturday Wife, and Sotah, the book in question and Ragen’s second.
Ragen was previously the subject of a lawsuit by novelist Michal Tal, who said Ragen plagiarized from her novel, The Lion and the Cross, for her best-selling book, The Ghost of Hannah Mendes.