Isaac Bashevis Singer: Wikis


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Isaac Bashevis Singer

Born November 21, 1902(1902-11-21)
Leoncin, Congress Poland
Died July 24, 1991 (aged 88)
Surfside, Florida, United States
Occupation Novelist, short story writer
Language Yiddish
Nationality American
Genres Fictional prose
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish: יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער) (November 21, 1902 (see notes below) – July 24, 1991) was a Polish-born Jewish American author noted for his short stories. He was one of the leading figures in the Yiddish literary movement, and received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.




Early life

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in 1902 in Leoncin village near Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. A few years later, the family moved to a nearby Polish town of Radzymin, which is often and erroneously given as his birthplace. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but most probably it was November 21, 1902, a date that Singer gave both to his official biographer Paul Kresh,[1] and his secretary Dvorah Telushkin.[2] It is also consistent with the historical events he and his brother refer to in their childhood memoirs. The often quoted birth date, July 14, 1904 was made up by the author in his youth, most probably to make himself younger to avoid the draft[3] .

His father was a Hasidic rabbi and his mother, Bathsheba, was the daughter of the rabbi of Biłgoraj. Singer later used her name in his pen name "Bashevis" (Bathsheba's). His elder siblings--brother Israel Joshua Singer (1893-1944) and sister Esther Kreitman (1891–1954)--were also writers. Esther was the first in the family to write stories.[4]

The family moved to the court of the Rabbi of Radzymin in 1907, where his father became head of the Yeshiva. After the Yeshiva building burned down in 1908, the family moved to Krochmalna Street in the Yiddish-speaking poor Jewish quarter of Warsaw, where Singer grew up. There his father acted as a rabbi — i.e., judge, arbitrator, religious authority and spiritual leader.[5]

World War I

In 1917, because of the hardships of World War I, the family split up. Singer moved with his mother and younger brother Moshe to his mother's hometown of Biłgoraj, a traditional Jewish town or shtetl, where his mother's brothers had followed his grandfather as rabbis.[5] When his father became a village rabbi again in 1921, Singer went back to Warsaw, where he entered the Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary and soon decided that neither the school nor the profession suited him. He returned to Biłgoraj, where he tried to support himself by giving Hebrew lessons, but soon gave up and joined his parents, considering himself a failure. In 1923 his older brother Israel Joshua arranged for him to move to Warsaw to work as a proofreader for the Literarische Bleter, of which he was an editor.[6]

United States

In 1935, four years before the German invasion and the Holocaust, Singer emigrated from Poland to the United States due to the growing Nazi threat in neighboring Germany.[7] The move separated the author from his common-law first wife Runia Pontsch and son Israel Zamir {b.1929}, who instead went to Moscow and then Palestine (they would meet in 1955). Singer settled in New York, where he took up work as a journalist and columnist for The Forward (פֿאָרװערטס), a Yiddish-language newspaper. After a promising start, he became despondent and felt for some years "Lost in America" (title of a Singer novel, in Yiddish from 1974 onward, in English 1981). In 1938, he met Alma Wassermann (born Haimann) {b.1907-d.1996}, a German-Jewish refugee from Munich whom he married in 1940. After the marriage he returned to prolific writing and to contributing to the Forward, using, besides "Bashevis," the pen names "Varshavsky" and "D. Segal."[8]

Singer died on July 24, 1991 in Surfside, Florida, after suffering a series of strokes. He was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson.[9][10] A street in Surfside, Florida is named Isaac Bashevis Singer Boulevard in his honor. The full academic scholarship for undergraduate students at the University of Miami is named in his honor.


Singer's first published story won the literary competition of the "literarishe bletter" and garnered him a reputation as a promising talent. A reflection of his formative years in "the kitchen of literature"[2] can be found in many of his later works. I. B. Singer published his first novel Satan in Goray in installments in the literary magazine Globus, which he cofounded with his life-long friend, the Yiddish poet Aaron Zeitlin in 1935. It tells the story of events in 1648 in the village of Goraj (close to Biłgoraj), where the Jews of Poland lost a third of their population in a cruel uprising by Cossacks, and details the effects of the seventeenth-century faraway false messiah Shabbatai Zvi on the local population. Its last chapter imitates the style of medieval Yiddish chronicle. With a stark depiction of innocence crushed by circumstance, the novel appears to foreshadow coming danger. In his later work The Slave (1962), Singer returns to the aftermath of 1648, in a love story between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman, where he depicts the traumatized and desperate survivors of the historic catastrophe with even deeper understanding.

The Family Moskat

Singer became an actual literary contributor to the Forward only following his older brother's death in 1945, when he published The Family Moskat in his honor. But his own style showed in the daring turns of his action and characters - with (and this in the Jewish family-newspaper in 1945) double adultery in the holiest of nights of Judaism, the evening of Yom Kippur. He was almost forced to stop writing the novel by his legendary editor-in-chief, Abraham Cahan, but was saved by readers who wanted the story to go on. After this, his stories - which he had published in Yiddish literary newspapers before - were printed in the Forward as well. Throughout the 1940s, Singer's reputation grew. After World War II and the near destruction of the Yiddish-speaking peoples, Yiddish seemed to be a dead language. Though Singer had moved to the United States, he believed in the power of his native language and maintained that there was still a large audience that longed to read in Yiddish. In an interview in Encounter (Feb. 1979), he claimed that although the Jews of Poland had died, "something - call it spirit or whatever - is still somewhere in the universe. This is a mystical kind of feeling, but I feel there is truth in it."

Some of his colleagues and readers were shocked by this all-encompassing view of human nature. He wrote about female homosexuality ("Zeitl and Rickl" in "The Seance"), transvestitism ("Yentl the Yeshiva Boy" in "Short Friday"), and of rabbis corrupted by demons ("Zeidlus the Pope" in "Short Friday"). In those novels and stories which seem to recount his own life, he portrays himself unflatteringly (with some degree of accuracy) as an artist who is self-centered yet has a keen eye for the sufferings and tribulations of others.

Literary influences

Singer had many literary influences; besides the religious texts he studied there where the folktales he grew up with and worldly Yiddish detective-stories about "Max Spitzkopf" and his assistant "Fuchs"[3]; there was Dostoyevsky, whose Crime and Punishment he read when he was fourteen[11]; and he writes about the importance of the Yiddish translations donated in book-crates from America, which he studied as a teenager in Bilgoraj: "I read everything: Stories, novels, plays, essays… I read Rejsen, Strindberg, Don Kaplanowitsch, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Maupassant and Chekhov."[11] He studied many philosophers, among them Spinoza[11]., Arthur Schopenhauer[4], and Otto Weininger[3]. Among his Yiddish contemporaries Singer himself considered his older brother to be his greatest artistic example; he was a life-long friend and admirer of the author and poet Aaron Zeitlin. Of his non-Yiddish-contemporaries he was strongly influenced by the writings of Knut Hamsun, many of whose works he later translated, while he had more critical attitude towards Thomas Mann, whose approach to writing he considered opposed to his own[12]. Contrary to Hamsun's approach, Singer shaped his world not only with the egos of his characters, but also using the moral commitments of the Jewish tradition that he grew up with and that his father embodies in the stories about his youth. This led to the dichotomy between the life his heroes lead and the life they feel they should lead - which gives his art a modernity his predecessors do not evince. His themes of witchcraft, mystery and legend draw on traditional sources, but they are contrasted with a modern and ironic consciousness. They are also concerned with the bizarre and the grotesque.

Another important strand of his art is intra-familial strife - which he experienced firsthand when taking refuge with his mother and younger brother at his uncles home in Biłgoraj. This is the central theme in Singer's big family chronicles - like The Family Moskat (1950), The Manor (1967), and The Estate (1969). Some are reminded by them of Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks; Singer had translated Mann's Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.


Singer always wrote and published in Yiddish – almost all of it in newspapers – and then edited his novels and stories for their American versions, which became the basis for all other translations; he referred to the English version as his "second original". This has led to an ongoing controversy whereby the "real Singer" can be found in the Yiddish original, with its finely tuned language and sometimes rambling construction, or in the more tightly edited American version, where the language is usually simpler and more direct. Many of Singer's stories and novels have not yet been translated.

In the short story form, in which many critics feel he made his most lasting contributions, his greatest influences were Chekhov and Maupassant. From Maupassant, Singer developed a finely grained sense of drama. Like the French master, Singer's stories can pack enormous visceral excitement in the space of a few pages. From Chekhov, Singer developed his ability to draw characters of enormous complexity and dignity in the briefest of spaces. In the forward to his personally selected volume of his finest short stories he describes the two aforementioned writers as the greatest masters of the short story form.


Singer published at least 18 novels, 14 children's books, a number of memoirs, essays and articles, but is best known as a writer of short stories, which have appeared in over a dozen collections. The first collection of Singer's short stories in English, Gimpel the Fool, was published in 1957. The title story was translated by Saul Bellow and published in May 1953 in the Partisan Review. Selections from Singer's "Varshavsky-stories" in the Daily Forward were later published in anthologies such as My Father's Court (1966). Later collections include A Crown of Feathers (1973), with notable masterpieces in between, such as The Spinoza of Market Street (1961) and A Friend of Kafka (1970). His stories and novels reflect the world of the East European Jewry he grew up in. And, after his many years in America, his stories concerned both the world of the immigrants and how their American dream proves elusive when they obtain it, e.g. Salomon Margolin, the successful doctor of "A Wedding in Brownsville" (in Short Friday) who finds out his true love was killed by the Nazis; and when it escapes them as it does in the "Cabalist of East Broadway" (in A Crown of Feathers), who prefers the misery of the Lower East Side to an honored and secure life as a married man.

Prior to winning the Nobel Prize, translations of dozens of his stories were frequently published in popular magazines such as Playboy and Esquire, which attempted to raise their literary reputation by publishing Singer, and he in turn found them to be appropriate outlets for his work.

Throughout the 1960s, Singer continued to write on questions of personal morality, and was the target of scathing criticism from many quarters, some of it for not being "moral" enough, some for writing stories that no one wanted to hear. To his critics he replied, "Literature must spring from the past, from the love of the uniform force that wrote it, and not from the uncertainty of the future."

Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978[13].

One of his most famous novels, due to a popular movie adaptation, was Enemies, a Love Story, in which a Holocaust survivor deals with his own desires, complex family relationships, and a loss of faith. Singer's feminist story "Yentl" has had a wide impact on culture since its conversion into popular movie starring Barbra Streisand. Perhaps the most fascinating Singer-inspired film is 1974's Mr. Singer's Nightmare or Mrs. Pupkos Beard by Bruce Davidson, a renowned photographer who became Singer's neighbor. This unique film is a half-hour mixture of documentary and fantasy for which Singer not only wrote the script but played the leading role.



Singer's relationship to Judaism, which was complex and unconventional, evades description because he did not write very much directly about it. On the other hand, he often employs first-person narrators in his fiction that are clearly meant to represent him personally.

He regarded himself as a skeptic and a loner, though he felt a connection to his orthodox roots. Ultimately, he developed a view of religion and philosophy, which he called "private mysticism: Since God was completely unknown and eternally silent, He could be endowed with whatever traits one elected to hang upon Him."[14][15]

Singer was raised Orthodox and learned all the Jewish prayers, studied Hebrew, and learned Torah and Talmud. As he recounted in the autobiographical "In My Father's Court", he broke away from his parents in his early twenties and, influenced by his older brother, who had done the same, began spending time with non-religious Bohemian artists in Warsaw. Although he clearly believed in a monotheistic God, as in traditional Judaism, he stopped attending Jewish religious services of any kind, even on the High Holy Days. He struggled throughout his life with the realization that a kind and compassionate God would never inflict the massive suffering he saw around him, especially the Holocaust deaths of the Polish Jews he grew up with. In one interview with the photographer Richard Kaplan, he said, "I am angry at God because of what happened to my brother": Singer's older brother died suddenly in February 1944, in New York, of a thrombosis, his younger brother perished in Soviet Russia around 1945, after being deported with his mother and wife to Southern Kazakhstan. But his anger did not appear to become atheism. In one story his narrator tells a woman, "If you believe in God, then he exists."

Despite all the complexities of his religious outlook, Singer lived in the midst of the Jewish community throughout his life. He did not seem to be comfortable unless he was surrounded by Jews; particularly Jews born in Europe. Although he spoke English, Hebrew, and Polish quite fluently, he always considered Yiddish his natural tongue, he always wrote in Yiddish and he was the last famous American author writing in this language. After he had achieved success as a writer in New York, Singer and his wife began spending time during the winters with the Jewish community in Miami. Eventually, as senior citizens, they moved to Miami and identified closely with the European Jewish community: a street was named after him long before he died. Singer was buried in a traditional Jewish ceremony in a Jewish cemetery.

Especially in his short fiction, he often wrote about various Jews having religious struggles; sometimes these struggles became violent, bringing death or mental illness. In one story he meets a young woman in New York whom he knew from an Orthodox family in Poland. She has become a kind of hippie, sings American folk music with a guitar, and rejects Judaism, although the narrator comments that in many ways she seems typically Jewish. The narrator says that he often meets Jews who think they are anything but Jewish, and yet still are.

In the end, Singer remains an unquestionably Jewish writer, yet his precise views about Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish God are open to interpretation. Whatever they were, they lay at the center of his literary art.


Singer was a prominent vegetarian[16] for the last 35 years of his life and often included vegetarian themes in his works. In his short story, The Slaughterer, he described the anguish of an appointed slaughterer trying to reconcile his compassion for animals with his job of killing them. He felt that the ingestion of meat was a denial of all ideals and all religions: "How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood?" When asked if he had become a vegetarian for health reasons, he replied: "I did it for the health of the chickens."

In The Letter Writer, he wrote "In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."[17]

In the preface to Steven Rosen's "Food for Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions" (1986), Singer wrote, "When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It's unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give. It is inconsistent. I can never accept inconsistency or injustice. Even if it comes from God. If there would come a voice from God saying, "I'm against vegetarianism!" I would say, "Well, I am for it!" This is how strongly I feel in this regard."


Note: Publication dates here refer to English translations, not the Yiddish originals, which often predate their translations by ten or twenty years.

  • Eulogy to a Shoelace (unknown)
  • The Family Moskat (1950)
  • Satan in Goray (1955)
  • The Magician of Lublin (1960)
  • The Slave (1962)
  • Zlateh the Goat (1966)
  • The Fearsome Inn (1967)
  • Mazel and Shlimazel (1967)
  • The Manor (1967)
  • Utzel and his Daughter, Poverty (1968)
  • The Estate (1969)
  • The Golem (1969)
  • A Day of Pleasure, Stories of a Boy Growing Up In Warsaw (1969)
  • A Friend of Kafka, and Other Stories (1970)
  • Elijah The Slave (1970)
  • Joseph and Koza: or the Sacrifice to the Vistula (1970)
  • The Topsy-Turvy Emperor of China (1971)
  • Enemies, a Love Story (1972)
  • The Wicked City (1972)
  • The Hasidim (1973)
  • Fools of Chelm and Their History (1973)
  • A Crown of Feathers, and Other Stories (1974)
  • Naftali and the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus (1976)
  • A Little Boy in Search of God (1976)
  • Shosha (1978)
  • A Young Man in Search of Love (1978)
  • Reaches of Heaven. A Story Of The Baal Shem Tov (1980)
  • The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1982) (stories selected by Singer)
  • The Penitent (1983)
  • Yentl the Yeshiva Boy (1983) (basis for the movie Yentl)
  • Why Noah Chose the Dove (1984)
  • The King of the Fields (1988)
  • Scum (1991)
  • The Certificate (1992)
  • Meshugah (1994)
  • Shadows on the Hudson (1997)
Short stories
Posthumous editions
  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stories Vol. 1 (Library of America, 2004) ISBN 978-1-93108261-7
  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stories Vol. 2 (Library of America, 2004) ISBN 978-1-93108262-4
  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stories Vol. 3 (Library of America, 2004) ISBN 978-1-93108263-1
  • Burgin, Richard, and Isaac Bashevis Singer Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer (1985) ISBN 0-385-17999-5
  • Rencontre au Sommet (86-page transcript in book form of conversations between Singer and Anthony Burgess) (1998)

See also



  1. ^ Paul Kresh "Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Magician of West 86th Street, A Biography", The Dial Press, New York 1979, p. 390.
  2. ^ a b Dvorah Telushkin "Master of Dreams", A Memoir of Isaac Bashevis Singer", p. 266, New York, 1997.
  3. ^ a b c Stephen Tree "Isaac Bashevis Singer", Munich, p. 18-19, 2004.
  4. ^ a b Maurice Carr, "My Uncle Itzhak: A Memoir of I. B. Singer", In: Commentary, December 1992.
  5. ^ a b Isaac Bashevis Singer, In my Father's Court New York, 1963.
  6. ^ Isaac Bashevis Singer, A Little Boy in Search of God New York: Doubleday, 1976.
  7. ^ Kristina Maul, "Communication and Society in Jewish American Short Stories", GRIN Verlag, 2007, pg. 88, [1]
  8. ^ See: Both bibliographies (given on this page).
  9. ^ "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". New York Times. March 28, 2004. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus [sic] tends toward performers. Martin Balsam, who won both a Tony and an Oscar was buried there in 1996. Joe E. Lewis, the comic whose rough life was portrayed by Frank Sinatra in the 1957 movie, The Joker Is Wild, is nearby. (As are two illustrious nonperformers, the Nobel Prize writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and the poet Delmore Schwartz.)"  .
  10. ^ "Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Laureate for His Yiddish Stories, Is Dead at 87.". New York Times. July 26, 1991. Retrieved 2008-04-30. "Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose vivid evocations of Jewish life in his native Poland and of his experiences as an immigrant in America won him the Nobel Prize in Literature, died on Wednesday. He was 87 years old and lived in Surfside, Florida"  .
  11. ^ a b c Isaac Bashevis singer, The New Winds (short story), in In my Father's Court, NY 1963, and elsewhere.
  12. ^ Stephen Tree "Isaac Bashevis Singer", Munich, p. 88, 2004.
  13. ^ Text of Nobel Lecture.
  14. ^ Grace Farrell, Isaac Bashevis Singer: Conversations, p. 236, University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
  15. ^ Isaac Bashevis Singer, Love and exile, Doubleday, p. 99, 1984.
  16. ^ History of Vegetarianism - Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991).
  17. ^ Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Cape. p. 271.  


  • Paul Kresh "Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Magician of West 86th Street", New York 1979
  • Dorothea Straus, "Under the Canopy. The story of a friendship with Isaac Bashevis Singer that chronicles a reawakening of Jewish identity.", George Braziller: New York, 1982. ISBN 0-8076-1028-3.
  • Maurice Carr, "My Uncle Itzhak: A Memoir of I. B. Singer", In: Commentary, December 1992
  • Aleksandra Ziółkowska "Korzenie są polskie", Warszawa 1992, ISBN 83-7066-406-7;
  • Aleksandra Ziółkowska Boehm "The Roots Are Polish", Toronto 2004, ISBN 0-920517-05-6.
  • Israel Zamir "Journey to My Father Isaac Bashevis Singer", New York 1995
  • Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater, Davi Napoleon. Includes detailed discussion and anecodtes concerning Robert Kalfin's production of Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy at the Chelsea Theater Center and on Broadway, including conflicts with Barbra Streisand and Tovah Feldshuh. Iowa State University Press. ISBN-0-8138-1713-7, 1991
  • Lester Goran "The Bright Streets of Surfside. The Memoir of a Friendship with Isaac Bashevis Singer", Kent, Ohio 1994
  • Janet Hadda "Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life", New York 1997
  • Dvorah Telushkin "Master of Dreams", A Memoir of Isaac Bashevis Singer", New York 1997
  • Agata Tuszynska "Lost Landscapes", In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland, Transl. by M. G. Levine, New York 1998
  • "The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer", edited by Seth Wolitz, University of Texas Press, 2002
  • Stephen Tree "Isaac Bashevis Singer", Munich 2004 (in German) ISBN 3423244151
  • Jeffrey Sussman: "Recollecting Isaac Bashevis Singer." Jewish Currents Magazine and The East Hampton Star

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The storyteller and poet of our time, as in any other time, must be an entertainer of the spirit in the full sense of the word, not just a preacher of social or political ideals. There is no paradise for bored readers and no excuse for tedious literature that does not intrigue the reader, uplift him, give him the joy and the escape that true art always grants.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (Hebrew: יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער or יצחק בת־שבֿעס זינגער) (born 1902-11-21 as Icek-Hersz Zynger, died 1991-07-24) was a Polish-American writer of short stories and novels in Yiddish; he used his mother's name in devising his penname "Bashevis" (son of Bathsheba). He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.


A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise… Because that is how life is — full of surprises.
The Jewish people have been in exile for 2,000 years; they have lived in hundreds of countries, spoken hundreds of languages and still they kept their old language, Hebrew. They kept their Aramaic, later their Yiddish; they kept their books; they kept their faith.
  • We must believe in free will — we have no choice.
    • An ironic statement which Singer made in many interviews over many years; here quoted in "Isaac Singer’s Promised City" City Journal ( Summer 1997)
      Variants or variant translations: We must believe in free will — we have no other choice.
      You must believe in free will; there is no choice.
      We have to believe in free will. We’ve got no choice.
  • Life is God's novel. Let him write it.
    • Quoted in Voices for Life (1975) edited by Dom Moraes
  • I am thankful, of course, for the prize and thankful to God for each story, each idea, each word, each day.
    • On winning the Nobel Prize, TIME magazine (16 October 1978)
  • When you betray somebody else, you also betray yourself.
    • The New York Times (26 November 1978)
  • I don't invent characters because the Almightly has already invented millions… Just like experts at fingerprints do not create fingerprints but learn how to read them.
    • The New York Times (26 November 1978)
  • The analysis of character is the highest human entertainment.
    • The New York Times (26 November 1978)
  • A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise… Because that is how life is — full of surprises.
    • The New York Times (26 November 1978)
  • The Jewish people have been in exile for 2,000 years; they have lived in hundreds of countries, spoken hundreds of languages and still they kept their old language, Hebrew. They kept their Aramaic, later their Yiddish; they kept their books; they kept their faith.
    • The New York Times (26 November 1978)
  • Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters.
    • The New York Times (3 December 1978)
  • Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of nonknowledge.
    • The New York Times (3 December 1978)
  • Children don't read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology... They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff... When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don't expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions.
    • Nobel lecture as quoted in The Observer (17 December 1978) Variant: "They still believe in God, the family, angels, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other obsolete stuff."
  • When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer.
    • TIME (18 July 1983)
  • We write not only for children but also for their parents. They, too, are serious children.
    • Stories for Children (1984)
  • Take three quarts of duck's milk...
    • First words of a "recipe for high-priced cookies" in Stories for Children (1984)
  • If Moses had been paid newspaper rates for the Ten Commandments, he might have written the Two Thousand Commandments.
    • The New York Times (30 June 1985)
  • I started to "write" even before I knew the alphabet. I would dip a pen in ink and scribble. I also liked to draw — horses, houses, dogs. The Sabbath was an ordeal for me, because it is forbidden to write on that day.
    • "A Day of Pleasure" (1996)

Nobel lecture (1978)

Nobel Lecture (8 December 1978)
There must be a way for man to attain all possible pleasures, all the powers and knowledge that nature can grant him, and still serve God — a God who speaks in deeds, not in words, and whose vocabulary is the Cosmos.
Strange as these words may sound I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet — whom Plato banned from his Republic — may rise up to save us all.
  • The storyteller and poet of our time, as in any other time, must be an entertainer of the spirit in the full sense of the word, not just a preacher of social or political ideals. There is no paradise for bored readers and no excuse for tedious literature that does not intrigue the reader, uplift him, give him the joy and the escape that true art always grants. Nevertheless, it is also true that the serious writer of our time must be deeply concerned about the problems of his generation. He cannot but see that the power of religion, especially belief in revelation, is weaker today than it was in any other epoch in human history. More and more children grow up without faith in God, without belief in reward and punishment, in the immortality of the soul and even in the validity of ethics. The genuine writer cannot ignore the fact that the family is losing its spiritual foundation.
  • Not only has our generation lost faith in Providence but also in man himself, in his institutions and often in those who are nearest to him. In their despair a number of those who no longer have confidence in the leadership of our society look up to the writer, the master of words. They hope against hope that the man of talent and sensitivity can perhaps rescue civilization. Maybe there is a spark of the prophet in the artist after all.
  • I have many times resigned myself to never finding a true way out. But a new hope always emerges telling me that it is not yet too late for all of us to take stock and make a decision. I was brought up to believe in free will.
  • Although I came to doubt all revelation, I can never accept the idea that the Universe is a physical or chemical accident, a result of blind evolution. Even though I learned to recognize the lies, the clichés and the idolatries of the human mind, I still cling to some truths which I think all of us might accept some day. There must be a way for man to attain all possible pleasures, all the powers and knowledge that nature can grant him, and still serve God — a God who speaks in deeds, not in words, and whose vocabulary is the Cosmos.
  • I am not ashamed to admit that I belong to those who fantasize that literature is capable of bringing new horizons and new perspectives — philosophical, religious, aesthetical and even social. In the history of old Jewish literature there was never any basic difference between the poet and the prophet. Our ancient poetry often became law and a way of life.
  • Strange as these words may sound I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet — whom Plato banned from his Republic — may rise up to save us all.
  • One can find in the Yiddish tongue and in the Yiddish spirit expressions of pious joy, lust for life, longing for the Messiah, patience and deep appreciation of human individuality. There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for Creation is still at the very beginning.
  • There are some who call Yiddish a dead language, but so was Hebrew called for two thousand years. It has been revived in our time in a most remarkable, almost miraculous way. Aramaic was certainly a dead language for centuries but then it brought to light the Zohar, a work of mysticism of sublime value.
  • Yiddish has not yet said its last word. It contains treasures that have not been revealed to the eyes of the world. It was the tongue of martyrs and saints, of dreamers and Cabalists — rich in humor and in memories that mankind may never forget. In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity.

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File:Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer (November 21, 1902July 24, 1991) was a leading author in the Yiddish literature. He was an American who was born in Poland. He won the Nobel Prize in literature.


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