by Elise Cooper
The Devil in Jerusalem is a terrifying thriller, but even more upsetting is that this story was based on a true event. It explores the horrific issues of abuse, both emotional and physical, inflicted onto cult followers. Based upon a true event from the documents of a well-known Israeli court case, the author fictionalizes it to add depth to the plot. This story centers around an ultra-Orthodox self-proclaimed religious leader and his acolytes who abuse young children physically and abuse their mothers emotionally.
Naomi Ragen: I am trying to save people’s lives. These predators use people who are seeking holiness and make them victims. Here in Israel there are endless stories of people considered holy men who turned out to be sexually exploiting women.
EC: Do you see this as a condemnation of the ultra-Orthodox?
NR: Absolutely not. I am Orthodox. This is not about the ultra-Orthodox community; it is about psychopaths who happen to be a part of the Jewish world. They use religion to manipulate people’s vulnerability when seeking spirituality. It is more a book about cults in which the leader is looked up to and can do no wrong in the eyes of their followers. I hope I brought out in the book the difference between a cult and a true religious experience. The cult leaders twist and turn, using religion for their own personal benefit.
EC: What inspired this story?
NR: I read the documents of a true court case. This sadistic cult abused children, one with severe burns. This supposed mystical holy man preyed on an American family: the mother involved was a young, intelligent woman. I call this book a work of fiction inspired by true events. To get the full extent of the horror of what happened I needed to not whitewash the true details. In the acknowledgement section of the book I talk about how it was based on the court transcripts.
EC: Why do you write these types of books?
NR: Books I write brings up “truths.” We need to look at what is underneath the carpet in order to grow, become a better Jewish community; thus, a better religious society. When my first book came out two decades ago it was a call-out regarding domestic abuse within the Jewish community. At that time, I was told I was defaming them; now, twenty years later, there are shelters for Orthodox Jewish women, guidelines for rabbis on how to handle abuse, and women who no longer are trapped by a code of silence. I hope what all my books have done is bring people to discuss important topics they read and share their opinions.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of this book?
NR: I want people to become aware of the dangers. Anyone can become a cult member, especially those who are highly intelligent, idealistic, and search for something. They are usually vulnerable at that time in their life.
Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q&As for many different outlets, including the Military Press.
- Naomi Ragen Reading List
- Reading List: Ultra-Orthodox Communities and Those Who Leave
- Nora Rubel: Based on a "True" Story