Isaac Bashevis Singer Additional Biography


Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland. There has long been some uncertainty as to the date of his birth; in Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Magician of West Eighty-sixth Street (1979), biographer Paul Kresh quotes Singer as stating that November 21 was, as far as he knew, “more or less” the actual date of his birth. For many years, however, he had celebrated July 14 because his parents had told him that was his birthday to cheer him up after they moved.

He was the third child in a family of four siblings, who included an older sister, Hinde Esther, an older brother, Israel Joshua, and a younger brother, Moishe. His parents were Pinchas Mendel Singer, a Hasidic rabbi from Tomoszov, and Bathsheba Zylberman, the daughter of the Mitnagid—the opposing sect—rabbi of Bilgoray. The couple seemed to be mismatched. Pinchas Mendel, a gentle, pious, spiritual man, was an ardent follower of Hasidism. Bathsheba, a learned, strong-minded woman, was a rationalist and a pragmatist. Israel Joshua, eleven years Singer’s senior, inherited his mother’s rationalism; Moishe, two years Singer’s junior, inherited his father’s piety. The confluence of parental legacies—the mysticism of Singer’s father and the rationalism of his mother—was Singer’s inheritance, reflected in the tensions of his fictive characters: conflicts between the heart and the head, the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the secular.

Four years after Singer’s birth, the family moved to Warsaw, to an apartment on Krochmalna Street. Rabbi Pinchas Mendel became the rabbi of Krochmalna Street, and the Singer home served as its bet din, or rabbinic court. Singer’s memoirs In My Father’s Court and A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969) and the novels Shosha and “Yarme and Kayle” (serialized in the Forward in 1977 but never published in book form) re-create the intricate life that existed on this cobblestoned shtetl street, a “literary gold mine” to which Singer regularly returns.

In 1917, World War I forced Singer, his mother, and his younger brother to flee the city. They went to Bilgoray, where they stayed for four years. The visit was crucial in his development as a writer. The village of Bilgoray, far removed from the bustle of cosmopolitan Warsaw, appeared to be untouched by modernity. Young Singer witnessed Old World spirituality unblemished by the encroaching Enlightenment. This experience remained with him as an eternal reminder of his rootedness—indeed, humankind’s rootedness—in the past, in history, in that which transcends human nature. Bilgoray plays an important role in many of his works; Singer once said that he could never have written Satan in Goray without having been there. In Bilgoray, he studied the Talmud and modern Hebrew, which in turn he taught in private homes. He also studied the Kabbalah, read the works of philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and studied German and Polish. He became immersed in the rural Hasidic folk culture that would permeate his work.

In 1921, Singer entered a rabbinical seminary in Warsaw. He remained for a year and then went back to Bilgoray and supported himself by teaching Hebrew. Shortly afterward, he joined his parents in Dzikow, a shtetl close to Bilgoray, where his father had accepted a position as a rabbi. He found this village stifling and depressing, and he was delighted when his older brother, who was coeditor of the Literarische Bleter, offered him a job as proofreader for the journal. In 1923, Singer moved back to Warsaw to take up this new position. His family was settled in Dzikow, and he never saw his mother or younger brother again.

Singer’s brother Israel Joshua was also a writer and served as Singer’s mentor. He was the person who exerted the greatest influence on the young Singer, encouraging him when he began to write and instructing him in the rules of good storytelling. Although Isaac was given to mysticism, Israel Joshua was a realist who became part of the Jewish Enlightenment, the...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The son and grandson of rabbis, Isaac Bashevis Singer was born into a pious Hasidic household in Poland, which he would imaginatively portray in his memoir In My Father’s Court. He began his literary career writing for a Hebrew newspaper and proofreading for a journal that his brother, novelist Israel Joshua Singer, coedited. In 1925, Singer made his fiction debut with a prize-winning short story, “In Old Age.” In 1932, he began co-editing Globus, which serialized Satan in Goray, his novel of messianic heresy.

In 1935, Singer emigrated to New York, where he wrote for the Jewish Daily Forward. Several years went by before Singer found the full strength of his writer’s voice. He believed that an author needed roots, but he had lost his. Never easily placed within any tradition, Singer wrote first in Yiddish and then translated his work into English. His decision to write in Yiddish, which he knew was a dying language, was linked to his identification with a world that was destroyed by the Nazis.

Singer’s work not only recalls that lost world, but his questions about the meaning of life reflect modern existential concerns. In Enemies: A Love Story, Herman Broder protests against suffering and the anguish of abandonment. Harry Bendiner of the story “Old Love” dreams of meditating in a solitary tent with the daughter of a dead love on why people are born and why people must die. Neshome Ekspeditsyes (1974; Shosha, 1978) concludes as two friends, reunited after the Holocaust, sit in a darkening room, waiting, as one says with a laugh, for an answer. It seems that Singer’s characters all await a moment of revelation that will be more than a faint glimmer in a darkened room.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born on either July 14 or November 21, 1904. Although his birth was recorded in nearby Radzymin, his actual birthplace was Leoncin, Poland, a village near Warsaw. Isaac’s mother was Bathsheba Zylberman Singer, the daughter of the Orthodox rabbi of Bilgoray. His father, Pinchas Mendel Singer, was the Hasidic rabbi of Leoncin. Isaac had an older sister, Hinde Esther Singer, and an older brother, Israel Joshua Singer. Two years after Isaac’s birth, Bathsheba had another boy, Moishe. After Pinchas Mendel Singer had lived in Leoncin for ten years, he and his family moved to Radzymin, where the rabbi was supposed to direct a yeshiva, or talmudic college. There seemed to be no provision for a salary, however,...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer is of great historical importance because it preserves ways of thinking and acting that have almost vanished. In the communities that he describes, religion is the central reality, and behavior is decided on the basis of faith. Although there can certainly be cruelty and deceit within the shtetl—or outside it, as in modern Warsaw, New York, or Miami Beach—when Singer’s characters move away from that faith and that sense of community, they feel a sense of alienation and futility.

Singer’s works are most valuable not as works in a particular tradition, however, but as universal accounts of human frailty, suffering, and, sometimes, of human goodness. Like Shosha, Singer’s fiction usually ends not with answers but with questions. It is this kind of intellectual honesty, this insistence on coming to an understanding with his God about the purpose of life in this world, that is Singer’s most impressive achievement.


Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Leoncin, Poland, on July 14, 1904. He was the third of four children, three of whom became writers. Hinde...

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Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Radzymin, Poland, July 14, 1904. His father was a fervently religious rabbi, a member of a Hasidic sect,...

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Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1978 Nobel Prize laureate, is internationally acclaimed for his short stories and novels, written in Yiddish, but...

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Isaac Bashevis Singer was born Icek-Hersz Zynger in Radzymin, Poland, on July 14, 1904. He was the son of a rabbi, and the grandson of two...

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Isaac Bashevis Singer was born on July 14,1904, in the Polish shtetl, or village, of Leoncin, near Warsaw. His parents were devout...

(The entire section is 399 words.)