Born in Smarhon (present-day Belarus) to a Jewish family, Kulbak studied at the Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuania.
In 1914 he moved to the Russian city of Minsk. In 1920, after the Soviet Revolution, to Berlin. And in 1923 to Wilna (then a city in Poland), a center of Yiddish literary culture.
In 1927 he returned to Minsk.
Kulbak wrote poems, fantastical or "mystical" novels, and, after moving to the Soviet Union, what are described by one source as "Soviet" satires. But his novel,, depicted with some realism the absurdities of Soviet life.
In September 1937, during the Stalinist purges, Moyshe Kulbak was arrested, and executed a month later. His mystical novel, The Messiah of the House of Ephraim, draws together many strands of Jewish folklore and apocalyptic belief, presenting them from a perspective that owes much to German expressionist cinema.
lieutenant principally concerns the poor man Benye, who may or may not be a Messiah, and whose destiny is intertwined with the Lamed-Vavniks.
Legendary figures such as Lilith and Simkhe Plakhte are characters in the novel.