David G. Roskies
Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair in Yiddish Literature and Culture and Professor of Jewish Literature
Department: Jewish Literature , Yiddish Literature and Culture, Jewish Literature, Prooftexts, Hebrew University
Phone: (212) 678-8914
Building Room: Unterberg 506
Office Hours: Thursdays 1:00–3:00 p.m.
BA, MA, PhD, Brandeis University
David G. Roskies was the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair in Yiddish Literature and Culture and a professor of Jewish literature at The Jewish Theological Seminary. He also served as the Naomi Prawer Kadar Visiting Professor of Yiddish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Roskies was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.
Dr. Roskies is a cultural historian of Eastern European Jewry. A prolific author, editor, and scholar, he has published nine books and received numerous awards. In 1981, Dr. Roskies cofounded with Dr. Alan Mintz Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, and served for seventeen years as editor in chief of the New Yiddish Library series, published by Yale University Press.
A native of Montreal, Canada, and a product of its Yiddish secular schools, Dr. Roskies was educated at Brandeis University, where he received his doctorate in 1975.
Grants, Fellowships, and Awards
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize (Phi Beta Kappa)
- John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
- American Academy for Jewish Research, elected 1997
- American Academy for Arts and Sciences, elected 2012
- Reading in Time: A Curriculum for Holocaust Literature. With Naomi Diamant. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2013.
- Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide. With Naomi Diamant. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2012.
- Yiddishlands: A Memoir. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008.
- Nightwords: A Liturgy on the Holocaust. Compiler. New York: CLAL, 2000.
- The Jewish Search for a Usable Past. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
- A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.
- The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky. Editor. New York: Schocken, 1992; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
- The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
- Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
- The Shtetl Book: An Introduction to East European Jewish Life and Lore. With Diane K. Roskies. New York: Ktav, 1975; 2nd ed., 1979; Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2005.
Lectures & Interviews
- “Havurat Shalom: A Utopian Experiment,” Simon Rawidowicz Lecture, Brandeis University, November 5, 2014.
- “Collaboration with Evil Through a Polish Literary Lens,” University of Toronto, November 10, 2014.
- “Jewish Counterculture Oral History Project,” Released July 16, 2019.
- Wexler Oral History Project Interview [conducted in Yiddish]. The Yiddish Book Center
- “Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto: Writing Our History,” Jewish Book Week, London. March 1, 2020.
By learning the power of twice-told tales, three restless, rebellious Jews—Rebbe Nahman of Braslav, I. L. Peretz, and I.B. Singer—were reborn as Yiddish storytellers. By returning to fantasy and the live, spoken language of the people, they turned storytelling into an autonomous, highly creative and potentially explosive activity.
A series of three podcasts:
- Rebbe Nachman and “The Abducted Princess”
- I. L. Peretz and “Bontsha the Silent”
- I.B. Singer and “Gimpel the Fool”
One major focus of David Roskies’s work is the Holocaust. In 1971, B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations, Inc., published his Nightwords: A Midrash on the Holocaust, one of the first liturgies on the subject ever to appear. Nightwords has entered its fifth edition, was adapted into Hebrew, and was recently reissued by CLAL. In 1984, Harvard University Press published Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture, which won the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize from Phi Beta Kappa and has since been translated into Russian and Hebrew. A companion volume, The Literature of Destruction, was published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1989. In 2012, he completed this chapter in his career with Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide (Brandeis University Press), coauthored with Naomi Diamant; it is accompanied by an online curriculum by Dr. Roskies called Reading in Time (2013).
A second focus of his work, since 1975, when he coauthored The Shtetl Book: An Introduction to East European Jewish Life and Lore, has been the folklore of Ashkenazic Jewry. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985, Dr. Roskies began studying the modern Jewish return to folklore and fantasy. The fruits of his labor are The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky (editor; Schocken, 1992) and A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling (Harvard, 1995). A 30th-anniversary edition of The Shtetl Book, meanwhile, was put out by Ktav in 2005.
A third focus of Dr. Roskies’s work is reflected in the title of a book of related essays published in 1999, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past. In 2008, he finally tried his hand at writing a memoir: Yiddishlands (Wayne State University Press) is the story of modern Yiddish culture as told through Dr. Roskies’s family history and the medium of Yiddish song. A CD of his mother singing accompanies the volume. An interview with Dr. Roskies about Yiddishlands was published in the Jewish Daily Forward.