Origins of Jewish Humor

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I don’t live in the same city as the rest of my family. And while I try to talk to my brothers every so often to catch up for real, we do stay in somewhat constant contact by sending each other funny videos and articles that we’ve found online (don’t tell them but most of the time I’ve already the things they are sending me).

So when both of my brothers separately sent me this article, presumably because they wanted me to blog about it, I felt like I was obliged. Plus, it’s actually pretty interesting.

As you can see from the title of this post, someone has claimed to have traced the origins of Jewish humor as we know it today. Not surprisingly, the story starts off as a sad one. In the 17th Century, Cossacks murdered approximately 300,000 Jews in Ukraine during the Chmielnicki Massacres.

After the massacres, many local rabbis concluded that the Jewish community was being punished by God for all of their sins. To rectify the issue, they banned all forms of humor in the shtetls…except for one.

According to Berkely professor Mel Gordon, the ‘badkhn’ was allowed to remain as a form of comedy. Who was the badkhn? According to the Jerusalem Post:

His humor was biting, even vicious. He would tell a bride she was ugly, make jokes about the groom’s dead mother and round things off by belittling the guests for giving such worthless gifts. Much of the badkhn’s humor was grotesque, even scatological.

Looking at our Jewish Humor Bank, I’m going to have to go with Jackie Mason as the ultimate example of the badkhn (for good and for bad). Watch this just see how angry and biting the man is.

Posted on March 7, 2011

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