Jewish? You must be joking! The jewish take on humor

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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