Semites and Stereotypes: Characteristics of Jewish Humor

Semites and Stereotypes: Characteristics of Jewish Humor

Semites and Stereotypes: Characteristics of Jewish Humor

Semites and Stereotypes: Characteristics of Jewish Humor

Synopsis

This interdisciplinary collection of essays assesses Jewish humor as a subject of serious scholarly inquiry. Scholars from England, France, the United States, Denmark, Israel, and Australia explore Jewish humor from a variety of perspectives, including anthropology, literature, psychology, sociology, and religion. Individual essays focus on linkages with language, religion, and historical traditions; study characteristics such as gallows humor, self-disparagement, and stereotyping; analyze distinctions between humor in Israel and in the diaspora; and discuss the contributions of Jewish humorists and comic performers and Jewish theorists of humor.

Excerpt

Avner Ziv

Jewish humor is humor created by Jews and reflecting some aspect of Jewish life. While encompassing the universal techniques of humor, such as incongruity, surprise, local logic, and bisociation, Jewish humor has some particularities distinguishing it from other national or ethnic styles of humor. Not only does it have deep and ancient roots, found already in the Bible (Stora-Sandor, 1984), but it has long fulfilled an important role in Jewish life and the Jewish quest for survival. The question of survival has always been central for Jews, who have a long history as a persecuted minority. The many punishments imposed on Jews because of their Jewishness make for a unique horror story culminating in the Nazi "final solution." Among the many ways Jews learned to cope with sad and terrible realities, humor holds a special place. It helps change, if only for a short while, the sadness of reality, twisting it into something funny and so more easily bearable. It is probably not accidental that it was a Jew, Sigmund Freud, who constructed the theory of humor as a defense mechanism to help cope with distress (Freud, 1928). He was also the first to underline a particular characteristic of Jewish humor: self-disparagement. In his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious Freud wrote, "I do not know of whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character" (1905/1976, p. 116).

If Freud was right -- and the pilot research presented in this volume by Carolyn Miller's essay would seem to support it -- there must be some reason why Jews make more fun of themselves than do other people. Jewish humor in general seems to have fascinated Freud in no small degree. Not only was his book full of Jewish jokes . . .

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