Naomi Ragen Ordered to Pay ₪233,000 for Plagiarism

from Roberta Chester

Judge Yosef Shapira accepted a settlement on Tuesday between American-Israeli authors Naomi Ragen and Sarah Shapiro, whereby Ragen was ordered to pay Shapiro 233,000 NIS (over $62,500) for copyright infringement, representing an unprecedented amount in a plagiarism case in Israel.

The agreement followed a verdict issued December 11 determining that Ragen, the defendant, committed plagiarism in her novel “Sotah,” and had stolen both text and ideas from Shapiro’s autobiographical memoir of her life as a young orthodox mother, “Growing With My Children.” The court ruled that in writing “Sotah,” the fictional account of a young woman living in Jerusalem’s Haredi community and accused of committing adultery, Ragen had committed “theft, negligence, and a violation of copyright.”

In her defense, Ragen claimed that she “accidentally” copied Shapiro’s work, a claim the court rejected as being “unthinkable, unlikely, and unbelievable.” Following the December verdict, the court recommended that the two sides settle upon an exact amount. In addition, all phrases and sentences which violated Shapiro’s copyright will have to be eliminated from new editions of “Sotah.” [UPDATED: previous version stated in error that the material will not have to be removed.]

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11 Responses

  1. Jacob Suslovich says:

    Whi is this supposed to be of interest to the readers of Cross-Currents?

  2. L. Oberstein says:

    I am glad this case was settled. I wonder how common it is for similar ideas to appear in fictional books that may have come from memories of previous books or stories heard. In other words, the judge had to be convinced that this wasn’t a mere oversight,like giving a chidush as your own when you heard it from someone else,but not remembering who you heard it from.
    The sub-text here is that Naomi Ragen is a well known author with a wide readership and Sarah Shapiro is only known in a niche market. I think the reason this was decided in Shapiro’s favor is that she actually sent a text to Ragen which was then later used as material for her fiction.
    If you were a famous author and some unknown person sued you because you had a similar plot in your book to one that had appeared in an obscure book, it would be different. Here Naomi was shown to have had actually received the text. I would give Naomi the benefit of the doubt that it came more from hubris than larceny, but guilty just the same.

  3. Harry Maryles says:

    b’nfol oivecha al tismach!

  4. Phil says:

    Not only did Naomi Ragen use the text she received from Sarah Shapiro in her own book, she first twisted it in a way that cast frum people in a very unfavorable light.

  5. Jacob Suslovich says:

    To Phil,

    Exactly how did she in this book “Four Essays on Liberty” ?

  6. Eli says:

    Rabbi Maryles, this has nothing to do with rejoicing at her downfall. This is about the charedi community recovering its honor after it having been wantonly violated. And to Mr. Oberstein, if you read the previous posts on the subject on Cross-Currents you’ll see that there is no doubt that Regan had malicious intent

  7. Jacob Suslovich says:

    I call upon those who have read the book, “sotah” to demonstrate that the book “Sotah” is anti-chareidi. And showing that the book which is about a Chreidi family has one or more bad guys who are Chareidi will not suffice. Any popular novel has to have a bad guy. If I recall, the bad guy in this novel was characterized as being the worm in the garden of Charedi society. That doesn’t sound too negative to me. It usually has to also a good guy. Are they also Chareidi. Are there any final judgmetns about Chariedi society in general? Please quote them. So far all I have read is people who have read reviews by other people. I am not referring ot the corpus of her work – only one book is at issue here.

  8. David F. says:

    “b’nfol oivecha al tismach!”

    Surely you jest, my friend. I haven’t seen evidence of any rejoicing nor would I refer to Mrs. Regan as “oivecha.” She’s a fellow Jew and religious one at that even if she made a mistake. The reality is that she did something that is intolerable and in the process she painted religious Jews in a terrible light. She is also a voice for those who regularly paint religious Jews in a negative light and to discover that her own morals are somewhat wanting is an important piece of news.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    It is interesting to note that Jacob Suslovich issued almost precisely the same challenge when I posted about the verdict. An answered question doesn’t need a new response, so I will simply quote from my response at that time and then add a comment at the bottom:

    Mrs. Shapiro described Naomi Ragen’s writings as having distorted her own first-person life experiences “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.”

    This is from the literary expert report prepared by Prof. William Kolbrener, of the English department at Bar-Ilan University:

    Consistent with the method and message of Sotah, the words of rabbis from the Haredi sector never bring out introspection or lead to personal transformation. When the protagonist Dina is transformed in the final section of Sotah, it is the words of the psychiatrist, the secular Joan, and the Berkeley educated Rabbi Eliezer who are given the credit. Where the renowned Haredi rabbi leads Sarah to self-reflection and eventual self-development, in Sotah, Haredim are almost always repressed as rigid, inflexible, and incapable of self-expression…

    In the fictional world of Regan’s Sotah, the voice of reasonable moderation, of honesty, of soul-searching are associated with the secular Joan. Though the character is a secular New Yorker, the voice is unmistakably from Growing with My Children, that of Sarah Shapiro. The tendency towards self-scrutiny, the common language which they use, as well as the common desire for personal change all show Sarah to be the unmistakable source for Regan’s Joan. The Haredi protagonist, Dina, on the other hand is associated with a strict rigidity which is finally transformed only through Joan’s intervention. Indeed, through the moderating influence of Joan, Dina rethinks her past and her conception of the Haredi world. So Dina looks back at the “kollel men indistinguishable in their dark suits” who give “no value to individual human expression,” and in fact do everything to have it “throttled” and “repressed.” Dina’s voice thus becomes one with the other voices in the book that call the Haredi sector “medieval.” The relationship which propels Sarah to a new sense of insight about her own children and shows the complexity and beauty of Sarah’s family relations, in Sotah is used to cast aspersion on the very society which Shapiro’s work so values.

    According to not merely Mrs. Shapiro, but Prof. Kolbrener, who personally describes himself as hashkafically considerably closer to Ragen then Shapiro, Ragan not merely plagiarized but also distorted the passages in question so as to cast Charedim in a starkly negative light. In his expert opinion, this is “consistent with the method and message of Sotah.” He states this as a forthright and obvious fact about Sotah, implying that the negative depiction of Charedim is so prevalent and pervasive that any thinking person would discern this message in the text — were that person not motivated for reasons of his or her own to cover for Ragen. The same motivations that might, for example, prompt the same person to issue the same challenge repeatedly about the same obvious fact, regardless of the previous answer.

  10. Jacob Suslovich says:

    I have no opinion as to whether or not Mrs. Ragen plagiarized. I do have an opinion about stamping a particular book as anti-chareidi, or anti anything else for that matter, without having read the book. It is simply wrong, and probably assur. Now it appears that Rabbi Menken relied on an opinion given by an expert hired by one side in a law suit. Now this may come as a shock, but experts hired by one side in a law suit have been know to be somewhat less than objective. They have even been know to (gasp) be less than truthful. If you want to criticize a book, read it first. There are no legitimate shortcuts.

    Being somewhat caught up in this conversation, I decided to read this book myself. I checked the Brooklyn Public Library website and sure enough the branch closest to my house has several copies. But guess what; they have all been checked out. The book seems to be very popular for one written, according to the web site, in 1992. Perhaps the attention that it has received in web sites such as this one has created greater demand. Anyway, I am not prepared to buy it. I will check the library again later.

  11. Yaakov Menken says:

    Jacob now admits that he hasn’t actually read the book, in order to contradict all those who have and who almost universally opine that it is, in fact, anti-charedi. For that matter, he obviously hasn’t read my previous response on the topic — I may not have slogged through the whole book, and indeed never intend to, but have read quite enough from this and other of her works to know that “anti-charedi” is unquestionably an accurate depiction of Ragen’s perspective. And no, it’s certainly not assur to say so.

    Since the bias of the book was irrelevant to the issue of plagiarism, the assertion that Prof. Kolbrener would needlessly inject a pejorative description in a way that was not merely “less than objective” but also perhaps “less than truthful” is truly unworthy of a response — especially as Jacob has now admitted that he himself has not read the book, has not read its professional reviews, has not read readers’ reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, and has even managed to forget the response to his question when he asked it just a few months back. He is simply injecting an opinion from the perspective of blissful ignorance. The question, as I alluded to in my last response, is, why? I suspect once he’s actually read the above he’ll have reversed course.

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