Isaac Bashevis Singer (יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער) (November 21, 1902 (see notes below) – July 24, 1991) was a Nobel Prize-winning Polish-born American author and one of the leading figures in the Yiddish literary movement.
There were colleagues and readers who were shocked by his all encompassing-view of human nature. He wrote about female homosexuality ("Zeitl and Rickl"; in "The Seance"), transvestitism ("Yentl the Yeshiva Boy"; in "Short Friday"), and of rabbis corrupted by demons ("Zeidlus the Pope"; in "Short Friday"). In those novels and stories which seem to retell his own life, he portrays himself unflatteringly as the self-centered young (or old) artist which he most probably was, yet with a keen eye for the sufferings and tribulations of others.
Singer had many literary influences, including the great writers of Yiddish tradition such as Sholem Aleichem and I.L. Peretz, and more modern authors like Dovid Berglson--although he himself considered his older brother his greatest artistic example. Singer was also influenced by European literature, especially the writings of Knut Hamsun, whom he read (and translated) in his youth, and whose subjective approach he transferred to his own world, which, contrary to Hamsun's, was not only shaped by the ego of its characters, but by the moral commitments of the Jewish traditions he grew up with and which his father embodies in the stories about his youth. This led to the dichotomy between the life his heroes led and the life they feel they should lead - which gives his art a modernity his predecessors do not have. His themes of witchcraft, mystery and legend draw on traditional sources, but they are contrasted with a modern and ironic consciousness. They are also concerned with the bizarre and the grotesque.
Singer always wrote and published in Yiddish (almost all of it in newspapers) and then edited his novels and stories for the American version, which became the base for all the other translations (he talked of his "second original"). This has led to an ongoing controversy where the "real Singer" can be found - in the Yiddish original, with its finely tuned language, and, sometimes, rambling construction, or in the tightly edited American version, where the language is usually simpler and more direct. Many stories and novels of I. B. Singer have not been translated yet.
Singer published at least 18 novels, 14 children's books, a number of memoirs, essays and articles, but he is best known as a writer of short stories which have appeared in over a dozen collections. The first collection of Singer's short stories in English, Gimpel the Fool, was published in 1957. The title story was translated by Saul Bellow and published in May 1953 in Partisan Review. Selections from Singer's "Varshavsky-stories" in the Daily Forward were later published in anthologies as My Father's Court (1966). Later collections include A Crown of Feathers (1973), with notable masterpieces in between, such as The Spinoza of Market Street (1961) and A Friend of Kafka (1970). His stories and novels reflect the world of the East European Jewry he grew up in - in its complexity and grandeur, its material poverty and spiritual splendor. And, after his many years in America, his stories also concerned themselves with the world of the immigrants and the way they pursue the American dream, elusive both when they obtain it, as Salomon Margolin, the successful doctor of "A Wedding in Brownsville" (in Short Friday), who finds out his true love was killed by the Nazis, or when it escapes them as it does the "Cabalist of East Broadway" (in A Crown of Feathers), who prefers the misery of the Lower East Side to an honored and secure life as a married man.
Another important strand of his art is inner-familial strife - which he experienced first hand when taking refuge with his mother and younger brother at his uncles home in Biłgoraj. This is the central theme in Singer's big family chronicles - like The Family Moskat (1950), The Manor (1967), and The Estate (1969). Some are reminded by them of Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks; Singer had translated Mann's Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.
One of his most famous novels (due to a popular movie remake) was Enemies, a Love Story in which a Holocaust survivor deals with his own desires, complex family relationships, and the loss of faith. Singer's feminist story "Yentl" has had a wide impact on culture since being made into a popular movie starring Barbra Streisand. Perhaps the most fascinating Singer-inspired film is 1974's Mr. Singer's Nightmare or Mrs. Pupkos Beard by Bruce Davidson, a renowned photographer who became Singer's neighbor. This unique film is a half-hour mixture of documentary and fantasy for which Singer not only wrote the script but played the leading part.
Throughout the 1960s, Singer continued to write on questions of personal morality, and was the target of scathing criticism from many quarters during this time, some of it for not being "moral" enough, some for writing stories that no one wanted to hear. To this he replied, "Literature must spring from the past, from the love of the uniform force that wrote it, and not from the uncertainty of the future."
Singer's own relationship with religion was complex. He regarded himself as a skeptic and a loner, though he still felt connected to his Orthodox roots, and ultimately developed his own brand of religion and philosophy which he called a "private mysticism: Since God was completely unknown and eternally silent, He could be endowed with whatever traits one elected to hang upon Him."
Singer was brought up in an Orthodox household, where he learned all the Jewish prayers, studied Hebrew, and learned Torah and Talmud. But as he recounts in the autobiographical ' 'In My Father's Court ' ', he broke away from his parents in his early twenties and began spending time with non-religious Bohemian artists in Warsaw (influenced by his older brother, who had done the same thing). Although he clearly believed in a monotheistic God, as in traditional Judaism, he stopped attending Jewish religious services of any kind, even on the High Holy Days. His vegetarianism, which he adopted in 1962, when he had the means to do so, and which became a very important part of his later life, can also be seen as a way of avoiding the question of Kosher food. He struggled throughout his life with the realization that a kind, compassionate God would never inflict the massive suffering he saw around him, especially the death of the Polish Jews he grew up with in the Holocaust. In one interview with the photographer Richard Kaplan, he said, "I am angry at God because of what happened to my brother [his older brother died, suddenly, in February 1944, in New York, of a thrombosis, his younger brother perished in Sowjet Russia ca. 1945, after being deported with his mother and his wife to Southern Kazachstan]." In one story, however, his narrator tells a woman, "If you believe in God, then he exists." [Please quote]
Despite all these compexities of his religious views, Singer lived in the midst of the Jewish community throughout his life. He did not seem to be comfortable, unless he lived surrounded by Jews, particularly Jews born in Europe. Although he spoke English, Hebrew, and Polish quite fluently, he always considered Yiddish to be his natural language. After he had obtained some success as a Jewish writer in New York, he and his wife began spending time during the winter with the Jewish community in Miami. Eventually, as senior citizens, they moved to Miami and became closely identified with the European Jewish community there, and a street was named after him (long before his death). He was buried in a traditional Jewish ceremony in a Jewish cemetery (see below).
Especially in his short fiction, he often writes about Jews of various kinds who are having religious struggles, and sometimes these struggles become quite violent, resulting in death or mental illness. In one story he meets a young woman in New York whom he knew from an Orthodox family in Poland. She has become a kind of hippy, sings American folk music with a guitar, and rejects Judaism, although the narrator comments that in many ways she seems typically Jewish. The narrator says that he often meets Jews who think they are anything but Jewish, and yet they are. [Please quote]
To summarize, Singer is unquestionably a Jewish writer, yet his precise views about Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish God are subject to much interpretation. Whatever they are, they lie at the center of his literary art.
 Stephen Tree, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Munich 2004, p. 154
In the preface to Steven Rosen's "Food for Spirit: Vegetarianism and the World Religions" (1986), Singer wrote, "When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It's unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give. It is inconsistent. I can never accept inconsistency or injustice. Even if it comes from God. If there would come a voice from God saying, "I'm against vegetarianism!" I would say, "Well, I am for it!" This is how strongly I feel in this regard."
The Power of Light