19th-Century Jewish Humor

More than just laughing through the tears.

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This is not to say that traditional Jewish humor is typically joyful or celebratory; far from it. Like the Jewish people, Jewish humor is optimistic in the long run, but pessimistic about the present and the immediate future. Running through many of these jokes are twin currents of anxiety and skepticism that can become so strong that even the ancient sources of Jewish optimism are swept up in them. "Don't worry," goes one punch line. "God has protected us from Pharaoh and Haman. He will protect us from the Messiah too."

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William Novak

William Novak is a writer, editor, and comedy scholar.