God & Humor

Poking fun at the Master of the Universe


Reprinted with permission from Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews (William Morrow).

Looking for a Miracle

A man brings some very fine material to a tailor and asks him to make a pair of pants. When he comes back a week later, the pants are not ready. Two weeks later, they still are not ready. Finally, after six weeks, the pants are ready. The man tries them on. They fit perfectly. Nonetheless, when it comes time to pay, he can’t resist a jibe at the tailor.

“You know,” he says, “it took God only six days to make the world. And it took you six weeks to make just one pair of pants.”

“Ah,” the tailor says. “But look at this pair of pants, and  look at the world!”

Jokes aimed at God tend to be the gentlest in the Jewish tradi­tion–ironic digs, rather than belly laughs. More than any other contemporary comedian, Woody Allen is the master of this genre: “If only God would give me a clear sign of His existence. Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank ac­count.”

god and humorIn Allen’s film Love and Death, the character of Boris Grushenko mines the same vein: “If I could just see a miracle. Just one miracle. If I could see a burning bush, or the seas part, or my Uncle Sasha pick up a check.” Elsewhere, Allen makes a simple commonsense appeal to God: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it by not dying.”

God’s Seeming Indifference

The disparity between God’s perfection and the imperfec­tion of the world He created inspires much of the humor about God. Indeed, the complaining spirit that runs through many anti-God jokes and witticisms is, in part, rooted in the Bible and other Jewish holy writings. Although the Bible contains little humor, it has plenty of complaints, and it’s only a short step from a kvetch to a joke. “Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?” the Psalmist cries out (Psalms 44:23-25), in protest at God’s seeming indifference to the Jews’ sufferings and oppression.

Hundreds of years later, in a passage of unparalleled bitterness, the Talmud records the reaction of the School of Rabbi Ishmael to God’s silence during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem: ‘Who is like You among the dumb?” (Gittin 56b). The question “God, why do You permit the righteous to suffer and the wicked to prosper?” seems to lie at the root of almost all the biblical and rabbinic complaints.

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.

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