Ruth Wisse

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Ruth R. Wisse (pronounced "wise"; born May 13, 1936) is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She is the sister of David Roskies, professor of Yiddish and Jewish literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary.[1]


Wisse was born in Czernowitz in what is today Ukraine, but was then part of Romania.[2][3] She grew up in Montreal, Canada and earned her PhD from McGill University in 1969. As a professor, Wisse has previously taught at McGill, Stanford, New York, Hebrew and Tel Aviv universities. While teaching at McGill, she developed a "pioneering" graduate program in Jewish studies."[4]

She received one of the 2007 National Humanities Medals.[5] The award cited her for "scholarship and teaching that have illuminated Jewish literary traditions. Her insightful writings have enriched our understanding of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture in the modern world."[6]

She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books and a frequent contributor to Commentary. She dedicated her last book, Jews and Power, to the editor, Neal Kozodoy.

Following protests and Harvard University's decision to cancel Marty Peretz's speech after Peretz wrote "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims",[7] Wisse condemned "Groupthink" at Harvard and defended Peretz, saying that "to wish that Muslims would condemn the violence in their midst is not bigotry but liberality".[8]

Public service[edit]

Wisse is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.[9]


According to one critic, Wisse's work has been characterized "by the sharpness of her insight, by her unwillingness to retreat from a skirmish and by the inability of even those who disagree with her to deny her brilliance."[4]


Wisse has been criticized for writing that "Palestinian Arabs [are] people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery"[10] in Commentary magazine in 1988.[11][12][13][14] According to Alexander Cockburn, Wisse is bothered by the "failure of nerve" of American Jewish intellectuals about "being squeamishness about the shootings and beatings meted out to the breeders."[11]


  • The Shlemiel as a Modern Hero
  • If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews
  • The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture
  • Jews and Power
  • No Joke: Making Jewish Humor

Books edited[edit]

  • Shtetl, and Other Yiddish Novellas
  • The Penguin Book Of Modern Yiddish Verse (with Irving Howe)
  • The Best Of Sholem Aleichem
  • The I.L. Peretz Reader


  • The I.L. Peretz Reader, by Isaac Loeb Peretz
  • The Well, by Chaim Grade; original title: Der brunem


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ruth Wisse in Religion in Modernity lecture series
  3. ^ Ruth Wisse Article
  4. ^ a b "Ruth Wisse: Generous Mentor, Worthy Adversary". The Forward. February 11, 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2009. 
  5. ^ "6 Academics Receive National Honors in Arts and Humanities" Chronicle of Higher Education November 16, 2007 summary
  6. ^ NEH News Archive
  7. ^ "Peretz dropped as Harvard event speaker". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. September 21, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2010. 
  8. ^ Wisse, Ruth (October 1, 2006). "At Harvard, Groupthink About Islam". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  9. ^ International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor
  10. ^ Wisse, Ruth (May 1, 1988). "Israel & the Intellectuals: A Failure of Nerve?". Commentary. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Cockburn, Alexander (May 7, 1988). "Those bleeding breeders. Beat the Devil Column". The Nation. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Salahi: Anti-Semitism but not anti-hatred". Yale Daily News. September 1, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  13. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1989). Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 321. ISBN 0-89608-366-7. 
  14. ^ Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, updated ed. (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999), 559.