Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Isaac Bashevis Singer (born Yitskhok Bashevis, 1904 – July 24, 1991) was an Jewish-American writer of short stories and novels in Yiddish.

His themes were the clash between tradition and renewal, between other-worldliness and faith and mysticism on the one hand, and free thought, secularization, doubt and nihilism on the other.

Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978 "for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life."[1]


He was the son of the Hasidic rabbi in a small village in Poland. He moved to Warsaw in the early 1920s and joined the city's Yiddish literati. Coming to New York in 1935, he became an American citizen in 1943. He was a writer for the Yiddish-language daily newspaper Jewish Daily Forward, which published many of his short stories.


Why are we born? why must we die? how can we explain evil? how can we account for desire? For Singer, these abiding questions, and his meditations about them, are the stuff of which his extraordinary capacity for storytelling is made.

"Gimpel the Fool" is Singer's most anthologized story. Gimpel is a believer in God who extends his willingness to believe to every aspect of his life. He is tempted to disbelieve the stories told to him, to deny his faith, and to enact revenge against those who humiliate him for his gullibility.

Singer's work for adults deals often with sexual themes and is built on Jewish folklore, religion, and mysticism. He frequently deals with shtetl life in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Later works explore the loneliness of old age and the passing of Jewish traditions caused by assimilation into the wider world.

Books for children

All of Singer's works for children were initially published as translated works from the Yiddish, with the author's contribution as both co-translator and co-editor. In the process he and his coeditor rearranged structural elements in the narratives and with a judicious choice of English vocabulary manage to convey much of the original punch of the Yiddish jokes and exaggerations about Singer's fools.

Further reading

  • Allison, Alida. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Children's Stories and Childhood Memories. (1996).
  • Denman, Hugh. Isaac Bashevis Singer: His Work and His World (2002) online edition
  • Hadda, Jadda. Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life (1997), mediocre biography
  • Lee, Grace Farrell. From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer. (1987). 129 pp. online edition
  • Miller, David Neal. Fear of Fiction: Narrative Strategies in the Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1985). 183 pp.


  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Satan in Goray (1933, translated. 1955)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Family Moskat (1945, tr. 1950)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Slave (tr. 1962)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Manor (tr. 1967)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Enemies (tr. 1972)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Shosha (tr. 1978)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Penitent (tr. 1983)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Scum (tr. 1991)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Shadows on the Hudson (tr. 1997).

Short story collections

  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories V. 1 Gimpel the Fool to The Letter Writer (Library of America, 2004)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Gimpel the Fool (tr. 1961)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Spinoza of Market Street (tr. 1961)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Old Love (tr. 1979)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Death of Methuselah (tr. 1985)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Collected Stories (3 vol. 2004)

Children's Books

  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Zlateh the goat, and other stories.
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. When Shlemiel went to Warsaw & other stories.
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Day of pleasure; stories of a boy growing up in Warsaw.
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Why Noah chose the dove.
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Wicked city.


  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father's Court (1966)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. A Little Boy in Search of God (1976)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. A Young Man in Search of Love (1978)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Lost in America (1979)
  • Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Love and Exile (1984);

Film adaptations

  • The 1983 film Yentl, directed and co-written by Barbra Streisand, was based on Singer's story "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy".
  • The novel Enemies: A Love Story was adapted for film. Directed by Paul Mazursky, it was released in 1989.
  • The stories "The Briefcase", "Alone" and "Old Love" were the basis for the 2008 movie Love Comes Lately.[2]