A recent study said 44 percent of American Jews believed having a good sense of humor is essential to being Jewish.
This percentage is double the number of those who believing observing Jewish law is essential. In other words, most Jews think a good sense of humor is more significant to their identity than 2000 years of the Jewish legal tradition!
In the wake of the death of one of America’s earliest Jewish comedians, Sid Caeser, we can better appreciate why Jews have been drawn to comedy. We will illustrate each reason with a fitting joke, courtesy of the fabulous book by Joseph Telushkin Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews. Here they are:
1. Outsiders can cast a critical eye on society: Jews have always been a minority people. We are only .2 percent of the world population, and about two percent of the American population. This perspective is a great source of humor.
This example shows the danger in being a minority, and the wits required to survive.
A medieval Jewish astrologer prophesied to a king that his favorite mistress will die soon. Sure enough, the woman died a short time later, the king was outraged at the astrologer, certain that his prophecy had brought about the woman’s death.
He summoned the astrologer and commanded him: prophesy to me when you will die. The astrologer realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately, no matter what answer he gave. I do not know when I will die, he answered finally. I only know that whenever I will die, the king will die three days later.
2. We can take God seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.
Two Jews are dragged by anti-Semites before a firing squad. The first one cries out: Stop! Stop! You’re murdering an innocent man. ”Sh… Sh…,” says the second. “Don’t make trouble.”
3. We value education, and parents can sometimes take this to an extreme.
A Jewish mother is walking down the street with her two young sons. A passerby asks her how old the boys are. ”The doctor is three,” the woman answers. “And the lawyer is two.”
From Groucho Marx to Jerry Seinfeld, Jewish comedians have contributed so much to American culture. We lost a giant yesterday, and millions of future laughs will serve as an eternal memory.