Plagiarism Charges Against Novelist Naomi Ragen

Sarah Shapiro writes on

In the Jerusalem Post of February 23, 2007, I read of a plagiarism charge against the author Naomi Ragen, and was prompted by that report to inform the plaintiff’s attorney of my own related experience. Two respected rabbinical authorities on shmiras halashon were consulted as to whether it was advisable and permissible to make this matter public, before doing so…

Intellectual property theft inflicts a particular kind of anguish—one to which any writer who experiences it can testify. For me, the experience was exacerbated not only by the fact that autobiographical accounts of my personal life were reproduced without permission in a work of fiction, but that they were used for purposes I find repugnant, differing radically in intention from mine. Events in my life as an Orthodox Jew were used in a work that degrades and condescends to Orthodox Jews. Some lines of my account were reproduced word for word, some were obviously modified to disguise the similarity, and some were embellished (for example, with words such as “base” and “shameful”) 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. From the outset of this case, including the initial decision as to whether or not to contact Michal Tal’s attorney, all major steps have been taken in accordance with daas Torah. The lawsuit was submitted to the av bais din of the bais din Yerushalayim, Rav Dov Levine, and the hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday.

Michal Tal, author of The Lion and the Cross, emails me Sept. 11, 2007:

As the author who initiated a plagiairism suit againt Naomi Ragen, I’d like to add my comments to Sarah Shapiro’s.

The discovery of one’s words, creativity, literary devices, and characters in another’s book, feels like the greatest form of violation, or like someone stole your child. In my case, part of the plagiraized material came from my dreams , which were adapted for use in my novel. This intimate form of inspired writing, taken and utilized by another, feels like rape.On many levels, a book one has written is like their child; something conceived and nurtured carefully and devotedly over time. Unlike hack writers, who rely on tried and true formulas for all of their books, real novelists don’t use formulas, but invest hours of research, seek exerpiences or sources for inspiration, record their dreams, which are sometimes inserted into their story, and apply themsleves devotedly, almost in a form of mania, to the act of creative writing. To have the results of all of these efforts brazenly stolen from you, is devastating. A relatively unknown author feels like the private citizen bullied by a corporation. One is faced firstly, with utter disbelief by most. Why would someone who adores an author believe the accusations of a stranger? Secondly, a successful author has greater access to resources for protection and justifcation, than does the "starving artist". Then there’s the hate feedback on the internet by Ragen fans.

The Jewish concept of "Im ain ani li mi li?" ("If I am not for myself, who will be for me?") has come to my aid in this case. Having the truth on one’s side give a person incredible courage. I would hope that this case come to its just conclusion, so that people in the arts can view this case as an example of protection of the inviolate creative and intellctual rights of the artist.

Novelist Naomi Ragen emails me October 8, 2007:

Dear Mr. Ford, Do you think it is ethical to print charges against an author destroying her reputation when the subject is under judicial review and will be decided in the courts? Is it right to allow people to publicize these charges with no rebuttal from the author? Are you aware of the fact that the Cross-Currents website is run by Jonathan Rosenblum, who has a long-held and well-documented personal bias against me and has attacked me in the past in print for which he was sent a formal letter of complaint by the editor of the Jerusalem Post?

Are you aware that Michal Tal’s self-published book came out after my book was already in the hands of a publishing house, and thus I could not possibly have used any of her material, which had no relevance to my book at all anyway? Are you aware that my book is the story of the historical character Gracia Mendes, and hers is about a horny Milanese tax collector and his equally horny son and a book that I felt embarrassed to read when I was forced to do so by this court case? Are you aware of the fact that Ms. Shapiro aired all her unfounded charges thirteen years ago, and they were thoroughly examined and rejected by the legal staff of Random House? Would you like to see the letter? Are you aware that her book, her diary of her anger management classes, contains numerous instances of her physically abusing her children? Are you aware that both authors are represented by an attorney who sent me a letter saying that if I didn’t pay him "a considerable sum" under the table, that he would "ruin" my reputation, by spreading these charges on the internet? Are you aware that by posting these things you are helping him to do this you and are now complicit in this attempt at extortion?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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