I’m excited about the new Muppet Movie, and who wouldn’t be given great lines like the following from the trailer:
Kermit, the straight man, pleads, “The Muppets have always been about artistic integrity, not cheap tricks.”
Fozzie walks in and says, “Check it out, fart shoes!!” The adorable, Borscht Belt Bear has whoopee cushions strapped to his loafers.
It’s a sight gag with perfect timing folks, and Judaism has been celebrating that particular shtick for a long, long time. Consider the Talmudic template for the above Muppet scene:
Pelemo, a rabbi who, if I were casting Muppets, would be played by Gonzo the Weirdo, sets up the bit, “On which head does a two-headed man put on his tefillin?”
Rabbi Yehuda, plays the straight man (Kermit the Frog) who has had it up to his eyeballs with Pelemo’s outlandish remarks, “Either geli (get out of here) or be subject to a formal ban!”
Then, the best set-up term in the Talmud, addehakhi, “At that very moment,” a man walks in and says, “an infant with two heads has been born to me. How many shekalim am I obliged to give for the pidyon haben?” (B. Talmud, Menahot 37a).
How about this one? A poor beggar asks Rava for food. The great rabbi, knowing the law regarding sustaining a poor person, asks the beggar what he is accustomed to eating.
“Fattened chicken and aged wine,” the beggar says.
The rabbi protests that the beggar ought to have less extravagant taste, that such luxury is a strain on the community.
Addehahki, “just then,” Rava’s sister, whom he hasn’t seen in 13 years shows up, carrying, wait for it… “Fattened chicken and aged wine!” (Wocka Wocka!).
[For the academic types, take a look at Structure and Form in the Babylonian Talmud, by Louis Jacobs. He has a whole chapter on “the device of addehakhi.”]