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Jewish jokes my father told, and other jokes like them

(To be published)

So, why another book of Jewish jokes?

Why not another book of Jewish jokes? But if you must have a reason …

Comparing Jewish jokes told by comedians and found in collections with my lived experience of hearing jokes told in a Jewish family setting, it seems to me that many of the Jewish jokes commonly known may not reflect the kind of jokes ordinarily told in Jewish homes.

My father’s jokes were often in the form of stories. These could be elliptical and oblique. Many, when I was young, left me puzzled – the same puzzlement they induce now in non-Jewish friends, as well as in some Jewish friends. His jokes often took me years to understand, and some, I’m still thinking about. That’s because they are really parables. Beneath the punchline there are multiple levels of meaning.

Dad's joke-telling instinct may have been related to the ancient Talmudic tradition of using humour as a teaching technique. Looking back now, the jokes told in the home by him, and no doubt by many others of his generation, seem to me to represent an ancient wisdom that anyone could appreciate and learn from, given a little help.

This short book contains some of my favourite jokes of this kind – ones I remember of his and others that are similar in character, each followed by a few words that aim to draw out the underlying messages. The jokes in this book are mostly classics. The ones I never heard him tell, Dad would almost certainly have known. Hopefully the few words following each joke will help people who don’t always (or ever) understand Jewish jokes see why they are so funny, why they have lasted, and some of what is going on under the surface.

Dad would have pointed out that if you tell a joke in this book to a Jew, they will interrupt to say you’re telling it wrong, and if you tell one to a non-Jew, they won’t think it’s funny. So, writing this book is unlikely to get either me or the reader anywhere.

But on the other hand, Dad, where is not writing it going to get us?

Keith Harrison-Broninski, March 2022

"With a former Jewish comedian now leading his nation in the fight against Putin's invading army, the idea of universal lessons from such a source seems especially poignant", Devorah Baum, author of "The Jewish Joke"

Mordecai went into a small grocery shop to buy salt. “What kind of salt would you like?” asked the owner.
“What kind?” replied Mordecai. "You mean there are different kinds?”
“There certainly are," said the owner. “Come with me.” He took Mordecai through to the store room at the back of the shop, and there Mordecai saw dozens of barrels of salt.
“You see?” said the owner. “Each barrel is a different kind of salt.”
"Good Lord,” said Mordecai. "I never knew this about salt. What a specialist you are! You must sell a lot of salt.”
"No,” said the owner. “Me, I barely sell any. But the guy I buy salt from - boy, can he sell salt!”

The weather is cold, there’s a lot of illness around, and Abe hasn’t been to synagogue for weeks. So, the rabbi goes round to see if he’s alright.
Abe’s wife lets the rabbi into the house and says that Abe is in the living room. When the rabbi enters the room, he sees Abe sitting there naked, wearing only a top hat.
“My son, why are you sitting here naked, in the dead of winter?
“What does it matter?” says Abe. “Nobody ever comes to visit me.”
“But why the top hat?”
“Well, maybe somebody will come.”

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