Ruth Wisse

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Ruth R. Wisse (pronounced "wice"; 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 to a Jewish family[2] in Czernowitz in what is today Ukraine, but was then part of Romania.[3][4] 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."[5]

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."[5] She won the 1988 Itzik Manger Prize for Yiddish literature.[6] She received one of the 2007 National Humanities Medals.[7] 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."[8]

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.

Political views[edit]

In essays and in books such as If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (1992) and Jews and Power (2008), Wisse has pursued a hard neo-Conservative line on social and political issues. 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. 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.[9]

"Most of all," according to a May 2014 profile in The Jewish Daily 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."[10] 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.[11]

Wisse has been criticized for writing that "Palestinian Arabs [are] people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery"[12] in Commentary magazine in 1988.[13][14][15][16] 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."[13] Following protests and Harvard University's decision to cancel Marty Peretz's speech after Peretz wrote "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims",[17] 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".[18] Wisse is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.[19]


  • 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. ^ Jewish Journal: "What will New Republic exodus mean for American Jewish thought?" by Anthony Weiss December 9, 2014
  3. ^ "Ruth Wisse in Religion in Modernity lecture series". Archived from the original on 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
  4. ^ Ruth Wisse Article
  5. ^ a b "Ruth Wisse: Generous Mentor, Worthy Adversary". The Forward. February 11, 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
  6. ^ "Ruth Wisse". Avi Chai Foundation. 2013. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  7. ^ "6 Academics Receive National Honors in Arts and Humanities" Chronicle of Higher Education November 16, 2007 summary
  8. ^ NEH News Archive
  9. ^ Washington Times, February 11, 1997, p. A17.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Wisse, Ruth (May 1, 1988). "Israel & the Intellectuals: A Failure of Nerve?". Commentary. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  13. ^ a b Cockburn, Alexander (May 7, 1988). "Those bleeding breeders. Beat the Devil Column". The Nation. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1989). Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 321. ISBN 0-89608-366-7.
  16. ^ Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, updated ed. (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999), 559.
  17. ^ "Peretz dropped as Harvard event speaker". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. September 21, 2010. Retrieved September 22, 2010.
  18. ^ 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.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  19. ^ International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor

External links[edit]