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MazorGuide Home > Culture > Humor > About Jewish Humor - I

Laugh and the World Laughs With You
                     Jewish Humor in the Face of Reality

The Jewish people lay claim to the oldest of written histories, along side an endless list of grievances toward the hostile world in which they live. Despite the Jewish nation's glorious heritage, its insurmountable contribution as a people to the world at large in all disciplines, from philosophy, to medicine, to science, to theater, and more, it is a group not well liked.  Indeed, theirs (ours) its a history of endurance of over four thousand years, laden with persecution, slaughter, torture, inquisition, pogroms and death camps. Enslaved by the Egyptians, slaughtered by the Philistines, exiled by the Babylonians, dispersed by the Romans, and butchered and chased from land to land in Europe. Jewish history is one of pain and suffering, of tragedies, of great losses, and of surviving against all odds.

The Jew has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the Planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone."

"Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew . . . is now what he always was-exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age . . . no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind." (Mark Twain)

Jewish humor, too, has persevered over many a generation. Wit and laughter helped sustain the Jews in their misery. It also provides us with a unique and insightful tool for the examination of the Jew's chronicles, his attitudes, and his way of coping with reality.

Jewish humor derives from the immense disparity between what was expected to be the glorious destiny of the "Chosen People" who were to be "light unto the nations" and their long tormented and often bleak existence. The people perceived as the "Nation of the Book," the people who view themselves as an intellectual powerhouse and have pride in their ability in interpreting vast complexities of sacred texts, found themselves powerless in their dealings with hostile rulers, malicious brainless peasants, and anti-Semites throughout their history. Though cohesive in their private world, they felt isolated and apart from the world at large. To help cope with these disparities Jews created a humor where laughter and tears, happiness and fear were inextricable.

The typical Jewish joke revolves around those situations that are familiar to all Jews, geography notwithstanding. The point of a traditional joke was grasped as quickly by the shtetl dweller as by his more sophisticated brother in the large metropolis. The humor is full of acute social observations, exposing mental follies and the frailties of human nature. The gist of the jest is often a play on words, double entendres, animated facial expression, and conspicuous body language. An old Yiddish proverb expresses it poignantly, "burdens are from God, shoulders, too." Shoulders at times bear the load, and at time shrug it off. The humorous element of a conventional Jewish anecdote is as amusing today as it was in days past, forfeiting none of its biting relevance to time. One such example is apparent in the following story:

A Jew was walking on a street in Berlin when he accidently brushed against a black-shirted storm trooper.

"Swine!" Roared the Nazi.

"Epstein," said the Jew, bowing.

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Read more about Jewish Humor and get tickled by clicking below.
  Laugh A Little, Jewish Humor in the Face of Reality - Part 1
  Laugh A Little, Jewish Humor in the Face of Reality - Part 2
  Laugh A Little, Jewish Humor in the Face of Reality - Part 3
  Laugh A Little, Jewish Humor in the Face of Reality - Bibliography

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RECOMMENDED READING

The HAUNTED SMILE:  The Story of Jewish Comedians in America
by: Lawrence J. Epstein - From the Marx Brothers and Allen Sherman to Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld.
Big Book of Jewish Humor; William Novak, Moshe Waldoks (Photographer)
101 Classic Jewish Jokes : Jewish Humor from Groucho Marx to Jerry Seinfeld; Robert Menchin, Joe Kohl (Illustrator)
Jewish Humor : What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews; Joseph Telushkin
A Treasury of Jewish Humor; Nathan Ausubel(Editor)
A Treasury of Jewish Folklore : Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People; Nathan Ausubel (Editor)

 

 

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