Thursday, February 26, 2015

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
Continuing on my month of Adar posts on 19th century humor involving Jews, as both tellers and targets...

I came across an essay on Jewish humor written by none other than the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Hermann Adler, in 1893.

He traces the history of Jewish humor back to the Bible:

Some of the most devout and attentive readers of the Hebrew Scriptures may, perhaps, have failed to observe that even these pages contain illustrations of humor in its caustic form. And yet the scene on Mount Carmel, with all its sublime accessories, is not devoid of an element of grim jocularity.
The fale prophets of Baal have lept upon the altar, and cried to their idol from morning unto even, "O Baal, hear us!" Then Elijah steps forth, and mockingly exclaims, “ Cry ye louder, for he is a god ; he is perhaps talking or walking, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.” We have here the main elements of the ludicrous—— the degradation of something usually associated with power and dignity.

To the Talmud:
Rabbi Joshua was once on a journey. when he noticed a short cut across the fields. A child, passing along, said to him, “ Do not walk across the fields, you will be trespassing.” “ But," said Rabbi Joshua, “ is not this a public footpath ?” “ Ay,” rejoined the child, “ trodden out by trespassers such as you would be."

The sage pursued his way. As he entered the town, he noticed a little maid who was carrying a basket which was carefully covered. “Tell me, my good child," said the Rabbin, " What have you in that basket ?” The child answered, “If my mother had wished that every one should know the contents of that basket she would not have covered it.”

And to his own time:

We have been accustomed to think of the elder Mendelssohn as a subtle metaphysician, perpetually immersed in abstruse philosophic studies, and exclusively engaged in arousing his fellow-religionists from their mental apathy, and in exterminating the brutal prejudices that had so long prevailed against them. But he also took a keen pleasure in social intercourse, and delighted in amiable sallies of wit. The story of his courtship is not without its romantic touches. He loved a fair blue-eyed maiden, but he was ill-favored and crookbacked—an infirmity that had been increased by bending over the ledger by day and poring over the writings of philosophers by night. The first impulse of the maiden was to reject his suit. Shy and reserved though he was, he one day took courage and engaged in conversation with her. “Do you believe what our sages of old have taught, that marriages are made in heaven i” “Assuredly,” replied the pious maiden. “I have heard,” Moses Mendelssohn continued, “that in my case something weird and strange came to pass, You know what our ancient masters further teach on this head. At our birth the proclamation goes forth, this man-child shall be united in marriage with such and such a maiden. lt was told unto me that, when I was born, the name of my future wife was duly proclaimed. And the fiat went forth that she would be afilicted with an unsightly hump. Then my soul wailcd forth, ‘ A damsel that is deformed is apt to grow sour and ill tempered. A damsel must be fair, so that she may be amiable. Bencficent Creator, lay the hump upon me, and sufler this babe to grow up in beauty, charming all her beholders.’ " When the maiden had heard these words, her eyes beamed with love and admiration. And not many days elapsed ere she became the afiianced bride of the happy philosopher.
...A striking commentary was recently made by a Russian Jew on the judicial corruption which stains his country. He passed the Law Courts in one of the cities of the Empire, and noticed a fine statue placed in front of the building. “ Whom does that statue represent?'’ he inquires of a passer~by. “ Why, Justice, of course !” “ How sad,” exclaims the Jew, heaving a profound sigh, “that Justice should be relegated to the outside of the edifice and be altogether excluded from admission within!"

“Death is the beat physician,” said a witling to his medical attendant, who had been somewhat too assiduous in his professional visits. “ Why so?” asked the doctor. “ Because he only pays one visit."

A dialogue overheard at the Stock Exchange on a frosty winter’s day : “Mr. Moses, what would you advise me to buy to-day ?” “ Thermometers. of course; they are very low at present, and are sure to rise.”

A Mr. Goldsmith became a convert to Christianity. He thought it advisable to adopt a name with a more Gentile ring, and dubbed himself Mr. Smith. “ What a fool!” exclaimed a member of the congregation on hearing of the change; “ this is the first Jew who has thrown away his gold."

At a festive banquet, representatives of the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy had been invited, and were engaged in pleasant converse. The Rabbi, faithful to the dietary precepts of his religion, partook of only a few of the dishes. An appetizing joint of roast pork was set on the table. The Catholic priest turned to his neighbor, and asked, “ When will the time come that I may have the privilege of serving you with a slice of this delicious meat?” “ When I have the gratification of assisting at your Reverence’s wedding." the Rabbi rejoined, with a courteous bow.

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