Abstract
Humor is the lingua franca of the Jewish people. Even outside the world of the professional comic, we find ordinary folk answering a question with a question, employing a sarcastic retort, offering self-deprecating witticisms. For Jews, this special brand of humor has become a defining characteristic, marking their uniqueness among the peoples of the world. This paper explores this oeuvre, first looking at Jewishness itself; then theories of why we laugh, from the field of humor studies; and finally the humor of the Jewish people. Jewish humor is not new; it dates back to the Talmud, the Midrash, even the Hebrew Bible. Humor, after all, is not only medicine for the body; it is good for the soul as well. In examining what a people laugh at, we come close to learning what they value. The material in this paper is excerpted from a book manuscript in preparation about the ancient origins of Jewish humor.
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