Identity Theft


rosenblum-colorBy Yonason Rosenblum

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 Magazine.

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  1. This reminds me of the story of the Chofetz Chaim who waited twenty-five years to witness Hashem’s retribution upon a heartless landlord who evicted an almanah and yesomim from his house in the middle of the winter. Baruch Hashem this rashanta finally got a small modicum of the punishment that she truly deserves. May the same follow for all enemies of Hashem and His people.

  2. I once shared a few emails with Ragen, and at the end, I told her I wanted to close my subscription to her emailing because of how she spoke about that bus incident in Israel with the hareidi. She was mad and let me know it in the email. There are issues there. But this what you say above, is very concerning.

  3. Sarah Shapiro is a critically acclaimed best-selling author. She is educated and intellectual and, yes, she is Chareidi. She also happens to be the daughter of the world famous author and magazine editor, Norman Cousins. What was Ms. Ragen thinking? She is completely out of her league.

  4. Sarah Shapiro recently became engaged to Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum, former principal of Torah Day School of Atlanta! May she continue to be zoche to Mazel and bracha!