Pushing the envelope

Jewish humor, as is the case with most ethnic comedy, has long been predicated upon a notion of self-deprecation.

The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies By David Deutsch and Joshua Neuman St. Martin's Griffin 256pp., $13.95 Jewish humor, as is the case with most ethnic comedy, has long been predicated upon a notion of self-deprecation. The vast lexicon of jokes about JAPs, the Jews' ability to poke fun at themselves has become the legacy of Jewish comedy. Comedians like Mel Brooks, Alan King, Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld always tackled Jewish topics with an acerbic willingness to be critical and even judgmental, and they get away with it because hey, they're Jews. But when the two editors of Heeb magazine sat down to write The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies, the idea of a Jew's ability to laugh at his own maladies would be tested in ways more drastic than ever before and this time the public might not be as open-minded as they have been to Jewish mother-in-law humor. Heeb magazine, a quarterly first released in 2002, has taken a unique approach through colorful yet sometimes obscene sarcasm and satire to attract a solid readership of more than 125,000 readers. Though it dismays Jewish traditionalists, it has been embraced by Generation Y. David Deutsch and Joshua Neuman, whose non-editing credits include educator positions at respected New York institutions, have introduced that same formula for this book. While clearly pushing the envelope of what a reader is willing to accept, they have produced a fascinating and extremely readable approach to how Jews should relate to conspiracy theories lobbed against them. The overall success of this book, however, will hinge primarily on the extent to which the reader will be open-minded enough to avoid becoming overly offended by the coarseness of the humor. Perhaps the most telling sentence in the entire work is the last one, found in the acknowledgments, when the authors thank "the Jews for going through the last couple of thousand years and still being able to laugh about it all." Assuming you are one of those people who can find it in yourself to laugh about it all, you will love this book. However, like a pack of cigarettes, this book should include a disclaimer warning that pretty much anyone who has any personal insecurities regarding their comfort level with Judaism should approach this text with considerable caution. Despite any indications of some level of seriousness that one might conclude from cursorily reading the title, this book is a cover-to-cover satire and uses the realm of the absurd to make its point. Pretty much every topic from biblical times to modern day anti-Semitism is approached through a perspective which many, if not most, would deem as insensitive, if not outright perverted. However, once readers get past being utterly shocked at the content of the book, they will relax enough to first giggle guiltily, and eventually, they'll find themselves engaged in all-out cackling. The authors defend the use of humor as a legitimate response to a very serious reality of how Jews are perceived in the world. The idea for such a book came in the wake of the attacks of September 11, when the idea that "The Jews Did It" was being voiced without any appropriate condemnation. According to the authors, the Jewish reaction throughout history to the notion of Jewish conspiracies has been to tear our clothes and cry. This book attempts to say that we're not going to gratify anti-Semitism with serious responses, but rather with the absurd. In a chapter entitled "There's No Business Like Shoah Business," Holocaust denial is approached head on by creating an outrageous scenario that the Jews really made the whole thing up. For some it will be too offensive, but for others it will prove that there are multiple directions for attacking our enemies. With that goal in mind, Deutsch and Neuman set out to write a revealing and in many ways revolutionary work, which by their own admission is the "smartest silly book ever." At 256 pages, few major topics in human history are ignored and the humor is all in someway predicated upon fact. Despite the lack of any citations or mention of outside scholarly works, the book is clearly intensely researched, and when taken with more than a few grains of salts could be relied upon as an introductory survey of important events in the history of the world. Deutsch and Neuman chart the events of the last several millennia beginning with the exodus from Egypt, which came about as a result of a breakdown in labor negotiations between the Jews and Pharaoh, all the way to 2001, when a Brooklyn-based rabbi engineers the attacks of 9/11 out of anger that the Twin Towers were ruining his view. In addition to offering a humorous glance at events of the past, the book responds to a critical reality of contemporary Jewish society that was first introduced through the popularity of Heeb magazine and the overall desire of young Jews to find new outlets to express their connection with their religion. Increasingly, the younger generations of Jews are distancing themselves from the cultural concerns of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust which had defined much of Diaspora Jewry in past decades, and the authors present this type of shock literature to counter this modern day reality. One emerges from even one chapter of The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies thinking that the authors are either completely nuts or have a whole lot of hutzpa. Either way, the most popular facet of this book is that its funny and very funny at that.