David G. Roskies

Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair in Yiddish Literature and Culture and Professor of Jewish Literature Emeritus

Department: Jewish Literature , Yiddish Literature and Culture, Jewish Literature, Prooftexts, Hebrew University

Email: [email protected]


BA, MA, PhD, Brandeis University

David G. Roskies is the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Chair emeritus in Yiddish Literature and Culture and a professor emeritus 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 eleven 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
  • Silver Medal for Contributions to Yiddish Scholarship University of Rome (II), 1997
  • American Academy for Jewish Research, elected 1997
  • American Academy for Arts and Sciences, elected 2012



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”


Daughter of Vilna: The Life in Song of Masha Roskies.   Produced and narrated this 45-minute documentary.  Dir. by Joshua Waletzky, 1999.


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 later reissued online 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 continued this chapter in his career with Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide (Brandeis University Press), coauthored with Naomi Diamant.

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 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 family history and the medium of Yiddish song.