Sunday 16 August 2015


MORRIS GISNET (1880-1960)
            He was born in Britshan (Rom. Briceni; Rus. Brichany), and thereafter lived in Lipkon (Lipcany), Bessarabia.  He studied with the itinerant town teacher and later with the famed Hebrew-Yiddish writer Yehuda Shteynberg and with the latter’s brother Yisroel Shteynberg.  At the age of fifteen, he departed for Kamenets-Podolsk (Kamianets-Podilskyi) to attend the local high school.  Because he did not have a birth certificate, he was not permitted to do so.  He wandered about Kamenets for a period of time, and finally, “with eight rubles and forty kopeks in his possession,” he left for the United States.  He arrived in New York in 1896.  He worked in a sweatshop and became involved in the socialist labor movement.  At the same time he studied English in an evening school.  Later, he studied law and in 1905 became a lawyer.  He began to write in these years, initially stories which were published in Forverts (Forward), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), and Tsaytgayst (Spirit of the times), later plays for the Yiddish theater.  His first play, Moris der opereyter (Morris, the operator), was recommended by Yankev Gordin as good material for amateur drama clubs and in fact was one year later was staged at Turn Hall on Fourth Street [in New York City], by a drama club under the direction of Maks Gebil.  He wrote other plays later which, over the years 1900-1909, were staged in the Yiddish theater with great success.  These would include: Sheyndele oder di gebrokhene hertser (Sheyndele or the broken hearts) (1900), Der yudisher nakhes (Jewish proud enjoyment) (1903), Der apikoyres (The heretic) (1906), and Der tkies-kaf (The handshake signaling agreement) (1908).  His last play, Geld (Money), was published in book form (New York: Di idish pley poblishing kompani, 1914), 60 pp.  In 1927 his book Di khupe-nakht (The wedding night) (New York: Yidish lebn, 251 pp.) was published—a collection of stories and sketches written between 1902 and 1912.  Two of them—“Yugend-libe” (Young love) and “Mises binskis tfile” (Mrs. Binski’s prayer)—were first written in English and published in the socialist newspaper The Call; later, the author translated them into Yiddish with an autobiographical “Introduction.”  In 1931 he published his English-language book, A Lawyer Tells the Truth (New York, 160 pp.), in which he describes the moral stance of the legal profession and of the courts.  He visited Israel and published as well in Hebrew.  He was living in Florida.

Sources: M. Gisnet, “Aynlaytung” (Introduction), in Di khupe nakht (New York, 1927), pp. 7-21; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1; H. Rogof, in Forverts (New York) (August 30, 1931); Sh. Perlmuter, Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-kompozitorn (Yiddish playwrights and theatrical composers) (New York, 1952), pp. 210-15.

Zaynvl Diamant


  1. Many thanks for this post - this is the only textual source of biographical information on Morris Gisnet which I could find, and helped me determine which of his pieces would be most interesting to translate. I decided on trying my hand at Gelt. It is my first translation project, so quite difficult, and full of Russianisms and Hebraicisms which I can hardly manage to figure out. It's clear that he was writing for a multilingual audience, and that he was a diehard lefty. I have heard that he came into some wealth later in life, in stark contrast to his penniless roots.

  2. Morrris Gisnet was my husband's grandfather. We had no idea that his plays for the Yiddish theater were available anywhere. Our son's friend translated "Gelt" which he found at YIVO. We only knew about his book, " A Lawyer Tells the Truth" and now know there are other plays and writings. What a wonderful discovery!