Dr. Ruth R. Wisse
Professor Ruth R. Wisse is one of our age’s great masters of Jewish letters. She is currently Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita at Harvard and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. She is a winner of the National Jewish Book Award and was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush.
Professor Wisse’s books include The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Literature and Culture, Jews and Power, and No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. Her memoir, Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self- Liberation was published last year. She is the editor or co-editor of numerous anthologies, including The I.L. Peretz Reader and The Best of Sholem Aleichem (with Irving Howe). Her essays on Jewish literature, culture, and politics have been published in Mosaic, the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and the Jewish Review of Books.
Professor Ruth R. Wisse, one of our era’s pioneering scholars of Jewish studies, is a unique figure in the world of American Jewish letters. She bridges the worlds of Yiddish and American culture, of literature and politics, of Israel and the Diaspora.
Born in Czernowitz, Romania, in 1936, Wisse and her family immigrated to Canada in 1940, and she and her brother were raised in a Yiddish-speaking household in Montreal. She began attending the Jewish People’s School, or Folkshule, in 1942 and received a rigorous Hebrew and Yiddish education. She attended McGill University, receiving her Bachelor’s in 1957, and upon the recommendation of the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever, she attended Columbia University to receive her Master’s Degree. There, she studied with both Max and Uriel Weinreich. She returned to McGill for her doctorate, writing her dissertation on “The Schlemiel as Modern Hero.”
Professor Wisse began teaching Yiddish Literature at McGill in 1968, helping to ound its pioneering Jewish studies department. In 1993, she moved to Harvard, where she taught until her retirement in 2014. She is currently Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Tikvah Fund and a member of the editorial board of the Jewish Review of Books.
Her books on literary topics include A Little Love in Big Manhattan (1988), The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Literature and Culture (2003), an edition of Jacob Glatstein’s two-volume fictional memoir, The Glatstein Chronicles (2010), and No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (2015). She has also edited or co-edited several anthologies of Jewish literature, including The Best of Sholem Aleichem (1979), The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse (1988), and The I.L. Peretz Reader (2002). Wisse is also the author of two political studies, If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (1992) and Jews and Power (2007). Her memoir, Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self- Liberation was published last year.
Professor Wisse lectures widely, and her writing on everything from Jewish culture to Zionism to contemporary politics has been published in Mosaic, the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Jewish Review of Books, National Affairs, and Tablet. A selection of her writing includes:
- “What Saul Bellow Saw,” Mosaic
- “What’s Wrong with Fiddler on the Roof,” Mosaic
- “My Quarrel with ‘My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner,’” Mosaic
- “The Jewish Critic and the Devil’s Point of View,” Jewish Review of Books
- “Yiddish Genius in America,” Jewish Review of Books
- “Letter to a New Israeli,” Commentary
- “The Politics of Yiddish,” Commentary
- “The New York (Jewish) Intellectuals,” Commentary
- “My Life Without Leonard Cohen,” Commentary
- “The Closing of the Collegiate Mind,” Wall Street Journal
- “The Functions of Anti-Semitism,” National Affairs
In March of 2022, Professor Wisse launched The Stories Jews Tell, to help (re-)introduce to the public some of the greatest, but little-known, works of Jewish literature.