Is Christianity a Jewish joke

When God laughed

Judaism combines faith with humor

By Kirsten Dietrich

The Torah, part of the Hebrew Bible, is funnier than many think. (AP)

The Jewish joke is proverbial and the stories from the little Schtedl with the overzealous rabbi are well known. In contrast to other religions, faith and humor in Judaism do not seem to be opposites, but rather to complement one another.

An old rabbi is dying, calls his wife: Get the priest, I want to be baptized.

You: Are you meshugge? You worked so hard for God all your life, now you want to become a Christian?

He: Listen carefully, I don't have much time, I'm going to die soon: Better one of them dies than one of us.

Of course, one could also lead indignant debates about the mission to the Jews, says Walter Rothschild, state rabbi of Schleswig-Holstein. But you can also deal with the subject like this: with a joke.

"We Jews have suffered so much for centuries that sometimes there was nothing else to do but laugh, that is the only healthy reaction, everyone else is simply unhealthy. You see something: absurdity, you see the gap between that what should be and what is, and you laugh. "

Laughing is not the end of the story, but humor at least gives the underdogs the opportunity to choose their own perspective. Anyone who laughs uses a margin of maneuver, no matter how minimal it is. This is shown above all by Jewish jokes from the time of National Socialism.

Two Jews see two men with swastika emblems walking towards them. Says one to the other: "Let's go. There are two of them, we are alone."

"It is the situation of the marginalized, of those who are looking for recognition, who suffer from being marginalized, and in a sense they use humor as a weapon."

Julius Schoeps heads the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam. A new research project has started there: the center collects Jewish jokes.

"What does funny mean? They are stories that are told, that make you think and that are told self-deprecatingly, and that makes things interesting."

If you are looking for sources of Jewish humor, you will of course find the stories from the shtedln of Eastern Europe, from the 18th and 19th centuries. The stories of pious, sometimes pious rabbis and shrewd have-nots are so distinctive in style that they tend to be folkloric. They are also a very precise reflection of the upheavals that repeatedly shook the Jewish communities. Like the following story, printed around 1900 in Schlemihl, a Jewish joke sheet:

A scrounger comes to a banker and complains of his suffering. "You cannot imagine how misfortune afflicts me. Wherever I go and stand, misfortune follows me like my shadow. You see, Mr. Banker, I am a musician, for example. If the misfortune hits me, I lose my instrument. " - "What are you playing?" says the banker. - "I will blow the French horn," replied the Schnorrer. Then the rich man opened his cupboard and said: "Now calm down, I happen to have one, I want to give it to you. But play it for me a bit." - "Well," asked the Schnorrer, "isn't that a misfortune? You must have a French horn of all people?"

But humor can be found much earlier, already in the basic document of Judaism: in the Bible. Religious scholar Harald-Alexander Korp deals with the connection between religion and humor.

"There is no laughing about Moses, but about the prophet Abraham and his wife Sarah, there is the famous story that they still become parents in old age, so she laughed out loud and said: How can God prophesy such a thing?"

The Lord said to Abraham: Why is Sarah laughing and saying, Do you think that it is true that I will still give birth when I am old? Should something be impossible for the Lord?

"Sara became pregnant, she had a son, Isaac, that is: God laughs, this famous story expresses laughter. The question is: who had a sense of humor, God had a sense of humor in the sense that he didn't punish her, even though he God of the Old Testament is a jealous, angry God, he allowed the doubting laughter, the laughing at. In the Hebrew Bible there is a lot of humor and a lot of puns that are very difficult to explain for people who do not understand Hebrew, but for example at the very beginning of creation, the Garden of Eden story, the word for 'naked', Adam and Eve are naked, and the word for 'clever', the snake is clever, they sound almost identical, they are grammatically different , that's a play on words. "

The problem, says Walther Rothschild, is that this kind of humor can also be found. You have to have a knowledge of the language, and you shouldn't freeze in a respect that ignores the humorous intent of the lyrics just out of deference. This form of humor is not as easy to convey as the picturesque purrs from the Schtedtl.

"The main problem for Christian theologians is that they just don't understand all the humor, they are far, far too serious. And for German theologians you have to double that."

How humorous is the Bible? Not only Christians and Jews have different views, there are also different views within Judaism. Yehuda Teichtal is rabbi of the messianic Jewish community Chabad Lubavitch in Berlin.

"I think we have to distinguish between humor and joy in the Bible: it has no humor, but it has happiness."

As conservative as Rabbi Teichtal's religious homeland is, his understanding of joy is just as strict.

"It is said, for example, that when Abraham told him to offer his son as a sacrifice, Abraham showed his trust in God by getting up early the next morning to happily fulfill God's wishes We see that joy is a foundation and foundation of the Jewish faith. "

A not-so-familiar Jewish interpretation of joy: zeal for God. Joy in being able to do the work of God, even if that can mean killing one's own son. This is no longer the self-deprecating humor of the Hasidic stories, which also makes the difficult easy. The liberal Rabbi Walter Rothschild sets other priorities:

"There used to be a serious atmosphere in the temple with priests and sacrificial cults and all the fuss and ritual, but at the same time you can see in the books about King David and others how they danced and drank and they had fun doing it too. And I'm relatively sure they also told jokes. "

Nevertheless, the liberal and the orthodox agree: a basic sense of humor is common to all branches of Judaism. Religious scholar Harald-Alexander Korp even sees it as a basic principle.

"What I find fascinating about Judaism is that the quarrel with God, the productive quarrel, Israel translates as 'Those who quarrel with God', is carried out with the means of humor and wit. that advances the faith. Judaism has almost always, one can find a few exceptions, known a plurality: several opinions, several versions of Bible texts or rabbinical interpretations. There was always a contrast. And within these contrasts, the spaces between the contrasts, could to think creatively. Think creatively sometimes means to think funny. You look for words that have very similar sounds or have similar meanings, but create a nice contrast. It's a game, but it helps. "

Humor as a means of survival, humor also as a confrontation with God: in Judaism, laughter is almost a theological method if one understands humor as a way to see the scope between the apparently unchangeable. The laws handed down by Moses seem to leave little room for this. Perhaps that is precisely why Judaism devoted itself so thoroughly to this leeway from the beginning and also cultivated humor as a religious principle that neither blurs nor aggravates differences, but rather pointedly.

"We have to know that joy is not a contradiction to seriousness. Joy goes hand in hand with seriousness. Joy means when a person has a certain, clear goal. Only through joy can a person also serve God properly. Humor is part of it . Humor is not an end in itself. But humor brings people positive energy. There is only one God in Judaism: The same God brings life and death, wealth and poverty, good times and bad times. It is the same God. Him don't always laugh, nor would I like a God who only jokes and jokes. Life is difficult enough, but that God can laugh is very important to me. "