We want to hear from you. To join the conversation, send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
THE JOKES ISSUE
Editors’ note: We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of jokes submitted by readers in response to last issue’s Big Question: “What is Your Favorite Jewish Joke and Why?” We offer a sample of them below.
I had difficulty finishing this piece since I was laughing so hard that my vision was blurry. But I was a little surprised that one of our family favorites was nowhere to be seen in your collection.
A poor Jew is trudging with his horse down a dirt road in Czarist Russia. An angry Cossack blocks his path and begins to berate him. “Look at that healthy Jewish horse, what do you feed him?” The Jew timidly responds, “Oats.” The Cossack screams, “What?! You feed him oats when good Russians are starving!” and proceeds to beat him. A week later the same scenario occurs: a different Cossack, same angry question. “What do you feed that horse?” This time the Jew answers, “Barley.” Same response: “What! You feed him barley when good Russians are starving!” Again, the Jew is beaten. Finally, the third time—different Cossack, same question—the Jew responds quickly, “I don’t feed him! I give him a few pfennigs and he buys whatever he wants!”
Woodland Park, CO
THE YIDDISH INDIAN CHIEF
True story: In 1974 my mom went to see Blazing Saddles with her husband at a movie theater in a “not-so-Jewish suburb” of Detroit. During the circle-the-wagons scene when the Indian chief, Mel Brooks, comes upon the wagon of the Black family, he essentially says in Yiddish, “Go in peace,” and lets the family leave without incident. My mom, who understood just a little Yiddish, whispered loudly to her husband, who did know Yiddish, “What did he say? What did he say?” And he whispered back the translation. She then heard behind her a woman say to her husband: “Bill, did you hear that? He knows Indian!”
Q: Why don’t Jews drink? A: Because it dulls the pain.
This joke isn’t literally accurate, but emotionally it is dead on. Cracks me up. Oy.
This joke is based on an actual discussion in the Talmud: A groom comes to the rabbi with questions about his wedding. “Is it permitted to dance with my bride?” “No,” says the rabbi. “It’s immodest for men and women to dance together.” “Can I dance with my wife after the ceremony?” When the rabbi shakes his head, the groom asks, “But if I’m allowed to sleep with my wife after the ceremony, why can’t I dance with her?” “Procreation is a commandment—be fruitful and multiply,” the rabbi explains. “Mixed dancing is not.” “Can we try different positions then?” asks the man. “Like doggy-style?” “Of course, it’s a commandment. For the sake of bringing children, all positions are allowed.” “Can we do it standing up?” “No!” declares the rabbi, “That is forbidden.” “But why?” “It might lead to dancing.”
According to the Talmudic sages, everything the rabbi says is indeed Jewish law. But the Sages’ actual reason for not having sex standing up is because they thought a woman couldn’t get pregnant that way.
Los Angeles, CA
The three Cohen brothers go to Henry Ford and offer him a ten-year exclusive license on their newly patented invention: air conditioning for cars. Ford loves the idea and offers them $1 million. They accept on one condition—that the name “Cohen” go on the dashboard. Ford, a notorious antisemite, says, “If you withdraw that condition, I will give you $3 million.” The brothers say okay, but only if their first names can be on the air conditioner. Ford agrees. And so, every Ford car since then has the words “Norm,” “Hi” and “Max” on the dashboard.
I like this story because Ford has to pay for his antisemitism, and the punch line is totally unexpected.
A rabbi was having difficulty with mice in the synagogue. After mousetraps and cats didn’t work, the rabbi called the mice together for a meeting and asked, “How would you like to have a bar mitzvah?” The mice were very excited at the prospect. They studied hard at the Hebrew School. When the rabbi felt they were ready, they had a group b’nai mitzvah, a great big party, and then never came back to the synagogue again.
Why is this my favorite? Because it’s true for so many boys and girls today.
Shapiro goes over to visit his friend Rubenstein, knocks on the door, and a voice says, “Come in,” so Shapiro opens the door, walks in and finds Rubenstein sitting on a chair in the middle of the room, stark naked, except for a top hat on his head. Shapiro says, “What are you doing, sitting there naked?!” Rubenstein answers, “Why not? No one ever visits.” “Yeah, but then why the top hat?” says Shapiro. And Rubenstein answers, “Maybe someone will visit.”
I am not sure why I love this joke so much. It must be the total absurdity of the situation, and its slightly salacious aspect. I am also drawn to the relationship aspect, that Shapiro and Rubenstein seem to both be schnooks but they are also friends, landsmen, who somehow understand each other. I may be reading too much into the joke, but I think these guys both “get it” in a Yiddishe way.
Every Saturday afternoon, after services end, Shmuel quickly disappears from the synagogue. Curious, the rabbi follows him and sees Shmuel furtively enter a Chinese restaurant. Watching through the window, he sees Shmuel sit and order a meal. He is about to partake of his first bite of ribs. Fearing for him, the rabbi rushes in.
“Shmuel, what are you doing?” the rabbi exclaims. Shmuel calmly says, “Rabbi, did you not see me enter the restaurant, sit down, order my meal, receive the food, make my brocha?” The rabbi says, “Yes…” “Then it must be okay,” says Shmuel. “It was completely under rabbinic supervision!”
THE JEW CREW
The crew team at Yeshiva University comes in dead last at every meet. Determined to do better, they send the captain up to Cambridge to observe the performance of the championship Harvard crew team. The captain comes back to tell the team they’ve got it all backwards: It’s supposed to be eight guys rowing and just one guy yelling!
New York, NY
A DYING WISH
My grandfather liked to tell this joke: A religious Jew is driving across the country. In Texas, he stops at a cafe, sits at the counter and orders some soup. A cowboy sitting next to him asks, “Where you from, stranger?” “New York,” answers the man. “Well, partner, let me buy you a beer.” The man says, “Thanks, but I can’t.” The cowboy says, “Well, then, let me share my ham sandwich with you.” “Oh, no, I can’t eat that.” (My grandpa dragged it out for a while, eventually getting to the point where the cowboy is angry that the man won’t accept his hospitality.) Finally, the cowboy pulls out his gun and says, “Listen, you ungrateful bastard, you’re gonna have a beer or I’m gonna blow your head off.” The man takes the beer and drinks, hands shaking. Then he says, “Well, as long as you have the gun on me, pass me the ham sandwich.”
THE SIMPLE CHILD
A very studious Jewish little girl comes home from school. She heard someone use the word “fornication.” She asks her brother, “What does fornication mean?” He is embarrassed and tells her to go ask her mother. She goes to her mother and asks. Her mother is embarrassed. She goes to her father, who says go ask Grandma. She goes to Grandma and asks. Grandma says, “Come with me upstairs, sweetheart, and I will explain.”
They go upstairs and grandma takes her to her room and opens her closet door. She points and says, “See these dresses are for my work, and the dresses in the middle are for when I go shopping or visiting with friends, BUT these beautiful, glittering dresses? Well, these are fornoccasion.”
Ruth Browns Gundelfinger
San Rafael, CA
WHEN LIFE BEGINS
Two of my non-Jewish coworkers were heatedly debating when life begins. “At the moment of conception,” one of them says. “No, after three months of pregnancy, when you can hear a heartbeat,” argues the other. They turn to ask me, “When do you think life begins?” “That’s easy,” I reply. “According to Jewish law, life officially begins when you get into medical school.”
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Selma Schwartz is in the elevator of her Miami condominium when an attractive man who is new to the development gets on. Selma introduces herself and questions the man, “Where were you before moving here?” “I was in the penitentiary for 42 years.” “What did you do?” “I murdered my wife.” Selma thinks for a moment and inquires, “Does that mean you’re single?”
Stephen S. Pearce
San Francisco, CA
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE?
A Jewish man is hit by a car and knocked down. Bystanders rush over to check him out. Someone puts a cushion under his head. The question is asked: “Are you comfortable?” The man answers: “I make a living.”
Newton Centre, MA