Jewish Comedy as a Means of Survival
Jeremy Dauber for Jewish Book Council
Writing a history of Jewish comedy, trying to cover everything—or at least a representative sample of everything—from the Bible to Twitter, was a daunting, though admittedly fun, task. One of the questions I got asked most frequently when I told people what I was working on was, “What is Jewish humor, anyway?” Or, put another way, “What makes comedy Jewish comedy?”
Luckily, now I have a pretty easy answer to that question—“I wrote a book giving my best answer; feel free to purchase on Amazon or at local stores”—but over this week, as a Visiting Scribe™ for the Prosen People, I wanted to try to give three different perspectives on that question. And I wanted to do it through looking at three Jewish jokes: jokes that I find deeply, almost ineffably, Jewish, even though their origins may come from elsewhere, or they could be easily told in other contexts.
So here goes, with joke number one. It’s set in medieval times.
By Yoel Finkelman and Ofir Haim for Jewish Review of Books
A Collection of Long-Lost Manuscripts Sheds Light on Medieval Afghan Jewry
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah sometime in the 11th century, a distraught, young Jewish Afghan young man named Yair sent a painful letter to his brother-in-law, Abu-al-Hasan Siman Tov. Life had dealt Yair a tough hand, or maybe it was just his own bad choices. Having failed in business in his hometown of Bamiyan, rumors were now spreading that he had “broken promises . . . regarding property” and that he did not truly “observe the Sabbath.” Leaving these problems behind him, he had left his young wife to move some 150 miles to Ghazni and begin anew.
But even there he struggled to make a living. More importantly, he missed his family. “Anyone who marries a woman brings peace to his own mind, as it is for all people, not so that I will be sitting in Ghazni and she in Bamiyan.” But, with business doing so poorly, Yair could barely make ends meet on a day-to-day basis, let alone afford the costs of travel.