Sisterhood Blog

After Plagiarism Suit, Standing by Naomi Ragen

By Elana Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share
St. Martin's Griffin
The book at issue: Ragen’s 1992 novel, “Sotah.”

The news that Naomi Ragen was found guilty of plagiarism came as quite a blow to those of us who deeply admire her work. Ragen is more than a bestselling author; she’s an activist by writing, and in some circles, I would go so far as to say she’s an icon. The devastating verdict creates a real conflict for some of us, torn between protection of artists’ rights and the need for strong female religious leadership. It’s a tough call, but I have decided that I’m going to continue to support Naomi Ragen.

This is why: Ragen has been a courageous writer on behalf of Jewish women since before it became popular, before Orthodox women’s activism had a name or a movement. Back when the only type of writing we had about Orthodoxy came from the Faye Kellerman-style of idealizing Orthodoxy, in which all is beautiful and sweet in the Orthodox home and all women are happy cooking and looking pretty and covered while their husbands do all the grungy work in the outside world of blood and guts, Ragen was out there. She was willing to take an honest look and tell the truth despite the denial and outrage her words engendered. She had the courage to expose so much of what is kept systematically hidden in the religious world — painful abuse, power-wielding, social hierarchies — and for that we all need to be grateful.

That’s not to say that all of Orthodoxy is a culture of abuse, despite her many critics, attackers and naysayers. On the contrary, Ragen’s voice is one of criticism from within, and she has not wavered from her stance as a fully observant religious woman. This nuanced position of trying to expose pain and injustice within a particular culture while remaining fully committed to that culture has earned my enormous admiration. For that alone she deserves the support of the entire Orthodox community Her fight is not to destroy the religion but to elevate it to what it can potentially be.

Ragen is also one of the rare authors who does not hide away behind her computer but actually takes her ideas into the world of activism and action. She has been on the segregated buses in Jerusalem, doing the Rosa Parks thing way before most people even heard about the horrors of gender segregation that are currently flooding the news. She is not content to just write; she believes in doing. This is very meaningful to personally, and I also aspire to be both a writer and an activist, using the proverbial pen when needed and the proverbial sword when action is called for. In that sense, she is a real role-model, in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, whose epithet is embedded in my email signature: “Either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”

To be clear, I am not trying to condone plagiarism, nor am I casting doubt on the system of justice. I sympathize with the litigant, and I have been in similar situations of trusting a mentor when I shouldn’t have. I get that. Naomi Ragen apparently made a mistake — a serious though perhaps not entirely a conscious one — and she will be paying the price in terms of both money and reputation. With, that, however, I think that all things considered, I am ready to put this entire episode behind us and let Naomi Ragen return to doing her thing. The world needs her voice and her leadership, and as Jewish women, we cannot afford to lose her. As they say in Israel, yalla, kadima. Let’s move on. After you, Ms. Ragen.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Plagiarism, Naomi Ragen, Fiction

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.