Leon Wieseltier

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Leon Wieseltier
Born Brooklyn, New York
Alma mater Columbia University, Harvard University
Occupation Writer, magazine editor
Awards Dan David Prize (2013)

Leon Wieseltier (/ˈwzəltɪər/; born June 14, 1952) is an American writer, critic, amateur philosopher and magazine editor. From 1983 to 2014, he was the literary editor of The New Republic. He is currently a contributing editor and critic at The Atlantic.

Life and career[edit]

A child of Holocaust survivors,[1] Wieseltier was born in Brooklyn, New York, and attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush, Columbia University, Oxford University, and Harvard University. He was a member of Harvard's Society of Fellows (1979-82).[2]

Wieseltier has published several books of fiction and nonfiction. Kaddish, a National Book Award finalist in 2000, is a genre-blending meditation on the Jewish prayers of mourning. Against Identity is a collection of thoughts about the modern notion of identity.

Wieseltier also edited and introduced a volume of works by Lionel Trilling entitled The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent and wrote the foreword to Ann Weiss's The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a collection of personal photographs that serves as a paean to pre-Shoah innocence. Wieseltier's translations of the works of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai have appeared in The New Republic and The New Yorker.

During Wieseltier's tenure as literary editor of The New Republic, many of his signed and unsigned writings appeared in the magazine. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books.

Conservative columnist Joshua Muravchik calls Wieseltier a "liberal thinker,"[3] and journalist George Packer calls him one of the "ideas men of the liberal intelligentsia."[4]

Wieseltier served on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was a prominent advocate of the Iraq War. "I am in no sense a neoconservative, as many of my neoconservative adversaries will attest," Wieseltier wrote in a May 2007 letter to Judge Reggie Walton, seeking leniency for his friend Scooter Libby.[5]

Wieseltier appeared in one episode of the fifth season of The Sopranos, playing "Stewart Silverman", a character whom Wieseltier described as "a derangingly materialistic co-religionist who dreams frantically of 'Wedding of the Week' and waits a whole year for some stupid car in which he can idle for endless hours in traffic east of Quogue every weekend of every summer, the vulgar Zegna-swaddled brother of a Goldman Sachs mandarin whose son's siman tov u'mazel tov is provided by a pulchritudinous and racially diverse bunch of shellfish-eating chicks in tight off-the-shoulder gowns."[6]

In 2013, he won the US$ 1 million Dan David Prize for being "a foremost writer and thinker who confronts and engages with the central issues of our times, setting the standard for serious cultural discussion in the United States."[7]


Wieseltier was a frequent target of satire monthly Spy Magazine, which often derided his analyses of pop culture as comically pretentious and mocked him as "'Leon Vee-ZEL-tee-AY'" who "jealously guards his highbrow credentials while wearing a lowbrow heart on his sleeve."[8]

In reference to being called a 'Jew-baiter' by Wieseltier, Andrew Sullivan has said that 'Wieseltier is a connoisseur and cultivator of personal hatred' – referring to a dislike based on 'tedious' causes that Wieseltier allegedly has held regarding him for a long time.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Wieseltier's first marriage to Mahnaz Ispahani in 1985 ended in divorce.[10] Following a long-term relationship with choreographer Twyla Tharp,[8] he married his second wife, Jennifer Bradley, who works on urban-development issues at the Brookings Institution.[11] They are members of Georgetown's Kesher Israel Congregation.[10] Wieseltier is a fluent Hebrew speaker, and when interviewed in Israel, he said "I feel perfectly at home here."[1] On September 7, 2014 he threw out the first pitch of the Washington Nationals game against the Philadelphia Phillies, in celebration of The New Republic's hundredth anniversary.


  1. ^ a b "U.S. Jewish author Leon Wieseltier: Jewish state won’t last unless Israeli-Palestinian conflict solved". Haaretz. June 10, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  2. ^ The Annual Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Lecture: Fall 2005: "Law and Patience: Unenthusiastic Reflections on Jewish Messianism", New York University. Accessed November 15, 2007. "Educated at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, Columbia College, Balliol College, Oxford, and Harvard University."
  3. ^ Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America's Destiny, by Joshua Muravchik , 1992, p. 39
  4. ^ The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports Us Foreign Policy, by Howard Friel, Richard A. Falk, 2004, p. 68
  5. ^ The Smoking Gun
  6. ^ Slate
  7. ^ "Laureates Announced 2013". Dan David Prize. 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b The New York Times profile of Wiesteltier
  9. ^ The Atlantic
  10. ^ a b Tanenhaus, Sam (24 Jan 1999). "Wayward intellectual finds God". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Sela, Maya (14 Jun 2013). "Leon Wieseltier: 'I am a human being before I am a Jew'". Haaretz. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 

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