Ruth Wisse

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Ruth R. Wisse
Wisse receiving the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities from President George W. Bush (2007)
Ruth Roskies

(1936-05-13) May 13, 1936 (age 87)
Czernowitz, Romania (present day Ukraine)
Alma materColumbia University (MA)
McGill University (PhD)
Occupation(s)Historian, Researcher, Author, and Translator

Ruth Wisse (surname pronounced /ws/) (Yiddish: רות װײַס; née Roskies; born May 13, 1936) is a Canadian academic and is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University emerita. She is a noted scholar of Yiddish literature and of Jewish history and culture.

Background and family[edit]

Wisse was born into a Jewish family[1] in Czernowitz in what is today Ukraine, but was then part of Romania.[2][3] She grew up in Montreal, Canada and earned her MA from Columbia University, and in 1969 her PhD from McGill University. She is the sister of David Roskies, professor of Yiddish and Jewish literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary.[4]


Wisse, whose doctorate was in literature, is described by literary scholar Edward Alexander as one of a group of scholars who earned PhDs in English literature in the 1960s, but moved into Jewish Studies in the 1970s and 1980s, applying the modern critical methods of literary scholarship to Yiddish and Hebrew texts.[5] Wisse describes Saul Bellow as her favorite English-language novelist.[6]

Wisse has taught at McGill, Stanford, New York, Hebrew and Tel Aviv universities. While teaching at McGill she developed a "pioneering" graduate program in Jewish studies".[7] She left McGill to teach at Harvard in January 1993.[8]

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."[7] She won the 1988 Itzik Manger Prize for Yiddish literature.[9] She received one of the 2007 National Humanities Medals.[10] 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."[11]

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.

Yiddish literature[edit]

Joyce Carol Oates described The Best Of Sholem Aleichem, a collection of short stories by Sholem Aleichem which Wisse edited with Irving Howe as, "Like all good anthologies... more than simply a heterogeneous collection of pieces linked by common theme or author: it is also a statement, an argument, an attempt at redefinition."[12]


The Schlemiel as a Modern Hero, Wisse's first book, a rewriting of her doctoral dissertation "in a vigorously fresh and witty style," is about the schlemiel as both a type and a literary genre with its origins in the Yiddish literature in the period of Jewish emancipation.[13]

Jewish history[edit]

Wisse has published notable books and essays on contemporary Jewish history, including If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (1992) and Jews and Power (2008).

Political views[edit]

Wisse's politics have generally been described as neoconservative.[14][15][16]

She has angered feminists by arguing in favor of traditional marriage and gender roles, condemned Jewish participation in Communism and has highlighted Jewish culpability for its crimes.[citation needed] Wisse's criticism of the women's liberation movement as a form of neo-Marxism has been extensively cited by critics of radical feminist politics. She wrote:

Women's liberation, if not the most extreme then certainly the most influential neo-Marxist movement in America, has done to the American home what communism did to the Russian economy, and most of the ruin is irreversible. By defining relations between men and women in terms of power and competition instead of reciprocity and cooperation, the movement tore apart the most basic and fragile contract in human society, the unit from which all other social institutions draw their strength.[17]

"Most of all," according to a May 2014 profile in The Forward, Wisse has been "one of the most forceful conservative voices in support of Israel, arguing that criticism of the state repeats ingrained habits of Jewish accommodationism and self-blame."[18] She sees no moral equivalence between the Arab and Israeli sides in the Middle Eastern conflict:

There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict, ... there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people's right to a state.[19]

Wisse has been criticized for writing that "Palestinian Arabs [are] people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery"[20][21][22] According to Alexander Cockburn, Wisse is bothered by the "failure of nerve" of American Jewish intellectuals and their "squeamishness about the shootings and beatings meted out to the breeders".[23] Following protests and Harvard University's decision to cancel Marty Peretz's speech after Peretz wrote "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims",[24] 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".[25] Wisse is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.[26]

Stating in a November 2016 interview that she voted for Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential election in the United States despite his being "16th on [her preferred] list of Republican candidates for president,"[27] Wisse endorsed Trump for re-election in 2020 in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.[28]


  • Free As A Jew, A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation (2021). Post Hill Press.
  • The Schlemiel as a Modern Hero. University of Chicago Press. 1971. ISBN 0226903117.[13]
  • A Little Love in Big Manhattan (1988)
  • If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (1992)
  • The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture. Free Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0684830759.
  • Jews and Power. Nextbook. 2007. ISBN 978-0805242249.
  • No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. Princeton University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0691149462.

Books edited[edit]



  • Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse, ed. Justin Cammy et al., Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University: distributed by Harvard University Press, 2008.



  1. ^ Jewish Journal: "What will New Republic exodus mean for American Jewish thought?" by Anthony Weiss December 9, 2014
  2. ^ "Ruth Wisse in Religion in Modernity lecture series". Archived from the original on June 24, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
  3. ^ "Ruth R. Wisse | Jewish Women's Archive".
  4. ^ "Yiddishlands by David G. Roskies". May 6, 2010.
  5. ^ Alexander, Edward (April 2, 1999). "The politics of acceptance". Jerusalem Post.
  6. ^ "Interview with Ruth Wisse". Interviews with Max Raskin. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Ruth Wisse: Generous Mentor, Worthy Adversary". The Forward. February 11, 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
  8. ^ Zolf, Larry (November 28, 1992). "Ruth Wisse argues that the Arabs, like the Nazis, are intent on genocide (book review)". Toronto Star.
  9. ^ "Ruth Wisse". Avi Chai Foundation. 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  10. ^ "6 Academics Receive National Honors in Arts and Humanities" Chronicle of Higher Education November 16, 2007 summary
  11. ^ "NEH News Archive". Archived from the original on December 20, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007.
  12. ^ Joyce Carol Oates (July 18, 1979). "Laughter and Trembling (book review)". New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  13. ^ a b Avni, Abraham. Comparative Literature, vol. 25, no. 4, 1973, pp. 361–363. JSTOR,
  14. ^ Lerner, Michael (January 3, 1993). "THE CONSCIENCE OF A NEOCONSERVATIVE". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 1, 2019 – via
  15. ^ Schreier, Benjamin (n.d.). "New York Intellectual/Neocon/Jewish; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Ignore Ruth Wisse". Studies in American Jewish Literature. 31 (1): 97–108. doi:10.5325/studamerjewilite.31.1.0097. ISSN 0271-9274. JSTOR 10.5325/studamerjewilite.31.1.0097.
  16. ^ Welton, Rabbi Levi (June 24, 2019). "The Road From Yiddish To Politics". Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Washington Times, February 11, 1997, p. A17.
  18. ^ Glinter, Ezra (May 12, 2014). "The Remarkable Career of Ruth Wisse, Yiddish Scholar and Political Firebrand". The Forward.
  19. ^ Wilson, Tom (February 19, 2014). "How Do You Solve a Problem Like J Street?". Commentary.
  20. ^ "Salahi: Anti-Semitism but not anti-hatred". Yale Daily News. September 1, 2010. Archived from the original on September 25, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  21. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1989). Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 321. ISBN 0-89608-366-7.
  22. ^ Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, updated ed. (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999), 559.
  23. ^ Cockburn, Alexander (May 7, 1988). "Those bleeding breeders. Beat the Devil Column". The Nation. Archived from the original on December 22, 2019. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  24. ^ "Peretz dropped as Harvard event speaker". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. September 21, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  25. ^ Wisse, Ruth (October 1, 2006). "At Harvard, Groupthink About Islam". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on October 4, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2010.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  26. ^ "Boards". ngomonitor.
  27. ^ Kahana, Ariel (November 11, 2016). "Obama's America turned into the weakest country in the world". Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  28. ^ Wisse, Ruth R. (August 31, 2020). "Opinion | Vote for the Czar, It's Important". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved August 13, 2023.
  29. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved January 25, 2020.

External links[edit]