Reprinted with permission from
The Gospel According to The Simpsons
(Westminster John Knox Press).
The many jokes squeezed into each episode of The Simpsons weave together two distinct strands of humor: On the one hand, the snarky, iconoclastic nastiness embodied by Harvard Universty’s Lampoon magazine; and on the other, the dark, rapid-fire, angst of Borscht Belt tummlers (“roisterers”) and shpritzers (“sprayers”) such as Lenny Bruce and Don Rickles.
None is more typical of this Jewish strain of humor than the exchange between Bart’s friend Milhouse and Lisa in the Exodus segment of the episode, “Simpson Bible Stories.” In this dream sequence, Milhouse is Moses. He has just led the Israelite slaves across the Red Sea, only to learn that what lies ahead is 40 years of wandering in the desert. But after that, he asks Lisa hopefully, “it’s clear sailing for the Jews, isn’t that right?” Lisa, unwilling to break the news of what the next 3,000 years holds for the Chosen People, smiles tightly and says, “Well, more or less.”
There is an Orthodox synagogue in town, with the improbable name of Temple Beth Springfield, located not far from Reverend Lovejoy’s First Church of Springfield. The two houses of worship are so close, in fact, that once the church marquee carried the decidedly non-ecumenical message: “No Synagogue Parking.”
Otherwise, relations between Lovejoy and Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky are cordial. The rabbi, bearded and dressed in the black garb of the Hasidim, is a regular on the minister’s weekly call-in radio show, “Gabbin’ about God.” Orthodox rabbis are often wary of such interfaith dialogues, but Krustofsky does not conform to this stereotype. According to The Simpsons’ Guide to Springfield, the rabbi plays basketball against Lovejoy in the annual “Springfield Two-Man Interfaith Jimmy Jam.” Each Friday, according to the same guide, the synagogue offers a regular Friday Sabbath dinner that includes gefilte fish and Manischewitz wine….