This massive, elegantly printed collection of scholarly essays has been produced as a festshrift, or traditional celebratory volume, to honor the extraordinary career of literary scholar, cultural critic, and Harvard professor of Yiddish literature Ruth R. Wisse. Edited by four of her former doctoral students, the book contains thirty-five essays in which major contemporary scholars and critics respond to and enlarge upon Wisse’s work, and particularly her most influential book, The Modern Jewish Canon.
While some of the contributions may be too dense or esoteric for nonacademic readers, many — including essays by Hillel Halkin, Dara Horn, Mikhail Krutikov, Goldie Morgentaler, Jonathan Rosen, and Cynthia Ozick — resemble Wisse’s finest work in eschewing theoretical jargon in favor of impressive erudition and passionate rhetoric. Justin Cammy’s translation of a foundational piece of literary criticism in the form a trial by the Yiddish master Sholem Aleichem, dating from 1888, is a true gift to those who cannot read Yiddish. Overall, the collection testifies not only to Wisse’s powerful influence as a generous teacher and provocative thinker, but also to the richness and variety on display in contemporary scholarship and criticism of modern Jewish literature. Biographies of contributors, Ruth R. Wisse bibliography.
Josh Lambert is the academic director of the Yiddish Book Center and visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s the author of American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide (2009) and Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture (2014), which received a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association of Jewish Studies and a Canadian Jewish Book Award. His reviews and essays have been published by the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Haaretz, Tablet, the Forward, New England Public Radio, and many other publications.