The Targets of Jewish Humor
The recurring characters & subjects of Jewish humor leave no part of the Jewish world unscathed.
"Ir zeit a soykher (you are a businessman), aren't you? Please tell us: to what do you attribute the success of businessmen in this medine (country)?"
"Oh," he says, "that's very simple. It is due to the kind of food we eat."
"Oh yes, and what kind of food do you eat?"
"We eat heads of herrings, and this gives us brains."
"Interesting," say the two young travelers.
"By any chance, would you have some heads of herrings in your bag, and would you be willing to sell them to us?" asks one yeshiva bokher.
"Of course," says the merchant. "It will be just 100 francs a piece."
The two students are anxious to try the experiment without any delay, and they start eating. "Do you know," one of the students says to the businessman, "in Antwerp, you can buy a whole herring for 10 francs, and here, I paid 100 francs, just for one head
"You see, my friend," answers the businessman, "it's already working...
The shadkhan, the matchmaker, was a vital element of survival in the old country. He or she was instrumental in bringing together eligible males and females for the purpose of marriage and propagation. In the atmosphere of constant threat to their existence, every marriage was regarded as an investment in the survival of the Jewish people.
We all know the answer of Yente, the Matchmaker:
"The way she sees and the way he looks, it's a perfect match!" Or, "She is beautiful, intelligent, and from a good family; what else do you want?" "But why me, I have none of these." "Oh, I should have told you before: she is just a tiny bit pregnant."
Even religious traditions and practices were not spared from the double-edged sword of Jewish humorists.
A 10 year-old boy tells his father what he learned in Sunday School that day.
"You know the exodus from Egypt, Dad? That was quite a feat on the part of the Hebrews. They were able to cross the Red Sea in amphibious vehicles while combat helicopters and rocket launchers were protecting them from the Egyptian cavalry. That must have been an amazing victory."
"Tell me, son," asks the father, "is that what your teacher said?"
"Oh no, Dad; but if I told you what he said, you would never believe it."
Another anecdote pokes gentle fun at some of our most important beliefs. It recounts a conversation between two Jews who are comparing the respective merits of their jobs. One says to the other:
"I have a good job and I am getting a good salary, but I have no security. The poretz (the owner of the land) may let me go at any time, and I am constantly worried about the possibility of losing my job."
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