Wit, Wisdom, Humor

Talmudic reasoning & love of learning pervade Jewish humor.

Print this page Print this page

"Oh," replies the Talmudist, "it's so obvious; I knew you had to be Dr. Kovacs."

The Wit of Wisdom

Jews have excelled not only in the art of telling humorous anecdotes, but also in their ability to make use of wit, in order to answer malevolent questions on occasion. Here is an example of wit that conveys a message of wisdom:

In the course of an interview, Isaac Bashevis Singer is questioned by a reporter about his vegetarianism:

"Are you a vegetarian for health reasons?" he is asked.

"Yes," answers Singer, "the health of the chicken!"

Laughing at Stereotypes

Jews invented many jokes about the canards and false accusations the were leveled against them.

Here is an anecdote, told by Bulka, which meant to undo the effect of hostility and to ridicule unfounded prejudice:

A Jewish businessman is on his way home, carrying with him an im­portant sum of money which he needs in order to provide for his fam­ily. He is attacked by an armed ganef (thief), who robs him of all his possessions. The Jew starts to sob uncontrollably, moving the thief to actually ask him why he was crying so much. The Jew then says that he could bear that his money might be taken away, but how could he face his family, who would ask him where the money had gone, and who might doubt his story that the money was stolen? Could the thief help him by providing clear evidence that he had been attacked?

"How could I help?" asks the thief. The businessman says, "Per­haps you could shoot a bullet through my coat." The thief complies. Then the Jew asks, "Could you perhaps shoot another bullet on the other side of my coat?" The thief gladly obliges. Then the Jew asks if he could put a bullet through his hat, which the thief does. The Jew then asks for one more bullet through his hat, to which the thief says, "Sorry, I have no more bullets."

As soon as the Jew hears this, he pounces upon the thief, pummels him into submission, and takes back all his money. As he walks away to go home, he hears the thief muttering to himself, "This goes to prove that you can never trust a damn Jew!"

Love of Learning

The love of learning and the striving for knowledge has been one of the most preeminent motivations of the Jewish people through the centuries.

A lovely Hasidic tale beautifully conveys this notion.

Reb Yehuda Leib was a great Talmid Khokhem (scholar), and he was often invited to give lectures on talmudic topics at the most prestigious yeshivas of Lithuania. After the lecture, the Rosh Yeshiva (head of the academy) would usually introduce to him his finest students so that he might examine them.

Everyone knew that Reb Yehuda Leib had a lovely daughter who had reached the age of marriage, and that the rebbe was looking for a suitable husband for his beloved Rachel. Reb Yehuda would always ask potential candidates the same difficult question, in the hope that one of them might pass the test. But so far, none had been able to an­swer the question.

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

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Leo M. Abrami served as the spiritual leader at Beth Emeth Congregation in Sun City West from 2002 to 2006.