Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jewish Humor - Big Ideas

In addition to new lectures, Big Ideas (TVO) also frequently reruns old lectures from their archives. Here is one from 2004 which was very interesting and, obviously, very entertaining with all the Jewish jokes in them, Ruth Wisse (Weiss?) analyzes Jewish humor and debates its strengths and weaknesses. (feed)

I regret not having posted this review a week ago on Yom Kippur, because Wisse tells a very charming comic tale from Sholem Aleichem which takes place on Yom Kippur in one such a proverbial Shtetl. On this holiday and huge sum of money appears to have been stolen. Nobody is let out of the synagogue until the perpetrator is revealed. But what to do when the town's most pious and promising Talmud student turns suspect?

There are many more jokes Wisse retells, but within this joyous framework she discusses the anxieties, workings and dynamic of Jewish humor, as well as for Jews as for gentiles. Where the humor might be seen as a strategy to deal with being a weak minority, it works both as a strength as well as a weakness, as it not only reaffirms the minority identity, but also the prejudices about them.

More Big Ideas:
JRR Tolkien versus CS Lewis,
Malcolm Gladwell,
The Age of Inequality,
Disappearing cultures,
Waiting for Godot.