Jewish Parents Humor

Jewish parents have (unintentionally) made great sources of humor.

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"And?"

"And he asked me to give you regards and to tell you not to worry." "Not to worry? If you had a son at the front, wouldn't YOU worry?" "Of course I would, and he knew you would, that's why he asked me to tell you he's fine."

"He asked you to tell me?" "Yes." "You mean he's not fine but he wants me to think he is?" "No, he is fine. I saw him myself." "Fine?" "Perfectly."

"Then why didn't he phone me himself?" "Because he's in the middle of the desert." "My neighbor's son is in the middle of the desert, and he phoned." "Maybe he was near a telephone." "If my neighbor's son could get to a telephone, why couldn't he? I've been going crazy with worry."

Parental Pride

Other jokes focus on the hopes and fears that haunt Jewish parents. Perhaps their most prevalent desire is for nakhas from children. Nakhas, meaning pleasure or contentment, is both a He­brew and Yiddish word. Over time, however, it has come to connote the particular pride parents derived from their chil­dren's accomplishments.

What is it, according to Jewish humor, that brings parents the most nakhas? In the case of sons, it is professional attain­ments. As a "personal" ad in a Jewish newspaper announced: "Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Rosenbloom are pleased to announce the birth of their son, Dr. Jonathan Rosenbloom."

Jewish parents' obsession with their sons becoming doc­tors is so much a part of contemporary folklore ("my son the doctor") that in the early 1960s, when Catholic leaders at the Vatican II conclave drafted a proposal to exonerate Jews from the charge of deicide [the long-held Christian belief that Jews were responsible for killing Christ], comedian Lenny Bruce stood up in a nightclub and publicly confessed:

"All right. I'll clear the air once and for all, and confess. Yes, we did it. I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement. It said: 'We killed him. Signed, Molly.'

"And a lot of people say to me, 'Why did you kill Christ?'... We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him."

While Bruce's wisecrack reveals nothing about the deicide charge, it says a great deal about the aspirations of contempo­rary Jewish parents. Tell the same joke, but attribute it to another ethnic group, and it falls flat. Imagine if Lenny Bruce had said, "We found a note left by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. It says, 'We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him." No one would laugh.

Excerpts from pages 31-34 from Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, copyright (c) 1992 by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc. (William Morrow).

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.