No Joke: Making Jewish Humor

Princeton University Press
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Humor is the most celebrated of all Jewish responses to modernity. In this book, Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of spontaneous Jewish joking--as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that call Jewish humor into being--and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.

Wisse broadly traces modern Jewish humor around the world, teasing out its implications as she explores memorable and telling examples from German, Yiddish, English, Russian, and Hebrew. Among other topics, the book looks at how Jewish humor channeled Jewish learning and wordsmanship into new avenues of creativity, brought relief to liberal non-Jews in repressive societies, and enriched popular culture in the United States.


Even as it invites readers to consider the pleasures and profits of Jewish humor, the book asks difficult but fascinating questions: Can the excess and extreme self-ridicule of Jewish humor go too far and backfire in the process? And is "leave 'em laughing" the wisest motto for a people that others have intended to sweep off the stage of history?

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About the author

Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award. Her other books include Jews and Power (Schocken) and The Schlemiel as Modern Hero.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
May 21, 2013
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9781400846344
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Literary Criticism / Humor
Social Science / Jewish Studies
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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What makes a great Jewish book? What makes a book "Jewish" in the first place? Ruth R. Wisse, one of the leading scholars in the field of Jewish literature, sets out to answer these questions in The Modern Jewish Canon. Wisse takes us on an exhilarating journey through language and culture, penetrating the complexities of Jewish life as they are expressed in the greatest Jewish novels of the twentieth century, from Isaac Babel to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Elie Wiesel to Cynthia Ozick. The modern Jewish canon Wisse proposes comprises those books that convey an experience of Jewish actuality, those in which "the authors or characters know and let the reader know that they are Jews," for better or worse.
Wisse is not content merely to evaluate the great books of Jewish literature; she also links the works together to present a new kind of Jewish history, as it has been told through the literature of the past hundred years. She tells the story of a multilingual, multinational people, one that has experienced an often turbulent relationship with Hebrew (the liturgical and scriptural language) and Yiddish (the commonplace vernacular tongue), as well as with the numerous languages spoken by Jews around the world. Wisse insists that language informs the essential meaning of a Jewish work, creating and ratifying political and religious alliances, historical and cultural circumstance, and methods of interpretation.
Drawing from a broad sweep of twentieth-century Jewish fiction, Wisse reintroduces us to the deeper side of much-beloved books that remain touchstones of Jewish identity. Through her eyes we reencounter old friends, including:

Tevye the Dairyman from Sholem Aleichem's landmark Yiddish stories, the character on whom Fiddler on the Roof is based
Joseph K. of Kafka's The Trial, who "without having done anything wrong" was famously "arrested one fine morning"
Anne Frank, whose poignant diary has shaped the way we think about the Holocaust
Nathan Zuckerman, the enigmatic narrator of numerous Philip Roth novels

Destined to be a classic in its own right, one that reshapes the way we think about some of the classic works of the modern age, The Modern Jewish Canon is a book for every Jewish reader and for every reader of great fiction.
CAN I GET A “RAMEN” FROM THE CONGREGATION?!

Behold the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), today’s fastest growing carbohydrate-based religion. According to church founder Bobby Henderson, the universe and all life within it were created by a mystical and divine being: the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What drives the FSM’s devout followers, a.k.a. Pastafarians? Some say it’s the assuring touch from the FSM’s “noodly appendage.” Then there are those who love the worship service, which is conducted in pirate talk and attended by congregants in dashing buccaneer garb. Still others are drawn to the Church’s flimsy moral standards, religious holidays every Friday, or the fact that Pastafarian heaven is way cooler: Does your heaven have a Stripper Factory and a Beer Volcano? Intelligent Design has finally met its match–and it has nothing to do with apes or the Olive Garden of Eden.

Within these pages, Bobby Henderson outlines the true facts– dispelling such malicious myths as evolution (“only a theory”), science (“only a lot of theories”), and whether we’re really descended from apes (fact: Humans share 95 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees, but they share 99.9 percent with pirates!)
See what impressively credentialed top scientists have to say:

“If Intelligent Design is taught in schools, equal time should be given to the FSM theory and the non-FSM theory.”
–Professor Douglas Shaw, Ph.D.

“Do not be hypocritical. Allow equal time for other alternative ‘theories’ like FSMism, which is by far the tastier choice.”
–J. Simon, Ph.D.

“In my scientific opinion, when comparing the two theories, FSM theory seems to be more valid than classic ID theory.”
–Afshin Beheshti, Ph.D.

Read the book and decide for yourself!


From the Trade Paperback edition.
What makes a great Jewish book? What makes a book "Jewish" in the first place? Ruth R. Wisse, one of the leading scholars in the field of Jewish literature, sets out to answer these questions in The Modern Jewish Canon. Wisse takes us on an exhilarating journey through language and culture, penetrating the complexities of Jewish life as they are expressed in the greatest Jewish novels of the twentieth century, from Isaac Babel to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Elie Wiesel to Cynthia Ozick. The modern Jewish canon Wisse proposes comprises those books that convey an experience of Jewish actuality, those in which "the authors or characters know and let the reader know that they are Jews," for better or worse.
Wisse is not content merely to evaluate the great books of Jewish literature; she also links the works together to present a new kind of Jewish history, as it has been told through the literature of the past hundred years. She tells the story of a multilingual, multinational people, one that has experienced an often turbulent relationship with Hebrew (the liturgical and scriptural language) and Yiddish (the commonplace vernacular tongue), as well as with the numerous languages spoken by Jews around the world. Wisse insists that language informs the essential meaning of a Jewish work, creating and ratifying political and religious alliances, historical and cultural circumstance, and methods of interpretation.
Drawing from a broad sweep of twentieth-century Jewish fiction, Wisse reintroduces us to the deeper side of much-beloved books that remain touchstones of Jewish identity. Through her eyes we reencounter old friends, including:

Tevye the Dairyman from Sholem Aleichem's landmark Yiddish stories, the character on whom Fiddler on the Roof is based
Joseph K. of Kafka's The Trial, who "without having done anything wrong" was famously "arrested one fine morning"
Anne Frank, whose poignant diary has shaped the way we think about the Holocaust
Nathan Zuckerman, the enigmatic narrator of numerous Philip Roth novels

Destined to be a classic in its own right, one that reshapes the way we think about some of the classic works of the modern age, The Modern Jewish Canon is a book for every Jewish reader and for every reader of great fiction.
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