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A sense of humor can help you overlook the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected, and smile through the unbearable.” — Reb Moshe

Jewish Humor from Wikepedia, the free encyclopedia

Jewish humour refers to a long tradition of humor in Judaism dating back to the Torah and the Midrash, but generally refers to the more recent stream of verbal, self-depreciating and often anecdotal humor originating in Eastern Europe and which took root in the United States over the last hundred years. Beginning with vaudeville, and continuing through radio, stand-up, and television, a disproportionate percentage of comedians have been Jewish, carrying on a distinctive tradition of humor that spans several thousand years.

Jewish humor is rooted in at least two traditions. The first is the intellectual and legal methods of the Talmud, which uses elaborate legal arguments and situations so absurd as to be humorous in order to tease out the meaning of religious law. The second 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 said that “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 around 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 find mainstream jobs. 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 Rise of the Goldbergs, featured a Jewish family. As radio matured, many of its most famous comedians, including Sid Caesar, George Burns, Henny Youngman and Milton Berle were Jewish. The Jewish comedy tradition continues today, with Jewish humor much entwined with that of mainstream humor, as comedies like Seinfeld indicate.

Wed, July 17 2019 14 Tammuz 5779