Culture

Ruth Wisse

Political scientist Wallace Stanley Sayre once said: “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” When it comes to Jewish studies professor Ruth Wisse, the politics have certainly been fierce, but the stakes have hardly been low.

Wisse, 77, is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University, where she has taught since 1993. During her career she has nurtured generations of Jewish academics, writers and educators. At the same time, she has spurred controversy with essays in Commentary Magazine about issues ranging from Middle East politics to feminism.

Born in Czernowitz, Ukraine, Wisse grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in Montreal, where she began her academic career at McGill University. After completing a master’s degree at Columbia University, where she studied with Yiddish luminaries like Max Weinreich and his son, Uriel Weinreich, she received her doctorate from McGill, where she also founded a groundbreaking Jewish studies program that would eventually inform her work at Harvard.

Wisse has written a number of influential books including “The Schlemiel as Modern Hero,” in 1971, based on her doctoral dissertation, and “The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture,” which received the National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship. In 2007, she received the National Humanities Medal for her work as “an advocate for a nearly lost literature.”

As Wisse nears the end of her teaching career, the world of Jewish studies will be perhaps a little calmer, but also the poorer for it.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.