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|Rothschild||Two Jews visit the tomb of Baron von Rothschild. They stand unspeaking, nodding in awe, till one breaks the silence. “Oy, that’s the way to live.”|
The Jewish jokes I’d heard prior to college were passed around like any racist jokes: invidiously. My mind opened to their quality in college, hearing them directly from Jewish friends. Ethnic characterizations? Sure, why not? Wisdom and pride? Absolutely.
Many I still remember came from David Levy, thence iron ruler of Parson’s School of Design, which David got bought by The New School for Social Research: whetting his beak aplenty, I don’t doubt.
|Moses and the Commandments||
It is not commonly understood that the Jews were not always God’s chosen people. No. Once, long ago, God decided that he wanted to have a chosen people but he hadn’t actually made the choice.
No, first God went to Spain. He met a man on the road. He said, “Hello. I’m God. This here on my arm, carved in stone, are my five commandments. If you and your fellow Spaniards like, I will enter into a covenant with you. You will believe in me and follow my five commandments and you shall be my chosen people.”
“Commandments? Like what?”
“Thou shalt not steal.”
“What, and leave yesterday’s thieves with all the booty? You’ve got to be kidding.”
God went to France. “Hello. I’m God. Here carved in this stone tablet lying on my arm are my five commandments. If you and your fellow Frenchmen like, I will enter into a covenant with you. You will hold me to be your one and only God and you will follow my five commandments and you shall be my chosen people.”
God went to Germany. “Thou shalt not kill.”
God was chagrined. He went to Hungary. He went to Greece. He wandered into Palestine. He met Moses.
“Hello. I’m God. I am looking for a people to enter into a covenant with. Carved in this stone tablet here lying on my arm are my five commandments. If you worship me and hold no other gods before me and follow my five commandments, you shall be my chosen people.”
And Moses said, “We’ll take two.”
That joke is from Israeli artist Benny Levy. I’ve written it carefully, but you really should hear Benny tell it.
A Jew in Minsk fucks his wife in the ass. He doesn’t know what got into him. He’s never done it before. He can’t get it out of his mind. He goes to temple and confides in the Rabbi. “Rabb’, I fuck my vife in the ass.”
The rabbi is terribly upset. “How could you?” he says, gesticulating wildly. “You must do penance. Pay fifty rubles to the temple.”
The Jew does. But he doesn’t feel clean. He journeys on foot to the somewhat larger temple in Pinsk. He locates the rabbi: “Rabb’, I fuck my vife in the ass.”
The Pinsk rabbi is even more irate. “You must be punished. You will pay one hundred rubles to the temple. Moreover, you will roll up your trousers and walk home barefoot.”
Still the Jew feels guilty. When his feet heel a bit, he sets off once again, inching forward on his bare knees, to Moscow. He finds the greatest of all Moscow temples. He dismissed all those who would handle his problem until he is admitted to the chief rabbi.
“Great Rabb’, I fuck my vife in the ass.”
“Go home. Forget about it,” answers that teacher.
“Go home? Forget about it? No penance?”
The chief rabbi says: “You’re not from Moscow: didn’t you go to a rabbi at home?”
“I’m from Minsk. The Minsk rabbi made me pay fifty rubles.”
“And then you crawl here?”
“The Pinsk rabbi makes me pay one hundred rubles and walk back to Minsk barefoot. The Minsk rabbi makes me pay; the Pinsk rabbi doubles the money and assigns suffering. I crawl here on my bare knees and you, the greatest rabbi in all the Russias, tell me to go home and forget about it?”
Urbanely, the scholar asks, “What do these small town rabbi’ know about fancy fucking?”
Some of these could be classified as invidious sophistication.
|Rich Jew, Poor Jew||
A Jew in Pinsk falls upon hard times. Nothing improves his lot. Eventually he calls on the richest Jew in town. The rich Jew knows of his trouble and helps him out. He gives him ten rubles and wishes him luck.
He adds moreover that if that charity doesn’t get him back on his feet right away, he should come to the kitchen door Friday evening, before night fall commences the Sabbath, of course, and the cook should have a little something for him.
That Friday he does, expecting a little food and perhaps a kopeck or two. The cook hands him a plain envelope. Inside is another ten rubles! Each Friday passes the same. For years.
Until one Friday the poor Jew arrives at the kitchen door, is handed an envelope, opens it … and finds only five rubles.
“There must be some mistake,” he says. “I get ten rubles.”
“We know,” the cook answers. “But, praise God, the master is preparing for his daughter’s wedding, a very expensive affair.”
The poor Jew’s brows knit. “Well,” he retorts. “Tell him to marry his daughter with his own money.”
Chosen people? I no longer recognize that kind of god. But man, do the Jews tell some great jokes. Basic human behavior. Do we recognize it as “Jewish”? For sure. Especially if the teller can do anything like an accent. But I’m sorry: this is a human joke. Credit the Jews for telling it, but here in simple is an enduring human trait captured in tellable, funny form.
Mythic? Well, I for one see it as related.
|Origin of Life||
A TV show decides to air a debate on when life begins. They invite a popular minister and “balance” him with a well-known priest. Uh oh: better have a Jew too. So they add a rabbi.
“Well, Famous Reverend: when would you say that life begins?”
“Life begins at the moment of birth.”
“And you, Famous Father: when do you say life begins?”
“Life begins at the moment of conception.”
from Raymond Smullyan
|Selling: Sardine Special||
“Moishe, how are you? How’s the family? It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. What are you doing these days?”
“Abe, hello. Yes, it’s been years. I am fine, the family is fine. Are you still selling leather goods?”
“No, Moishe, no leather goods. But I asked you first: what are you doing these days?”
“I’m out of diamonds, I’m out of gold. But look, I have something unusual.'” Moishe produces a sardine can.
“That looks like an ordinary can of sardines, Moishe.”
“You, Abe, of all people, know that looks can be deceiving. Indeed this is a can. Inside are sardines indeed. But this can of sardines is unique in my experience. Two rubles.”
“Two rubles, Moishe! Two? Two kopecks is more like the price of sardines.”
“I am telling you: such cans of sardines as these are my whole business today.”
“They must be very special. I don’t understand it, Moishe, but here’s your two rubles.”
Abe goes home, pondering his purchase, wondering what the wonder was. That same afternoon, overcome with curiosity, he opens the can. Such a stench! But two rubles! They can’t be rotten. He eats them. Yech. He goes back out to search for Moishe. Three old friends he has to visit before he tracks Moishe’s present whereabouts. He knocks.
“Abe! What a coincidence. I was just telling the family about how I sold you a can of my wonderful sardines.”
Wonderful?!? Geschtunkener! Awful sardines! Moishe, how could you do that to me? Abe? Your old friend?”
“But, Abe,” Moishe admonishes him. “Of course they were rotten. Those sardines weren’t for eating; they’re for selling!
That joke was told to me my Israili artist Benny Levy. Too often our ideals — laws, freedoms, truths — remind me of Moishe’s sardines. But Paul, those Rights aren’t for practice; they’re for bullshitting the people. But Paul, those truths aren’t for testing/believing; they’re for believing/believing. Where would we be if the people didn’t believe? (Make sure you check out Douglas Adams Dirk Gently novels, his electronic monk is priceless.)
Maybe bullshit is the best we’re capable of for anything but an isolated moment for an isolated individual. It’s all social glue. Without it, how would we dominate the world and transform the planet into a tablua rasa? Perhaps for god to write on once again.
Anti-Semitism crests once again in Italy. The Church’s leadership is victorious in the campaign to banish all Jews. A date is set. Toward that deadline, as so often happens with political delusions of unanimity, a trickle of doubt sets in. The Pope earns points for fairness when he responds to one suggestion from the protesters: he announces that he, as leader of the True Church, will debate a champion elected by the Jews.
All the rules are set by the Vatican. Among the Jews who haven’t already fled, rabbi after rabbi scorns the constraints. The one Jew who doesn’t seem bothered is Moishe. The Vatican seizes on Moishe.
Cardinals as well as journalists are frustrated when the Pope adds that the debate will be private: no audience, no television, no witnesses of any kind. The Pope will meet Moishe alone in the Sistine Chapel: 11:30 AM. The Pope alone will judge the outcome.
On the eve of the debate the world is titillated further by the Vatican’s announcement that the Pope has ruled additionally that no words will be used: the debate is to be of so high a level that only signs and symbols will qualify.
By dawn, cameras and microphones bristle against the police barricades at the Sistine Chapel.
At a quarter to noon, the Pope signals for the doors to be opened. “The Jews can stay,” he announces.
The crowd is stunned; then swarmed with cheering.
“What happened?” Journalists thrust their microphones toward the Pope.
“I, of course, opened the debate: I held my forefinger erect, my arm elevated toward heaven, to signify that our thoughts must be of God and heaven.
“He pointed his extended finger toward the ground. I withheld my impulse to smite his blasphemy when I realized: yes, but God’s children must have those thoughts here, on earth.
“I proceeded with the irrefutable. I lowered my arm but maintained my forefinger erect: there is but one God!
“He added his middle finger to his extended forefinger. Yes, but man lives in time as well as in eternity.
“I produced a fish, the Greek letters for which symbolize Christ, our resurrected Messiah.
“He drew from his cloak a loaf of bread, the food of our mortal life: yes, man’s needs are secular as well as spiritual. Moishe is the finest symbolic debater I have encountered. The Jews can stay.”
The police clear the way for the Pope’s limousine. Moishe emerges from the shadows of the chapel entrance into the glare of noon and the camera lights.
“Moishe,” the reporters chorus. “Tell us about your triumph.”
Moishe clears his throat. “The Pope said the same old thing. He held out his arm and pointed far away: ‘the Jews must go’.
“I pointed to the floor: ‘us Jews have gotta stay!’
“He put his finger in my face: ‘I’ll poke you in the eye’.
“I put out two fingers: ‘I’ll poke both your eyes out’.
“He pulled out a fish. So I took out my bread: it’s time for lunch.”
Old Fashioned Charity
Temple Beth Shalom in Rockville Centre was the pride of a nation within a nation at its opening decades ago. It’s success was such that it was filled with members immediately and grew to bursting shortly thereafter. Decades of discomfort finally led to the realization that the bullet must again be bitten: fund raising must begin all over again.
The committee makes its first call on Saul Liebowitz, the richest man in Nassau County.
“Mr. Liebowitz, we realize that you are not an active member of the congregation of Beth Shalom, but surely, as one of the most distinguished Jews in the United States, and the richest man in Nassau County, you must want to lead the way in expressing pride in your heritage. The new Beth Shalom is budgeted at one hundred million dollars, a special bargain from the architects and contractors, all members. How much shall we put you down for? Say … ten million?”
“Ten million dollars! Oi vey. Do you know what my wife wants in our divorce? This house; the sixty foot yacht; the villa on the Riviera …”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Liebowitz; we didn’t realize …”
“And my son that no-goodnik, sixty thousand dollars for his college, not counting the Corvette, and the Lamborghini after he’d wrecked that …”
“We’re so sorry, Mr. Liebowitz. Shall we say … five million?”
“And graduate school: fifteen thousand a year starting ten years ago, and more each year. Six years he’s been writing a thesis. Schtupping every goyisha floozy in Berkeley is more like it. And now do you know what he wants to do? Come into the business like a mensch? No: he’s off to Africa to earn sixty cents a day telling some tribe about pesticides.”
“We didn’t know that Mr. Liebowitz. Can we put you down for, say … one million?”
“And my wife’s mother: ten operations in five years: gall stones, liver stones, mastectomies, hysterectomies … now it’s cancer she convinces herself she has.”
“Umm … Err … Could you see your way to start the donations with five hundred thousand …”
“And the bills: Bloomingdale’s, Sachs, Shlomo the Furrier … My daughter can’t wear a mink more than once.”
“Umm, Mr. Liebowitz …”
“My younger son should follow in his brother’s rubbers. Three paternity suits are pending this month.”
“Mr. Liebowitz …”
“My third daughter wants me to fund something called Lesbian Marxist Thespians. Even the Soviet Union knew when to quit.”
“Mr. Liebowitz, we’re truly sorry. Can …”
“Divorce and all, my wife’s mother’s diseases aren’t enough. My wife’s brother isn’t content to lose three businesses this decade. Now he wants plastic surgery.”
“Mr. Liebowitz …”
“On his ears, mind you.”
“Mr. Liebowitz, Sir, we had no idea you had these problems. Instead of us suggesting amounts, why don’t you simply tell us how much you’d like to start the Rebuild Temple Beth Shalom Fund Drive with.”
“My own wife with her divorce, my own son with no career, my mother-in-law with her cancer, her son with his ears and bankruptcies, the law suits against my other son, my spendthrift daughters, my own family … I’m not giving any of them a goddamn cent; why should I give you anything?”
“What’s yellow, hangs on the wall, and sings?”
“I don’t know. Tell me.”
“A red herring.”
“But a red herring isn’t yellow.”
“So? You couldn’t take a can of paint, and a brush, and paint it yellow?”
“Still: even a yellow red herring doesn’t hang on the wall.”
“You mean you couldn’t take a nail, and a hammer, and nail it right through the tail, up onto the wall?”
“But a red herring doesn’t sing.”
“I lied about that part.”
Abe is worried about his son Lev’s apparent lack of ambition. The rabbi suggests a test. Leave three things around the living room: the Tora, a bottle of Manishevitz, and some loose cash. Hide behind the curtain when you know he’s coming. Watch him. If Lev shows interest in the Tora, perhaps they’re hope for him yet. If he filches the money … well, maybe it shows some business acumen. Maybe there’s a little hope for him. If he takes the bottle, ignoring all else … wash your hands of him, forget about it, a drunk may as well be a goy.
Abe distributes the articles and hides. Lev arrives. Leafs through the Tora. Abe is about to leap out and embrace him but thinks better of it and keeps watching. Lev sees the money, counts it out, pockets it. Abe’s blood pressure rises. Lev sees the Manishevitz, takes a swig, leafs the Tora, takes another swig, puts the bottle in his pocket …
Abe falls through the curtain, tearing his hair and rending his clothes. “Oi vey. A Cat’olic priest!”
The End of the World
All of a sudden scientists, theologians, mysitics … geologists, cosmologists … meteorologists, Tarot Card readers … all agree: the world will end in two weeks: a great flood is coming.
All TV time is turned over to the ministers, to the priests, to the news casters. The ministers beg people to have faith, the priests beg people to have faith, to repent, to convert …
Oh, woe unto the sons and daughters of Eve. Pray. Confess your sins. Beg for redemption.
Finally, a rabbi gets the camera for a moment:
Apropos, check out this Reuters article.
I put this great joke separately to emphasize that it’s a great institutional joke.
High holidays at Temple Beth Shalom. The temple has expected such a huge turnout that guards have been hired to make sure that members of the temple have priority in seating. Just the adult male members have already filled it. No more admitted.
A boy arrives, stating that there’s trouble at home: his errand is to fetch his father, a member.
The guard says he can’t enter. Boy puts up a fuss. The fuss becomes a distraction.
“I’ll only be a minute,” the boy insists: “I know where he usually sits.”
“All right,” the guard relents, “only one minute. But I’m going to keep my eye on you: and if I catch you praying …”
At long last the Jews have a State of Israel: protected supposedly by the Allies. At long last the mother resumes contact with her mother and can fill her in on a decade of news. Her main topic is her son, her mother’s grandson. David is an adolescent now, lives in Israel, speaks nothing but Hebrew …
— And when he calls you in Roumania, what language do you speak?
— Why Hebrew, of course?
— When then does he speak Yiddish?
— Never, Mother. David doesn’t even know Yiddish.
— Oi! Oh, I don’t like that!
— Why, Mother? It’s wonderful. I raised him speaking Hewbrew. In Israel everyone speaks Hewbrew. David has never had to learn German, or English … Why in the world would you want him to speak Yiddish?
— I don’t want him to forget that he’s Jewish.
2014 10 12 I’m having the most wonderful time watched a biopic on Sholem Aleichem. I’ve read only a little of him, I was probably 30, 35 before I read a word. Wonderful to be filling in a bit: what a great guy. Anyway: just learned, knocked for a loop: his family spoke only Russian! His children couldn’t read him in the original! Imagine Faulkner with a family strictly of French speakers.
Abe worries about his son Shlomo. The boy seems to display no direction in life. Abe thinks of a test: In the living room he places a pocket size Bible in sight. “When Shlomo comes into the room,” he thinks, “if he picks up the Bible, then I should encourage his studies, he may become a rabbi.” Abe also lays a $10 bill on the table. “If he picks up the $10, he’s showing an interest in money, perhaps he’ll go into business. Lastly Abe adds a bottle of wine to his display. “If he picks up the wine, then perhaps he’s destined to become a drunkard: nothing can be done with him, my interest is finished.”
Abe hides behind the curtain. In comes Shlomo. He sees the money, he picks it up, he puts it in his pocket. Abe is about to emerge and congratulate him, but Shlomo also picks up the Bible, ruffles through it, puts it in his pocket. Abe is trembling, but Shlomo also picks up the bottle of wine, turns it in his hands, reads the label, and walks out carrying the lot. Abe falls to the floor.
“Oi vey: a Catholic priest!”
Usually the kids receive their first communion at the local church. Suddenly the bishop decides that all first communions shall be pooled to the same mass at the cathedral. Lots of details have to be taken care of. For example the priest in the church gives a crucifix to each celebrant, so familiar, calls them crosses for short: coordinates purchases through the local Hallmark Store. But now the ceremony requires 1,000 crucifixes! Where’s he gonna get a 1,000 crosses? Another priest gives him a phone number, he calls it, “You gotta help me! I need 1,000 crosses by Sunday.”
The voice is thickly accented:
“Mit or mit’out the Jesuses?”
The priest is conducting the mass. His eye keeps catching on a stranger. It isn’t just that he’s never seen the guy before; but the guy is different: the guy is a shrimp, swarthy, well-dressed but odd, funny, funny hair style …
He thinks to look up when the collection plates are going around. He can’t help but watch: the swarthy shrimp puts an envelope in the plate.
Later, they’re counting up, the usher goes, “Whew, Padre, Look at this.” He’s cut open an envelop. Inside is a single bill. Green alright but it’s $1,000!
Gulp. Next Sunday the priest notices the guy again. Watches him closely this time. Same deal: collection, envelope …
Priest races to open the envelope. Sure enough, $1,000. Priest races to the church porch, catches the guy on the way out: bobs, nods, smiling.
Next Sunday is the same. $1,000 in the plate. The priest pumps the guy’s hand on the church porch. “Guests are more than welcome here. You have to be a member of the Church to receive mass, but anyone may attend mass. We appreciate your generosity, we put it to good use; but you needn’t contribute so much in that way to be welcome here.
“But tell me: Haven’t I seen you here before?”
“Yep, third Sunday in a row.”
“What is it about our service in particular that you like?”
“Oh, I like lots of things. I like that prayer in particular: ‘Our father …
“Give us this day …
“You know, the “daily bread part?”
“That $1,000 a week could be regular income if you could just add one word:
Give us this day our Levy’s bread.
|Oy||Two Jews sit down.
One says, “Oy …”
The other says, “I thought we weren’t going to talk about the kids!”
Couple of gems from streaming When Jews were Funny:
|Beach||Jewish woman is at the beach with her child. She looks up and sees the boy’s head — washing to sea in the undertow. She looks at the clouds, “Oh, God”, she says, “restore my son to me”.
Boy washes up with the next wave.
Woman looks at the sky, says, “He had a hat”.
Here’s a phrase from Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer that extracts as a one liner:
A shtetl is an island surrounded by Russia.
See also Anti-Semitism.
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