Jewish humour | Wikipedia audio article

Jewish humor is the long tradition of humor
in Judaism dating back to the Torah and the Midrash from the ancient Middle East, but
generally refers to the more recent stream of verbal and often anecdotal humor of Ashkenazi
Jews which took root in the United States over the last hundred years, including in
secular Jewish culture. European Jewish humor in its early form developed in the Jewish
community of the Holy Roman Empire, with theological satire becoming a traditional way of clandestinely
opposing Christianization.Modern Jewish humor emerged during the nineteenth century among
German-speaking Jews of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), matured in the shtetls of
the Russian Empire, and then flourished in twentieth-century America, arriving with the
millions of Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and the early 1920s.Beginning
with vaudeville, and continuing through radio, stand-up comedy, film, and television, a disproportionately
high percentage of American, German, and Russian comedians have been Jewish. Time estimated
in 1978 that 80 percent of professional American comics were Jewish.Jewish humor, while diverse,
favors wordplay, irony, and satire, and its themes are highly anti-authoritarian, mocking
religious and secular life alike. Sigmund Freud considered Jewish humor unique in that
its humor is primarily derived from mocking of the in-group (Jews) rather than the “other”.
However rather than simply being self-deprecating it also contains a dialectical element of
self-praise, which works in the opposite direction. == History ==
Jewish humor is rooted in several traditions. Recent scholarship places the origins of Jewish
humor in one of history’s earliest recorded documents, the Hebrew Bible, as well as the
Talmud. In particular, the intellectual and legal methods of the Talmud, which uses elaborate
legal arguments and situations often seen as so absurd as to be humorous, in order to
tease out the meaning of religious law.Hillel Halkin in his essay about Jewish humor traces
some roots of the Jewish self-deprecating humor to the medieval influence of Arabic
traditions on the Hebrew literature by quoting a witticism from Yehuda Alharizi’s Tahkemoni.
A more recent one is an egalitarian tradition among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe
in which the powerful were often mocked subtly, rather than attacked overtly—as Saul Bellow
once put it, “Oppressed people tend to be witty.” Jesters known as badchens used to
poke fun at prominent members of the community during weddings, creating a good-natured tradition
of humor as a levelling device. Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, a scholar of Jewish humor, argued: You have a lot of shtoch, or jab humor, which
is usually meant to deflate pomposity or ego, and to deflate people who consider themselves
high and mighty. But Jewish humor was also a device for self-criticism within the community,
and I think that’s where it really was the most powerful. The humorist, like the prophet,
would basically take people to task for their failings. The humor of Eastern Europe especially
was centered on defending the poor against the exploitation of the upper classes or other
authority figures, so rabbis were made fun of, authority figures were made fun of and
rich people were made fun of. It really served as a social catharsis.
After Jews began to immigrate to America in large numbers, they, like other minority groups,
found it difficult to gain mainstream acceptance and obtain upward mobility (As Lenny Bruce
lampooned, “He was charming. … They said, ‘C’mon! Let’s go watch the Jew be charming!'”).
The newly-developing entertainment industry, combined with the Jewish humor tradition,
provided a potential route for Jews to succeed. One of the first successful radio “sitcoms”,
The Goldbergs, featured a Jewish family. As radio and television matured, many of its
most famous comedians, including Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, Jack
Carter, Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, and Jerry Lewis were Jewish. The Jewish comedy
tradition continues today, with Jewish humor much entwined with that of mainstream humor,
as comedies like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Woody Allen films indicate.Sigmund Freud
in his Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, among other things, analyzes the nature of
Jewish jokes. == Types of Jewish humor == ===
Religious humor === As befits a community to which religion was
so important, much humor centres on the relationship of Judaism to the individual Jew and the community. Two Rabbis argued late into the night about
the existence of God, and, using strong arguments from the scriptures, ended up indisputably
disproving His existence. The next day, one Rabbi was surprised to see the other walking
into the shul for morning services. “I thought we had agreed there was no God,”
he said. “Yes, what does that have to do with it?”
replied the other. The cognate to this is the part left out,
the fact that it was traditional to go to services, regardless of what one believed,
and the rabbi was merely following that tradition. This is like the story of the boy who tells
his rabbi he can’t daven (pray), because he no longer believes in God. The rabbi merely
tells him, “Yes God, no God: doesn’t matter! Three times a day, you DAVEN!” ==== Assimilation ====
The American Jewish community has been lamenting the rate of assimilation and disappearance
of their children as they grow into adults. Two Rabbis were discussing their problems
with squirrels in their synagogue attic. One Rabbi said, “We simply called an exterminator
and we never saw the squirrels again.” The other Rabbi said, “We just gave the squirrels
a bar mitzvah, and we never saw them again.” Or, The rate of Jewish intermarriage is a serious
problem. Scientists estimate that unless something can be done to stop intermarriage, in 100
years, the Jewish people will be reduced to a race of gorgeous blondes. ==== Self-deprecating ====
Jews often mock their own negative stereotypes. Question: How can you always spot a convert
to Judaism?Answer: That’s easy. They’re the only normal one in the congregation. ==== Wits ====
Similarly, in the tradition of the legal arguments of the Talmud, one prominent type of Jewish
humor involves clever, often legalistic, solutions to Talmudic problems, such as: Q: Is one permitted to ride in an airplane
on the Sabbath? A: Yes, as long as your seat belt remains
fastened. In this case, it is considered that you are not riding, you are wearing the plane. ==== Tales of the Rebbes ====
Some jokes make fun of the “Rebbe miracle stories” and involve different hasidim bragging
about their teachers’ miraculous abilities: Three hasidim are bragging about their Rebbes:
“My rebbe is very powerful. He was walking once, and there was a big lake in his path.
He waved his handkerchief, and there was lake on the right, lake on the left, but no lake
in the middle.” To which the second retorted, “That’s nothing. My rebbe is even more powerful.
He was walking once, and there was a huge mountain in his path. He waved his handkerchief,
and there was mountain on the right, mountain on the left, but no mountain in the middle!”
Said the third, “Ha! That is still nothing! My rebbe is the most powerful. He was walking
once on Shabbos (Saturday, the holy day in Judaism, on which it is forbidden to handle
money), and there was a wallet crammed full of cash in his path. He waved his handkerchief,
and it was Shabbos on the right, Shabbos on the left, but not Shabbos in the middle!” Or Caesar said to Joshua ben Hananiah “Why does
the Sabbath dish have such a fragrant odor?” Joshua said “We have a certain spice called
Shabbat (shevet), that we put in it. “Let me have some”, he requested. Joshua replied,
“For those who observe Shabbat, it works; for those who don’t, it doesn’t.” The lives of the early hasidim, while not
funny in and of themselves, are rich in humorous incidents. The dealings between rabbis, tzadikim,
and peasants form a rich tapestry of lore. === Eastern European Jewish humor ===
A number of traditions in Jewish humor date back to stories and anecdotes from the 19th
century. ==== Chełm ====
Jewish folklore makes fun of the Jewish residents of Chełm (Yiddish: כעלעם, Hebrew: חלם;
often transcribed as Helm) as well-meaning fools. These stories often center around the
“wise” men and their silly decisions, similarly to the English Wise Men of Gotham or the German
Schildbürger. For example: One Jewish Chełm resident bought
a fish on Friday in order to cook it for Sabbath. He put the live fish underneath his coat and
the fish slapped his face with his tail. He went to the Chełm court to submit a charge
and the court sentenced the fish to death by drowning.
Most of these stories have become well-known thanks to storytellers and writers such as
Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Nobel Prize-winning Jewish writer in the Yiddish language, who
wrote The Fools of Chełm and Their History (published in English translation in 1973),
and the great Soviet Yiddish poet Ovsey Driz who wrote stories in verse. The latter achieved
great popularity in the Soviet Union in Russian and Ukrainian translations, and were made
into several animated films. Other notable adaptations of folklore Chełm
stories into the mainstream culture are the comedy Chelmer Khakhomim (“The Wise Men of
Chelm”) by Aaron Zeitlin, The Heroes of Chelm (1942) by Shlomo Simon, published in English
translation as The Wise Men of Helm (Solomon Simon, 1945) and More Wise Men of Helm (Solomon
Simon, 1965), and the book Chelmer Khakhomim by Y. Y. Trunk. The animated short film comedy
Village of Idiots also recounts Chełm tales. Allen Mandelbaum’s “Chelmaxioms : The Maxims,
Axioms, Maxioms of Chelm” (David R. Godine, 1978) treats the wise men less as fools than
as an “echt Chelm” of true scholars who in their narrow specialized knowledge are nonetheless
knowledgeable but lacking sense. The poetry of [Chelmaxioms] is supposedly
the discovered lost manuscripts of the wise men of Chelm.
One popular humorous tradition from Eastern Europe involved tales of the people of Chełm,
a town reputed in these jokes to be inhabited by fools. The jokes were almost always centred
on silly solutions to problems. Some of these solutions display “foolish wisdom” (reaching
the correct answer by the wrong train of reasoning), while others are simply wrong.Chełm tales
were told by authors like Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Solomon Simon. A
typical Chełm story might begin, “It is said that after God made the world, he filled it
with people. He sent off an angel with two sacks, one full of wisdom and one full of
foolishness. The second sack was much heavier. So after a time it started to drag. Soon it
got caught on a mountaintop and so all the foolishness spilled out and fell into Chełm.”
The short animated film Village of Idiots is based upon classic Chełm tales.
Here are a few examples of a Chełm tale: In Chełm, the shammes used to go around waking
everyone up for minyan (communal prayer) in the morning. Every time it snowed, the people
would complain that, although the snow was beautiful, they could not see it in its pristine
state because by the time they got up in the morning, the shammes had already trekked through
the snow. The townspeople decided that they had to find a way to be woken up for minyan
without having the shammes making tracks in the snow.The people of Chełm hit on a solution:
they got four volunteers to carry the shammes around on a table when there was fresh snow
in the morning. That way, the shammes could make his wake up calls, but he would not leave
tracks in the snow. Or, The town of Chełm decided to build a new
synagogue. So, some strong, able-bodied men were sent to a mountaintop to gather heavy
stones for the foundation. The men put the stones on their shoulders and trudged down
the mountain to the town below. When they arrived, the town constable yelled, “Foolish
men! You should have rolled the stones down the mountain!” The men agreed this was an
excellent idea. So they turned around, and with the stones still on their shoulders,
trudged back up the mountain, and rolled the stones back down again. Or, A young housewife living in the town of Chełm
had a very strange occurrence. One morning, after buttering a piece of bread she accidentally
dropped it on the floor. To her amazement, it fell buttered side up.As everyone knows,
whenever a buttered piece of bread is dropped on the floor, it always falls buttered side
down; this is like a law of physics. But on this occasion it had fallen buttered side
up, and this was a great mystery which had to be solved. So all the Rabbis and elders
and wise men of Chełm were summoned together and they spent three days in the synagogue
fasting and praying and debating this marvelous event among themselves. After those three
days they returned to the young housewife with this answer:
“Madam, the problem is that you have buttered the wrong side of the bread.” Or, The sexton of the synagogue decided to install
a poor box so that the fortunate might share their wealth with the needy. On shabbes eve,
he announced to the congregation that a new opportunity for a mitzvoh was available. “But,”
one member complained, “it will be so easy for the goneffs (thieves) to steal from the
box.” The sexton thought long and hard that night, and announced the next day that he
had found a solution. Pointing upward, he showed, the poor box was now suspended from
a chain at the ceiling, high, high, high overhead. “But now how do we put money in the box?”
The next week, the congregation saw the wonderful solution. A lovely circular stairway now ascended
to the poor box making it easy to contribute. ==== Hershele Ostropoler ====
Hershele Ostropoler, also known as Hershel of Ostropol, was a legendary prankster who
was based on a historic figure. Thought to have come from Ukraine, he lived in the small
village of Ostropol, working as shochet, a ritual slaughterer. According to legend he
lost his job because of his constant joking, which offended the leaders of the village.
In his subsequent wanderings throughout Ukraine, he became a familiar figure at restaurants
and inns. Eventually he settled down at the court of
Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. The rabbi was plagued by frequent
depressions, and Hershele served as a sort of court jester, mocking the rabbi and his
cronies, to the delight of the common folk. After his death he was remembered in a series
of pamphlets recording his tales and witty remarks.
He was the subject of several epic poems, a novel, a comedy performed in 1930 by the
Vilna Troupe, and a U.S. television programme in the 1950s. Two illustrated children’s books,
The Adventures of Hershel of Ostropol, and Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, have been
published. Both books were written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
In 2002, a play entitled Hershele the Storyteller was performed in New York City. === Humor about antisemitism ===
Much Jewish humor takes the form of self-deprecating comments on Jewish culture, acting as a shield
against antisemitic stereotypes by exploiting them first: Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting
in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re
reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist,
or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?””On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read
the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation
in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control
all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over
the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!” Or, on a similar note: After the assassination of Tsar Alexander
II of Russia, a government official in Ukraine menacingly addressed the local rabbi, “I suppose
you know in full detail who was behind it.””Ach,” the rabbi replied, “I have no idea, but the
government’s conclusion will be the same as always: they will blame the Jews and the chimneysweeps.”
“Why the chimneysweeps?” asked the befuddled official.
“Why the Jews?” responded the rabbi. And another example, a direct slice of galgenhumor
(gallows humor): During the days of oppression and poverty
of the Russian shtetls, one village had a rumor going around: a Christian girl was found
murdered near their village. Fearing a pogrom, they gathered at the synagogue. Suddenly,
the rabbi came running up, and cried, “Wonderful news! The murdered girl was Jewish!” There is also humor originating in the United
States, such as this joke: During World War II, a sergeant stationed
at Fort Benning gets a telephone call from a woman.
“We would love it,” she said, “if you could bring five of your soldiers over to our house
for Thanksgiving dinner.” “Certainly, ma’am,” replied the sergeant.
“Oh… just make sure they aren’t Jews, of course,” said the woman.
“Will do,” replied the sergeant. So, that Thanksgiving, while the woman is
baking, the doorbell rings. She opens her door and, to her horror, five black soldiers
are standing in front of her. “Oh, my!” she exclaimed. “I’m afraid there’s
been a terrible mistake!” “No ma’am,” said one of the soldiers. “Sergeant
Rosenbloom never makes mistakes!” This one combines accusations of the lack
of patriotism, and avarice: Post-Soviet Russia. Rabinovich calls the Pamyat
headquarters: “Is it true that we Jews sold out Mother Russia?” “Damn right, you filthy
kike!” “Oh good. Could you tell me where I might get my share?” === American Jewish humor === ====
Role of Yiddish ==== Some Yiddish words may sound comical to an
English speaker. Terms like shnook and shmendrik, shlemiel and shlimazel (often considered inherently
funny words) were exploited for their humorous sounds, as were “Yinglish” shm-reduplication
constructs, such as “fancy-schmancy”. Yiddish constructions—such as ending sentences with
questions—became part of the verbal word play of Jewish comedians. ==== About religion ====
One common strain of Jewish humor examines the role of religion in contemporary life,
often gently mocking the religious hypocrite. For example: A Reform Rabbi was so compulsive a golfer
that once, on Yom Kippur, he left the house early and went out for a quick nine holes
by himself. An angel who happened to be looking on immediately notified his superiors that
a grievous sin was being committed. On the sixth hole, God caused a mighty wind to take
the ball directly from the tee to the cup – a miraculous shot.The angel was horrified.
“A hole in one!” he exclaimed, “You call this a punishment, Lord?!”
Answered God with a sly smile, “So who can he tell?” Or, on differences between Orthodox, Conservative
and Reform movements: An Orthodox, a Conservative, and a Reform
rabbi are each asked whether one is supposed to say a brokhe (blessing) over a lobster
(non-kosher food, normally not eaten by religious Jews).The Orthodox rabbi asks, “What is this…’lobster’…thing?”
The Conservative rabbi doesn’t know what to say, muttering about responsa. The Reform
rabbi says, “What’s a brokhe?” In particular, Reform Jews may be lampooned
for their rejection of traditional Jewish beliefs. An example, from one of Woody Allen’s
early stand-up routines: We were married by a Reform rabbi in Long
Island. A very Reform rabbi. A Nazi. Jokes have been made about the shifting of
gender roles (in the more traditional Orthodox movement, women marry at a young age and have
many children, while the more liberal Conservative and Reform movements make gender roles more
egalitarian, even ordaining women as Rabbis). The Reconstructionist movement was the first
to ordain homosexuals, all of which leads to this joke: At an Orthodox wedding, the bride’s mother
is pregnant. At a Conservative wedding, the bride is pregnant. At a Reform wedding, the
rabbi is pregnant. At a Reconstructionist wedding, the rabbi and her wife are both pregnant. Often jokes revolve around the social practice
of the Jewish religion: A man is rescued from a desert island after
20 years. The news media, amazed at this feat of survival, ask him to show them his home.”How
did you survive? How did you keep sane?” they ask him, as he shows them around the small
island. “I had my faith. My faith as a Jew kept me
strong. Come.” He leads them to a small glen, where stands an opulent temple, made entirely
from palm fronds, coconut shells and woven grass. The news cameras take pictures of everything
– even a torah made from banana leaves and written in octopus ink. “This took me five
years to complete.” “Amazing! And what did you do for the next
fifteen years?” “Come with me.” He leads them around to the
far side of the island. There, in a shady grove, is an even more beautiful temple. “This
one took me twelve years to complete!” “But sir” asks the reporter, “Why did you
build two temples?” “This is the temple I attend. That other place?
Hah! I wouldn’t set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!” As with most ethnicities, jokes have often
mocked Jewish accents—at times gently, and at others quite harshly. One of the kinder
examples is: One early winter morning, Rabbi Bloom was
walking beside the canal when he saw a dog in the water, trying hard to stay afloat.
It looked so sad and exhausted that Rabbi Bloom jumped in, and after a struggle, managed
to bring it out alive.A passer-by who saw this remarked, “That was very brave of you!
You must love animals; are you a vet?” Rabbi Bloom replied, “And vhat did you expect?
Of course I’m a–vet! I’m a–freezing cold as vell!” ==== About Jews ====
Jewish humor continues to exploit stereotypes of Jews, both as a sort of “in-joke”, and
as a form of self-defence. Jewish mothers, “cheapness”, hypochondria, and other stereotyped
habits are all common subjects. Frugality has been frequently singled out: An old Jewish beggar was out on the street
in New York City with his tin cup.”Please, sir,” he pleaded to a passerby, “could you
spare seventy-three cents for a cup of coffee and some pie?”
The man asked, “Where do you get coffee and pie for seventy-three cents in New York? It
costs at least a dollar!” The beggar replied, “So who buys retail?” Or, What did the waiter ask the group of dining
Jewish mothers? “Pardon me ladies, but is ANYTHING all right?” Or, A Catholic priest, a Reverend, and a Rabbi
are discussing their income. The Priest says: “I draw a circle on the ground, take the offering,
and throw it up into the air. Any money that falls outside the circle is for the Lord,
and the money that falls inside the circle is for me.”
The Reverend says: “I do things almost the same, except the money that falls outside
the circle is my salary, and the money that falls inside the circle is for the Lord.”
The Rabbi says: “I do things quite different. I take the offering, throw it up into the
air, and pray: “Lord take whatever You need, and feel free to send back the rest.” Or, Did you hear they built the first Starbucks
in Israel? There’s a fork in the sugar bowl. Or, A Buddhist monk goes to a barber to have his
head shaved. “What should I pay you?” the monk asks. “No price, for a holy man such
as yourself,” the barber replies. And what do you know, the next day the barber comes
to open his shop, and finds on his doorstep a dozen gemstones.That day, a priest comes
in to have his hair cut. “What shall I pay you, my son?” “No price, for a man of the
cloth such as yourself.” And what do you know, the next day the barber comes to open his
shop, and finds on his doorstep a dozen roses. That day, Rabbi Finklestein comes in to get
his payoss [sideburns] trimmed. “What do you want I should pay you?” “Nothing, for a man
of God such as yourself.” And the next morning, what do you know? The barber finds on his
doorstep – a dozen rabbis! Or, A Jewish man lies on his deathbed, surrounded
by his children. “Ah,” he says, “I can smell your mother’s brisket – how I would love
to taste it one last time before I die.” So one of his sons hurries down to the kitchen,
but he returns empty-handed.”Sorry, papa. She says it’s for the shiva.” Or, about traditional roles of men and women
in Jewish families: A boy comes home from school and tells his
mother he got a part in the school play.”That’s wonderful!” says the mother, “Which part?”
“The part of a Jewish husband,” says the boy, proudly.
Frowning, the mother says, “Go back and tell them you want a speaking role!” Or, A Jewish girl bemoans, “Finally, I meet a
nice, rich Jewish boy! He’s just like papa. He looks like him. He acts like him. Oy vey,
mama hates him!” Or, After performing a marriage the Rabbi gave
some advice to the newlyweds: “The first ten years are always the hardest,” said the Rabbi.
“How many years have you been married?” They asked.
“Ten years,” the Rabbi replied. Or, on parenting (from David Bader’s Haikus
for Jews): Is one Nobel Prizeso much to ask from a child
after all I’ve done? Or “Sarah, how’s that boy of yours?””David? Ach,
don’t ask – he’s living in Miami with a man named Miguel.”
“That’s terrible!” “I know – why couldn’t he find a nice Jewish
boy?” Regarding hypochondria: A Frenchman, a German and a Jew walk into
a bar. “I’m tired and thirsty,” says the Frenchman. “I must have wine.” “I’m tired and thirsty,”
says the German. “I must have beer.” “I’m tired and thirsty,” says the Jew. “I must
have diabetes.” Or, on kvetching, A Jewish man in a hospital tells the doctor
he wants to be transferred to a different hospital. The doctor says “What’s wrong? Is
it the food?” “No, the food is fine. I can’t kvetch.”
“Is it the room?” “No, the room is fine. I can’t kvetch.”
“Is it the staff?” “No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can’t
kvetch.” “Then why do you want to be transferred?”
“I can’t kvetch!” An old Jewish man riding on a train begins
to moan: “Oy, am I thirsty; oy, am I thirsty”, to the annoyance of the other passengers.
Finally, another passenger gets a cup of water from the drinking fountain and gives it to
the old man, who thanks him profusely and gulps it down. Feeling satisfied, the other
passenger sits down again, only to hear “Oy, was I thirsty; oy, was I thirsty”. A version of that joke is quoted in Born To
Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods, by Michael Wex, who writes, “It contains virtually every important element
of the Yiddish-speaking mind-set in easily accessible form: the constant tension between
the Jewish and the non-Jewish; the faux naivete that allows the old man to pretend that he
isn’t disturbing anyone; the deflation of the other passenger’s hopes, the disappointment
of all his expectations after he has watered the Jew; and most importantly of all, the
underlying assumption, the fundamental idea that kvetching—complaining—is not only
a pastime, not only a response to adverse or imperfect circumstance, but a way of life
that has nothing to do with the fulfillment or frustration of desire.” ==== About Christianity ====
Many Jewish jokes involve a rabbi and a Christian clergyman, exploiting different interpretations
of a shared environment. Often they start with something like “A rabbi and a priest…”
and make fun of either the rabbi’s interpretation of Christianity or (seeming) differences between
Christian and Jewish interpretation of some areas. A rabbi and a Catholic priest are having lunch
in a restaurant. The priest’s food arrives, a scrumptious-looking ham entrée.
The priest attacks his lunch, savoring every bite of the ham. Noticing the rabbi eyeing
him, he asks, “So tell me, Rabbi Goldblum, have you ever had any pork before?”
The rabbi hesitates. “Well, it’s not for me to say…”
The priest pushes on. “Oh, c’mon, Rabbi. We’re both men of God here. We can tell each other
our sins. Nothing to it.” “Umm… well, yes, as a matter of fact, I
did have pork once.” Smugly the priest teases him, “And a fine
meat it was, wasn’t it? Heheh.” “Yeah, I’ll say.”
A few moments pass. The rabbi asks the priest: “Tell me Father, have you ever had sex with
a woman before?” “Why of course… well, before I took holy
orders, that is.” The rabbi smirks, “Better than pork, eh?” Or, much more succinctly, A Catholic priest says to a rabbi, “It seems
to me that, since the Creator made pork, He must have made it for some purpose. Therefore,
it must be a sin not to use it, don’t you think? So, will you finally eat some pork?”The
rabbi replies, “I will try some, Father – at your wedding.” A few more examples: A rabbi once asked his old friend, a priest,
“Could you ever be promoted within your Church?”The priest says, thoughtfully, “Well, I could
become a bishop.” The rabbi persists, “And after that?”
With a pause for consideration, the priest replies, “Maybe I could be a cardinal, even.”
“And then?” After thinking for some time, the priest responds,
“Someday I may even rise to be the Pope.” But the rabbi is still not satisfied. “And
then?” With an air of incredulity, the priest cries,
“What more could I become? God Himself?” The rabbi says quietly, “One of our boys made
it.” Or, A rabbi is on his deathbed, and a friend asks
him if he has any last requests. The Rabbi asks his friend to find him a Catholic priest,
so that he might convert. Confused, his friend asks, “Rabbi, why? You
have been a great teacher and leader of your followers, and you have led a good and honorable
Jewish life. Why would you want to become a Catholic now, before you die?”
He says, “Eh, better one of them than one of us.” (Note: This joke is also seen with an Irish
Catholic replacing the Rabbi, and a Protestant minister replacing the Catholic priest.)
Or, A rabbi, a minister, and a priest were playing
poker when the police raided the game. Turning to the priest, the lead police officer
said, “Father Murphy, were you gambling?” Turning his eyes to heaven, the priest whispered,
“L*rd, forgive me for what I am about to do.” To the police officer, he then said, “No,
officer; I was not gambling.” The officer then asked the minister, “Pastor
Johnson, were you gambling?” Again, after an appeal to heaven, the minister
replied, “No, officer; I was not gambling.” Turning to the rabbi, the officer again asked,
“Rabbi Goldstein, were you gambling?” Shrugging his shoulders, the rabbi replied,
“With whom?” Or, A minister told his friend Rabbi Goldman,
“Last night, I dreamed of the Jewish Heaven. It was a slum, and it was overflowing with
people – running, playing, talking, sitting – doing all sorts of things. But the dream,
and the noise, was so terrific that I woke up.”The rabbi said, “Really? Last night, I
dreamed of the Protestant Heaven. It was a nice, proper suburb, with neatly trimmed lawns,
and houses all neatly lined up.” “And how did the people behave?” asked the
minister. “What people?” Or, A Catholic priest is called away by a family
emergency one day, while on duty attending confession. Not wanting to leave the confessional
unattended, he asks his friend, a rabbi from the synagogue across the street, if he can
fill in for him.The rabbi says he wouldn’t know what to do, so the priest agrees to stay
with him for a few minutes and show him the ropes.
They enter their half of the confessional together and soon enough, a woman enters and
says, “Father forgive me, for I have sinned.” “What did you do?” asks the priest.
“I have committed adultery,” she replies. “How many times?” continues the priest.
“Three times.” “Do three Hail Marys, put $5 in the poor-box,
and sin no more,” finishes the priest. The woman leaves and not long after a man
enters and says, “Father forgive me, for I have sinned.”
“What did you do?” “I have committed adultery.”
“How many times?” “Three times.”
“Do three Hail Marys, put $5 in the poor-box, and sin no more.” The man leaves.
The rabbi tells the priest he thinks he’s got it figured out now, so the priest leaves,
and the rabbi waits until another woman enters the confessional, who says, “Father forgive
me, for I have sinned.” “What did you do,” asks the rabbi.
“I have committed adultery,” she replies. “How many times?”
“Twice.” “I tell you what,” says the rabbi. “Go do
it one more time and come back. We got a special this week, three for $5!” And finally, possibly the most gigantic clash
of religions: One Pope, in the Dark Ages, decreed that all
Jews had to leave Rome. The Jews did not want to leave, and so the Pope challenged them
to a disputation to prove that they could remain. No one, however, wanted the responsibility…
until the synagogue sexton, Moishe, volunteered.As there was nobody else who wanted to go, Moishe
was given the task. But because he knew only Hebrew, a silent debate was agreed.
The day of the debate came, and they went to St. Peter’s Square to sort out the decision.
First the Pope waved his hand around his head. Moishe pointed firmly at the ground.
The Pope, in some surprise, held up three fingers. In response, Moishe gave him the
middle finger. The crowd started to complain, but the Pope
thoughtfully waved them to be quiet. He took out a bottle of wine and a wafer, holding
them up. Moishe took out an apple, and held it up.
The Pope, to the people’s surprise, said, “I concede. This man is too good. The Jews
can stay.” Later, the Pope was asked what the debate
had meant. He explained, “First, I showed him the Heavens, to show that God is everywhere.
He pointed at the ground to signify that God is right here with us. I showed him three
fingers, for the Trinity. He reminded me that there is One God common to both our religions.
I showed him wine and a wafer, for God’s forgiveness. With an apple, he showed me original sin.
The man was a master of silent debate.” In the Jewish corner, Moishe had the same
question put to him, and answered, “It was all nonsense, really. First, he told me that
this whole town would be free of Jews. I told him, Go to Hell! We’re staying right here!
Then, he told me we had three days to get out. I told him just what I thought of that
proposal.” An older woman asked, “But what about the part at the end?” “That?” said Moishe
with a shrug, “Then we had lunch!” ==== About Antisemitism ====
Moishe and Solly are passing a Catholic Church and see a sign that reads “Convert to Catholicism,
$50 Cash.” Moishe turns to his friend Solly and says, “Hey, I’m going to try it.” He enters
the church and returns a few minutes later. “So, did you convert? What was it like?” Solly
eagerly asks. “It was nothing”, says Moishe, “I walked in, a priest sprinkled holy water
on me, and said ‘you’re a Catholic.'” “Wow,” says Solly, “and did you get the $50?”Replies
Moishe, “is that all you people think about?” However, current events, situations, traditions,
and cultural factors which are unique to the country make it hard to understand the joke
for someone who is not aware of the events being referred to. === Jewish humor in the Soviet Union ===
In the Stalinist police state, it was not uncommon to get purged not only for telling
a casual joke, but even for not reporting it to the authorities. See Russian jokes in
general, or more specifically Rabinovich jokes, Russian Jewish jokes, Russian political jokes;
also History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union. Q: Rabinovich, what is a fortune?A: A fortune
is to live in our Socialist motherland.Q: And what’s a misfortune?A: A misfortune is
to have such a fortune. Or An old Armenian is on his deathbed: “My children,
remember to defend the Jews.””Why Jews?” “Because if they are gone, we will be next.” Or An old Jewish man is picked up by the Stalinist
police and brought in for questioning:Q: Where were you born?!A: St. Petersburg.Q: Where
do you live?!A: Leningrad.Q: (menacingly) Where would you like to die?!A: St. Petersburg. Or, in the last years of the Soviet Union: Q: Comrade Lev, why now, just when things
are getting better for your people, are you applying for an exit visa to make aliyah to
Israel?A: Well, comrade, there are two reasons. One is that my next-door neighbor is Pamyat
and he tells me that after they get rid of you communists, they are coming next after
the Jews.Q: But they will never get rid of us communists!A: I know, I know, of course
you are right! And that’s the other reason. Or An old Jewish man was finally allowed to leave
the Soviet Union, to emigrate to Israel. When he was searched at the Moscow airport, the
customs official found a bust of Lenin.Customs: What is that?Old man: What is that? What is
that?! Don’t say “What is that?” say “Who is that?” That is Lenin! The genius who thought
up this worker’s paradise! The official laughed and let the old man through.
The old man arrived at Tel Aviv airport, where an Israeli customs official found the bust
of Lenin.Customs: What is that?Old man: What is that? What is that?! Don’t say “What is
that?” say “Who is that?” That is Lenin! The sonofabitch! I will put him on display in
my toilet for all the years he prevented an old man from coming home.
The official laughed and let him through. When he arrived at his family’s house in Jerusalem,
his grandson saw him unpack the bust.Grandson: Who is that?Old man: Who is that? Who is that?!
Don’t say “Who is that?” say “What is that?” That, my child, is eight pounds of gold! === Israeli humor ===
Israeli humor featured many of the same themes as Jewish humor elsewhere, making fun of the
country and its habits, while containing a fair bit of gallows humor as well, as a joke
from a 1950 Israeli joke book indicates: An elderly man refuses to leave for the air
raid shelter until he can find his dentures. His wife yells at him, “What, you think they
are dropping sandwiches?” Israelis’ view of themselves: An Israeli, a Brit, a Russian, a Vietnamese,
and an American are sitting in a restaurant. A reporter comes by and asks, “Excuse me,
but can I get your opinion on the recent grain shortage in the third world?”
The Brit asks: “What’s a ‘shortage’?” The Vietnamese asks: “What’s ‘grain’?”
The Russian asks: “What’s an ‘opinion’?” The American asks: “What’s the third world?”
The Israeli asks: “What’s ‘excuse me’?” (As a note, this is not strictly an Israeli
joke; the Israeli can be replaced by other stereotypically rude or overbearing people—for
example, New Yorkers—or those used to being treated as second-rate citizens, with little
effect on the joke.) Finally, in a clash of Rabbinical humor and
Israeli humor: A Rabbi dies and goes up to the gates of heaven.
Before he’s let in, the angel in charge has to consult with God for a long period of time
if he deserves a place in heaven. As the Rabbi is waiting, an Israeli bus driver approaches
the gates of heaven. Without a second thought, the angel who was consulting with God let
the bus driver through. The Rabbi points at the bus driver and yells, “Hey! How come he
gets in so quickly? He’s a simple bus driver, while I’m a Rabbi!” The angel explains, “Dear
Rabbi, you don’t understand. When you would be giving your sermon during the prayer services,
your whole congregation would fall asleep. When this bus driver drove towards Tel Aviv,
all his passengers would be at the edge of their seats praying to God!” == See also ==
Ethnic joke List of American Jewish comedians
The Bible and humor Humor in Islam == References == === Notes === === Bibliography ===
San Diego Jewish Chronicle on Jewish Humor Funny People – A Film About Jewish Humor
Harry Liechter’s Jewish Humor site Novak, William & Waldoks, Moshe Big Book of
Jewish Humor, originally published by Harper Perennial (1981) ISBN 0-06-090917-X.
The Jewish jokes of a word in your eye Jewish Jokes Comedy Comics and Humor at Oy
Vey == Further reading ==
Jay Allen (1990). 500 Great Jewish Jokes. Signet. ISBN 0-451-16585-3.
Morey Amsterdam (1959). Keep Laughing. Citadel. Elliot Beier (1968). Wit and Wisdon of Israel.
Peter Pauper. Noah BenShea (1993). Great Jewish Quotes.
Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38345-1. Arthur Berger (1997). The Genius of the Jewish
Joke. Jason Aronson. ISBN 1-56821-997-0. Milton Berle (1996). More of the Best of Milton
Berle’s Private Joke File. Castle Books. ISBN 0-7858-0719-5.
Milton Berle (1945). Out of my Trunk. Bantam. Sam Hoffman (2010). Old Jews Telling Jokes.
Villard. David Minkoff (2006). Oy! The Ultimate Book
of Jewish Jokes. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-37434-8.
David Minkoff (2008). Oy! The Great Jewish Joke Book. JR Books. ISBN 978-1-906217-62-4.
Elliot Oring (1984). The Jokes of Sigmund Freud. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-7910-7.
Richard Raskin (1992). Life Is Like a Glass of Tea. Studies of Classic Jewish Jokes. Aarhus
University Press. ISBN 87-7288-409-6. Sandor Schuman (2012). Adirondack Mendel’s
Aufruf: Welcome to Chelm’s Pond. ISBN 978-0-9886285-0-2. Joseph Telushkin (1998). Jewish Humor: What
the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0-688-16351-3.
Simcha Weinstein (2008). Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century. Barricade Books.
ISBN 1-56980-352-8. Ruth R. Wisse (2013). No Joke: Making Jewish
Humor. Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14946-2. Ralph Woods (1969). The Joy of Jewish Humor.
Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-10355-5. Avraham Druyanov (1969, Tel Aviv). “Sefer
Habdikhah ve-hakhidud,” 3 vols. (“The book of jokes and witticisms.” – in Hebrew). == External links ==
“THE SMILE OF ISAAC” a 52 min. documentary film directed by Stephan Rabinovitch (english
version) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jesIaFmFNTQ “On Jewish Humor” a discourse in English by
“the Jewish Philosopher”, C. Israel Lutsky. Yiddish Radio Project (one of their few English-language
recordings). 7-minute RealAudio recording. Never Mind, I’ll Just Sit Here in the Dark:
A brief history of the Jewish mother., Slate, June 13, 2007
Modern Jewish Humor Laughter is the best medicine Craig Nudelman
– June 14, 2017, Cape Jewish Chronicle

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