The First Book of Jewish Jokes

The First Book of Jewish Jokes

The Collection of L. M. Büschenthal

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Elliott Oring
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    Indiana University Press
    , September
     176 pages.
     For other formats: .
Review coming soon!

Review by Jennifer A. Caplan forthcoming.


Works on Jewish humor and Jewish jokes abound today, but what formed the basis for our contemporary notions of Jewish jokes? How and when did these perceptions develop? In this groundbreaking study and translation, noted humor and folklore scholar Elliott Oring introduces us to the joke collections of Lippmann Moses Büschenthal, an enlightened rabbi, and an unknown author writing as "Judas Ascher." Originally published in German in 1812 and 1810, these books include jokes and anecdotes that play on stereotypes. The jokes depict Jews dealing with Gentiles who are bent on their conversion, Jews encountering government officials and institutions, newly propertied Jews attempting to demonstrate their acquisition of artistic and philosophical knowledge, and Jews engaged in trade and moneylending—often with the aim to defraud. In these jokes we see the antecedents of modern Jewish humor, and in Büschenthal’s brief introduction we find perhaps the earliest theory of the Jewish joke. Oring provides helpful annotations for the jokes and contextualizing essays that examine the current state of Jewish joke scholarship and the situation of the Jews in France and Germany leading up to the periods when the two collections were published. Intended to stimulate the search for even earlier examples, Oring challenges us to confront the Jewish joke from a genuine historical perspective.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Elliott Oring is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. He is author of Joking Asides: The Theory, Analysis, and Aesthetics of Humor, Engaging Humor, and Jokes and Their Relations. He is also past editor of Western Folklore and is currently on the editorial boards of Humor: International Journal for Humor Research and Journal of Folklore Research.

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