Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Big Book of Jewish Humor: A Classic For Your Collection

If you have a collection of books of Jewish humor in your house, you almost certainly have this one. The Big Book of Jewish Humor is one of the true classics in the field. But just in case you don't, here's a quick summary of what you're in for when you pick up this book. The editors, William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, have produced a volume that has Talmudic overtones, with two facing columns in the center and two narrow columns of commentary on many pages. But unlike the Talmud, readers should be aware that some of the jokes are not family-friendly and use language that some may find offensive.

After a 25 page introduction to the 25th anniversary edition published in 2006, and the 15 page intro to the first edition (1981) we get into the book itself, which comes with instructions on how to read its 308 pages.

The book is divided into five topical and thematic parts.
Part One: Deeper Meanings, including trains, logic, the wise men of Chelm, Hershele Ostropoler, Intellectuals, Psychiatrists, and Pilpul. The Pilpul section includes a mock book review of The Babylonian Talmud, as if it were just published. The review concludes:
"...we must not forget that we are really dealing with a glorified "how to" book, in which the great Jewish minds of hundreds of years fight each other to the death to offer you recipes, legal and medical advice, and, primarily, to order you around till you're ready to cry. This perhaps is the greatness of the Talmud -- the fact that it has embodied within itself a thousand-year-old monumental tradition of nudnikism, the minutes of countless Sunday-morning bagel-bakery symposia, the nitpicking and vacillation of generations of kvetches. Not for the squeamish."
Part Two: Jewish and Goyish -- Anti-Semitism, Disputations, and The Goyish Persuasion.
Part Three: Promised Lands -- America, Divisions, Israel, Communication.
Part Four: Making a Living -- Give and Take, Schnorrers, Business, Rabbis, and Doctors
Part Five: First Things Last -- God, Animals, Bar Mitzvah, Men and Women, Family, Food, Death, Steady Work.

The Big Book of Jewish Humor also has lots of cartoons, and contributions from dozens of famous writers and comedians. It will keep you busy and laughing for a long time.