Defining Jewish Humor

Jewish humor mocks the powerful (including God) and pokes fun at the Jew's often-downtrodden status

Print this page Print this page

Jewish humor frequently has a critical edge, which creates discomfort in making its point. Often its thrust is political--aimed at leaders and other authorities who cannot be criticized more directly. This applies to prominent figures in the general society, as well as to those in the Jewish world, such as rabbis, cantors, sages, intellectuals, teachers, doctors, businessmen, philanthropists, and community functionaries. A special fea­ture of Jewish humor is the interaction of prominent figures with simple folk and the disadvantaged, with the latter often emerging triumphant. In general, Jewish humor characteris­tically deals with the conflict between the people and the power structure, whether that be the individual Jew within his community, the Jew facing the Gentile world, or the Jewish com­munity in relation to the rest of humanity.

Jewish humor mocks everyone--including God. It frequently satirizes religious personalities and institutions, as well as ritu­als and dogma. At the same time, it affirms religious traditions and practices, seeking a new understanding of the differences between the holy and the mundane.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

William Novak

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