Do Jewish Jokes Have to Be about Jews to Be Funny?

Jan. 11 2017

Reviewing two recent joke anthologies, Joseph Epstein reflects on some of the idiosyncrasies of Jewish humor:

William Novak’s Die Laughing: Killer Jokes for Newly Old Folks [is] a collection of jokes about aging and about being older generally. . . . In 1981 Novak had produced, along with Moshe Waldoks, a collection called The Big Book of Jewish Humor. The jokes in Die Laughing have, perhaps out of fear of redundancy with his earlier book, been de-judaized, some to less than good effect. The punchline of the joke about the fanatical golfer who returns home late from his regular golf date because his partner and dearest friend died on the golf course early in the round is a case in point. In his explanation to his wife for his tardiness in returning home, he explains that for several holes after his friend’s death “it was hit the ball, drag Bob, hit the ball, drag Bob.” The joke is much improved if Bob is named, as in the version in which I originally heard the joke, Irving. Novak tells the joke about the parsimonious widow who, learning that the charge for newspaper obituaries is by the word, instructs the man on the obit desk to print “O’Malley is dead. Boat for sale.” The joke is better, though, in the Jewish version, as “Schwartz dead. Cadillac for sale,” and is even one word shorter, thereby saving Mrs. Schwartz a few bucks.

Of course, not only Jewish jokes are about Jews; anti-Semitic jokes are, too:

Pervasive though political correctness has become, it, like affirmative action, does not apply to the Jews or to Jewish jokes. Anti-Semitic jokes abound, not a few told by Jews. All play off Jewish stereotypes, some milder than others. The four reasons we know Jesus was Jewish, for example, are that he lived at home till he was past thirty, he went into his father’s business, he thought his mother was a virgin, and she (his mother) treated him as if he were God. Fairly harmless. But then there are the world’s four shortest books: Irish Haute Cuisine, Great Stand-Up German Comics, Famous Italian Naval Victories, and—oops!—Jewish Business Ethics.

What we need is not more anti-Semitic jokes, but more jokes about anti-Semites.

Epstein knows some good examples of these as well.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Jewish humor

Proposals for a New American Approach to the Middle East

Jan. 24 2017

With U.S. policy to the region “in tatters,” Russell Berman and Charles Hill offer ten guidelines for the Trump administration. Among them:

As a region, the broad Middle East remains vital to U.S. national interest. Because of its importance, Washington cannot disengage from it. It is not an irrelevant space that can be abandoned to our adversaries or to the chaos of state failure. . . .

Iran and Russia, powers adversarial to the U.S., perceive an interest in cooperating strategically with each other militarily, politically, and economically. China has begun to probe the region for opportunities serving its interests. The IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) has de facto become an Iranian expeditionary force for invading strategic Arab spaces, countering many decades of U.S. support for Arab states. . . . Iran and Russia are pursuing strategies to diminish and eliminate U.S. influence in the Middle East. Because of vital interests in the region, U.S. strategy must be designed to roll back Iranian and Russian ambitions. This implies the imperative of opposing Iranian client ambitions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. . . .

Iran is a de-facto caliphate without declaring itself to be such. It is both a recognized legitimate state in the established international state system and a dedicated religious-ideological enemy of the established world order; it continues to play successfully on one side or the other as best suits its interests on any given issue. The U.S. government has not appeared to be aware of this double game, or has simply accepted it. Iran is not a polity of moderates and hard-liners; it is a revolutionary theocracy which controls and makes use of governmental and diplomatic functions in order to appear to a deceived outside world as a legitimate regime. . . .

U.S. strategy should [also] limit Russian power by preventing the stabilization of the Assad regime as a Russian client state. The Syrian state should, however, be enabled to survive within its formal borders. This requires some negotiated understandings on the need for autonomous regions, so that the several distinctive communities within Syria may be able to coexist in semi-independence. It is necessary to avoid the perpetual chaos and warfare that would follow any evaporation of Syrian statehood. Ultimately, Assad will have to hand over power to a newly designed constitutional polity. Rather than stand by the side, the U.S. has to play a defining role in this process.

Read more at Defining Ideas

More about: Iran, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy