In the tradition of legal arguments of the Talmud, one prominent type of Jewish humor involves clever, often legalistic, solutions to Talmudic problems, such as:
Q: Is one permitted to ride in an airplane on the Sabbath?
A: Yes, as long as your seat belt remains fastened. In this case it is considered that you are not riding, you are wearing the plane.
Aboard an El Al plane from Israel to America was a grandma taking her very first flight. They had only been aloft for a few minutes when the lady complained to the flight attendant that her ears were popping. The girl smiled and gave the older woman some chewing gum assuring her that many people experienced the same discomfort.
When the plane landed in NY, Grandma thanked the flight attendant. “This chewing gun worked fine,” she said, “but please tell me how I get it out of my ears?” (“Yes” we hear the guffaws and hisses…but this is a true story. Well, maybe not.)
Is Jewish comedy serious business? Well, isn’t it almost as massive in scope, as meaningful in substance as Jewish history itself? It’s a tradition with a history. The story of Jewish comedy – what Jewish humor did – and meant for the Jews at different times and places, as well as how, and why, it was so entertaining, is the story of American popular culture; the story of Jewish civilization; a guide to an essential aspect of human behavior. The fact it happens to be immensely entertaining to read, talk and teach about is a bonus.
…continued next month. From JEWISH COMEDY (A SERIOUS HISTORY) by Jeremy Dauber