No laughing matter

Jeremy Dauber takes a ‘serious’ look at the long, colorful history of Jewish humor.

By GLENN C. ALTSCHULER
December 7, 2017 18:23
4 minute read.
SHOLEM ALEICHEM at his desk in St. Petersburg in 1904

SHOLEM ALEICHEM at his desk in St. Petersburg in 1904. (photo credit: YIVO ARCHIVES)

 
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Explaining his perennial predilection for satire, Sholem Aleichem once wrote, “What shall I do when laughing is a kind of illness for me, God save us, from childhood on?”

For centuries, stretching back to the Bible, humor has been a distinctive characteristic of Jews. As recently as 2013, a Pew Research Center found that 42% of respondents declared that “having a good sense of humor” was “part of being Jewish in America today,” far more than those who singled out “being part of a Jewish community” or “observing Jewish law.”

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