The Devil in Jerusalem

by Naomi Ragen

Book, 2015



Call number




New York, NY St. Martin's Press, 2015


Two brothers are admitted to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital with horrific injuries. Their mother, a young American, devoutly recites Psalms at the bedside, refusing to answer any questions. Brought in to investigate, Detective Bina Tzedek follows a winding path that takes her through Jerusalem's Old City, kabbalists, mystical ancient texts, and terrifying cult rituals, until she finally uncovers the shocking truth.

User reviews

LibraryThing member shazjhb
A departure from her usual style. A much sicker version of religion and not a pleasant read. It is hard to believe that people can get so sucked up into that type of life
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Shocking but compelling; I had to read this quickly. I was horrified by how a good family could become so dysfunctional and vulnerable to predators.

And I definitely can't comprehend how Shlomie is not held responsible for advising and pushing his wife to accept a charlatan's teachings and
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commands. And for not helping support his family or behave like an adult, or help his wife care for their children, etc. His behavior strongly contributed to Daniella's loss of confidence, stress, anger, loneliness and confusion. Stupidity is not an excuse.

This novel is fiction but based on a conglomeration of real cases but felt too real to me. The Devil in Jerusalem is a good argument that no one should ever allow others to take away their right to think independently.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
The book begins with two very young brothers being brought to a Jerusalem hospital. Their young mother, Daniella Goodman is present, but she refuses to answer any questions about how their injuries occurred. Instead, she just recites some psalms. Thus begins a fairly horrific tale that the author,
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Naomi Ragen, says is “inspired by true events.”

Daniella is an American who married Shlomie Goodman, an extremely devout Jew whose goal in life was to go to Israel and spend his life studying the Torah. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Daniella’s family is fairly wealthy, and so they can get by without a true bread winner for a husband.

First Shlomie and then Daniella come under the malign influence of Menachem Shem Tov, a hyper-Orthodox rebbe and self proclaimed scholar of the Kabbalah, who calls himself the Messiah. Three of his thuggish followers call themselves angels. The Messiah and his gang turn out to be strict disciplinarians who beat and torture the children for misbehaving.

Detective Bina Tzedek is assigned to investigate the case.

A legitimate criticism of the book is that it turns a Jewish Jonestown into a tale of violence porn. The penultimate chapter purports to be a portion of Daniella’s testimony in the criminal trial of the Messiah. It consists of ten pages of lurid descriptions of the torture to which the children were subjected. And just in case you didn’t get enough sadism, the author adds: “By court order, the remainder of Daniella Goodman’s testimony as it pertains to her minor children is sealed from public view,” so we can assume the redacted portion may have been even more abominable (or juicy, depending on your point of view).

Most of the book is devoted to flashbacks that explores factors, both general and particular, that lead people into blind obedience of those who establish cults under quasi-religious auspices. The author strives mightily to make Daniella a sympathetic character, but I think she ultimately fails to do so.

Evaluation: This was not a pleasant book to read, but I can’t deny it held my attention.

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