The wikipedia entry on Jewish Humor concentrates on Eastern European (Yiddish and other) Humor, since that has a direct lineage to American Jewish Humor which most of us are familiar with. However, Jewish Humor can actually be traced all the way back to the Bible and Talmud, which is what I will concentrate on in this post.
Before we get started, I have to warn you that Scriptural Humor is not really of the LOL (Laugh Out Loud) persuasion. This, like many later Biblical and Talmudic passages, depicts God as having a playful sense of humor.
They said to Moses, Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?
We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. The visual Moses offers God here is of himself being pregnant with the entire people of Israel and then giving birth to them and nursing them. The Aggadaic stories of the Talmud are truly brimming with good humor, where very little is taboo.
Here Beruriah pokes fun at the sages who said men should minimize their discussions with women.
The background to this story is that Rabbi Yochanan was the top Talmudic scholar of his day, famous throughout the Galilee, and Resh Lakish was the leader of a gang of thieves who was converted into a Rabbinic student by this encounter. There is a story in Nedarim 66b which mixes linguistic humor with slapstick situational humor. The husband tells her to go break the candles on the gate (Baba), but she goes out and sees the famous judge whose name is Baba ben Buta. Numerous slapstick Talmudic scenes are open to many interpretations, some more hilarious than other. Scene 1: Think of north-south as in a map (up and down) rather than east-west (left-right). The story tells of a rabbinic counsel meeting where Rabbi Eliezer was frustrated because he kept getting overruled by the majority. The first Jewish work mentioned in Davidson’s book which is a complete spoof is a satirical work by Kalonymus ben Kalonymus, a Provencal Jewish philosopher and translator from the 13th century. A story of Rabbi Tipsy and Rabbi Tanked and Rabbi Buzzed and Rabbi Wasted who were eating and drinking at the Purim feast all day and all night and got so drunk that they fell under the table with their glasses in hand.
Besides some of these example, there is another whole volume and a half of Davidson’s book devoted entirely to Jewish humor in the middle ages and in the modern era, but later periods are also covered in many other books. Rather, it makes use of satire and playful theatrical anecdotes to get certain points across powerfully and memorably.

Fear releases Adrenalin in your body, and that causes you to put up a defensive mental guard, whereas humor releases Endorphins, which cause you to experience mental pleasure and lower your defensive guard. Now, if this were written in serious and dry language, you might immediately object: if God has infinite powers, why would he have to ask Cain where his brother is? This is a different form of humor – sinister humor, where the villain makes fun of his victim, but the audience knows that the tables will soon be turned and the joke will be on them.
If you read the Bible with this attitude in mind, you will find many more examples on your own. This is true for parts of it, but certainly not for all or most of it (and even in the dry Halachic arguments there is always a little bit of competitive playfulness and wordplay).
Imagine you are a student at one of the Ivy league Yeshivahs in Babylon, and a fellow student has returned from his honeymoon. It appears as part of a short humorous story in Shabbat:31a, where a person wants to convert to Judaism, but only if it can be taught to him in the space of time that he can stand on one foot without losing his balance.
When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the whole Torah. We might even call it slapstick: humor involving exaggerated physical activity which exceeds the boundaries of common sense. The young one used to pluck out his white hair (she wanted all his hairs to be black), whereas the old one used to pluck out his black hair (she wanted all his hairs to be white). Yochanan was bathing in the Jordan, when Resh Lakish saw him and leapt into the Jordan after him. The story is about linguistic misunderstandings between a husband from Babylon and his Israeli wife. Now imagine the two of you standing side by side at the urinal, relieving yourselves while reciting the blessing. It’s a mock query to a mock sage asking a mock question: what happens if a mouse falls into a jar of honey? I chose to concentrate on these early samples because I believe they have been neglected by many historians.
He was known as a master of quick wit and widely considered one of the best comedians of the modern era. Humor, therefore, increases your receptiveness, your retention, and your desire to communicate the message to others (we all love to repeat jokes we have heard). If man was created in the image of God, and man has a sense of humor, then surely God should have an even greater sense of humor. Remember that the Biblical narrator is aware that you know he’s there as an intermediary to the story.

The best source book is the giant anthology compiled by Chaim Nachman Bialik, Israel’s national poet.
Besides the stinging humor in her response, it is interesting to note that the Rabbis who edited the Talmud (hundreds of years after Beruriah) could have chosen to omit this story or turn it around in some way, but they chose to leave it in as is. They both speak Aramaic, but with different dialects, and certain words have different meanings in each. Summoning God personally into a Talmudic argument is too ridiculous to warrant a serious response. He wrote some serious works, but the one I want to share with you is a Purim Seder which he fashioned exactly like a Passover Seder, except that the only point of his Purim Seder is to get as drunk as possible. He received from Carmi (????) which means Vineyard, and so it passes down to Ahasuerus (the Persian king who hosted drink-a-thons) and on to… Bibi.
Thanks to the humor, we are able to focus in on the fact that Cain is displaying guilty feelings, and that those are somehow innately built into him even before God punishes him.
The Talmud (Berachot 8:1) has distilled this whole conversation down to two humorous words.
The English translation in the link above is not quite as open to humorous interpretation as the original Hebrew, so I will take some liberties with the translation. However, the amazing thing is that you can read the response in 4 ways: right to left, top down, bottom left to right, and bottom to top, and in all four directions you get the exact same words (replacing final Peh ? and Nun ? with standard Peh ? and Nun ? as needed). There, the narrator adds explanatory parenthetical remarks to his readers to explain, for example, the name of a city as it was known in the period the story took place and what the same city is called in his own day.
He explains that when the month of Adar starts, Jews must cleanse their houses of water so that all available cups and receptacles will be filled with wine.
The Rabbis laugh it off and play along (but the story has a biter ending – follow the link above to my other post to read it). He spoofs the four questions, the four sons, Dayenu, and all the familiar themes of the Seder including Chad Gadya, Purim-style.
The rabbis shrug it off and Rabbi Yehushua ridicules him even further by humorously scolding the walls for threatening to fall.
Finally, Rabbi Eliezer goes all out: if I am right, a voice from heaven (?? ???) will say so.
And God smiles and kvells to himself twice: my children have outwitted me, my children have outwitted me (?????? ???, ?????? ???).

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