Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say about the Jews

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Overview

Sigmund Freud once wrote of Jewish jokes: "I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character." Why this should be so is the subject of Jewish Humor, an erudite, opinionated, and hilarious examination of comedy as the mirror of culture, woven around more than a hundred of the best Jewish jokes - some classic, some newly minted - ever compiled. The jokes are analyzed by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, a well-known authority on Jewish life who is as celebrated ...
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New York, NY 1992 Hard Cover First Edition, First Printing NEW. No Jacket BRAND NEW COPY less dustjacket. First Edition, First Printing. A collection of Jewish jokes and an ... excursion into the world of what humor and wit reveal of Jewish culture by scholar Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who was rabbi for the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles at the point of publication. Assembly of jokes and aged wisecracks, together with a few more recent japes, that make Jews laugh...a little primer on a religion and a way of life mystifying to outsiders? Stories of Sigmund Freud, Leo Rosten, wise rabbis, fabled fools of Chelm, anti-Semites, the schnorrers, hosts of unknown comics. Clues for the readers why the best of comedians are so often Jewish. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Sigmund Freud once wrote of Jewish jokes: "I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character." Why this should be so is the subject of Jewish Humor, an erudite, opinionated, and hilarious examination of comedy as the mirror of culture, woven around more than a hundred of the best Jewish jokes - some classic, some newly minted - ever compiled. The jokes are analyzed by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, a well-known authority on Jewish life who is as celebrated for his wit as for his scholarship. Through humor, Telushkin identifies the keystones of Jewish character: family love and torments; relations with God; the push of antisemitic oppression and the pull of assimilation; chutzpah and its flip side, self-denigration; the love of learning, the passion for arguing, the commitment to justice - and others. The specific issues Telushkin addresses include how Jews cope with persecution and discrimination (read how the most common antisemitic canard is punctured on page 107); how Jews view money and financial success (for the funny, shorthand version, see page 34); what Jews think about sex (there's a complex of jokes on pages 86-97); how Jews see rabbis and other religious leaders (the truth is bared on pages 149-159); what Jews think about violence (the one kind they like appears on pages 97-104); what Jews think about assimilation and intermarriage with non-Jews (take a guess or take a look at pages 125-145); and how Jews see other Jews (judge by the joke on page 82). Insightful, sometimes stinging, and always funny, Jewish Humor offers no less than a portrait of the Jewish collective unconscious. It is destined to become the classic work on the subject.

An insightful analysis of what humor reveals about Jewish culture in what might well be the funniest compilation of Jewish jokes ever assembled. Jewish Humor looks at Jewish culture through jokes about the inescapable hold of the Jewish family, Jews in business, Jewish neuroses, and many other subjects. Comedy club/media events in New York and Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688110277
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/1992
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 191
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Oedipus, Shmedipus, as Long as He
Loves His Mother"
The Inescapable Hold
of the Jewish Family

Between Parents and Children

Three elderly Jewish women are seated on a bench in Miami Beach, each one bragging about how devoted her son is to her.

The first one says, "My son is so devoted that last year for my birthday he gave me an all-expenses-paid cruise around the world. First class."

The second one says "My son is more devoted For my seventy-fifth birthday last year, he catered an affair for me And even gave me money to fly down my good friends from New York. "

The third one says., "My son is the most devoted Three times a week he goes to a psychiatrist. A hundred and twenty dollars an hour he pays him. And what does he speak about the whole time? Me."

The intense connectedness of the Jewish family is no invention of modern Jewish humor. Its roots go back to the fifth of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and mother."Today people take it for granted that religion furthers family closeness; "A family that prays together stays together," a popular catchphrase of the 1950s declared. But, in fact, it was highly unusual to place respect for parents in a religion's most basic legal document. New religions generally try to alienate children from parents, fearing that the elders will try to block their offspring from adopting a way of life different from their own. In the United States, many religious cults are notorious for loosening, if not shattering, children's familialattachments.

Hostility to parents also characterizes radical, particularly totalitarian, political movements. Both Nazi and Communist societies instructed children to inform party officials of any antigovernment acts or utterances by their parents. In the Soviet Union, well into the 1980s, children who joined the Russian equivalent of the Boy Scouts took an oath to follow in the footsteps of Pavlick Maroza. During the 1930s, twelve-year-old Pavlick informed Communist officials of antigovernment comments made by his father, who was summarily executed. Outraged, the boy's uncle killed him. For the next half-century, until Gorbachev came to power, Pavlick Maroza was held up to Soviet youth as a model citizen, and statues of him were erected in parks throughout the USSR. One can only imagine the discomfort of parents who, taking their children to a park, were asked to explain whom the statue was depicting. "Pavlick Maroza," the father (or mother) would answer. "And what did he do, Daddy?" It must have made for some very unpleasant moments.

It is thus quite striking that from its very beginnings, Judaism placed so positive an emphasis on parent-child relations. Jewish humor, however, is concerned with the down side of this encounter, with what happens when the glorified relationship becomes too intense. Intimations of such an overintensity can be found in the Talmud. Some rabbis placed virtually no limits on filial obligations: "Rabbi Tarfon had a mother for whom, whenever she wished to mount into bed, he would bend down to let her ascend [by stepping on him]; and when she wished to descend, she stepped down upon him. He went and boasted about what he had done in his yeshiva. The others said to him, 'You have not yet reached half the honor [due her]: has she then thrown a purse before you into the sea without your shaming [or getting angry at] her?"' (Kiddushin 31b).

As if to ensure that children, no matter how well they treated their parents, would still feel guilty, the Talmud relates the story of a righteous gentile, Dama, who was about to conclude the sale of some jewels from which he would derive a 600,000 gold denarii profit. Unfortunately, the key to the case in which the jewels were held was lying beneath his father, and the old man was taking a nap. Dama refused to wake him, "trouble him," in the words of the Talmud. Of this same Dama, the Talmud relates: "[He] was once wearing a gold embroidered silken cloak and sitting among Roman nobles, when his mother came, tore it off from him, struck him on the head, and spat in his face, yet he did not shame her" (Kiddushin 31a).

So extreme and unending are the demands some talmudic rabbis make of children that one sage, Rabbi Yochanan, declared in despair, "Happy is he who has never seen his parents" (Kiddushin 31b).

In similar fashion, in the story about the three women in Miami Beach, the best way a son can "honor" his mother is by paying a psychiatrist a fortune to speak about her nonstop.

The linking of psychiatry and Jewish mothers is no coincidence. While Jews are overrepresented in medicine in the United States, in no other specialty is this more the case than in psychiatry (477 percent of what would be normal, given Jewish representation in the general population).

Large-scale Jewish involvement has characterized psychoanalysis, in particular, since its inception. Sigmund Freud selected C. G. Jung to be the first president of the international Psychoanalytic Association because he did not want psychiatry to be dismissed as a "Jewish science" (which the Nazis did anyway) and Jung was the only non-Jew in Freud's inner circle. "It was only by [Jung's] appearance on the scene," Freud claimed in a letter to a friend, "that psychoanalysis escaped the danger of becoming a Jewish national affair.

Jewish jokes about psychiatry almost invariably involve the family, and they have gone through two phases. In the earliest phase, they dealt with the inability of unsophisticated Eastern European Jews to understand the powerful new insights provided by psychiatry.

A mother is having a very tense relationship with her fourteen-year-old son. Screaming and fighting are constantly going on in the house. She finally brings him to a psychoanalyst. After two sessions, the doctor calls the mother into his office.

"Your son," he tells her, "has an Oedipus complex."

"Oedipus, Shmedous," the woman answers. "As long as he loves his mother."

Jewish Humor. Copyright © by Joseph Telushkin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 7
Introduction: What Is Jewish About Jewish Humor? 15
1 "Oedipus, Shmedipus, as Long as He Loves His Mother": The Inescapable Hold of the Jewish Family 27
Between Parents and Children
2 "Two Men Come Down a Chimney" Jewish Intelligence and the Playful Logic of the Jewish Mind 41
Jewish Brains, Jewish Braininess
The Talmud
Reason Gone Mad: The Humor of the Absurd
3 "So How Do You Make a Hurricane?": The Jew in Business, or Jokes That Would Give an Antisemite Nakhas 63
Jewish Business Ethics
Materialism
4 "The Doctor Is Three and the Lawyer Is Two": Self-Loathing, Self-Praise, and Other Jewish Neuroses 77
Self-deprecation, Chutzpah, and the Jewish Sense of Self-worth
Sex, Guilt, and Other Complications
Jewish Civil Wars
5 "Pardon Me, Do You Have Another Globe?": Persecution and the Jewish Sense of Homelessness 107
Antisemitism
Forbidden Laughter: The Jokes of Russian-Jewish Dissidents
6 "And I Used to Be a Hunchback": Assimilation and Its Delusions 125
Assimilation
When Jews Become Christians
Intermarriage
7 "If I Could Just See One Miracle": Poking Fun at God, His Law, and His Spokesmen on Earth 143
Is God an Underachiever?
The Messiah
Rabbis
Orthodox Jewish Humor
Charity
8 "Better to Be Late in This World Than Early in the Next": Why Are There So Few Funny Israeli Jokes? 173
9 "Why Is This Knight Different from All Other Knights?": Seven Final - and Unrelated - Jewish Jokes 185
Notes 193
Annotated Bibliography 217
Index 227
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