Professor Friedman's

Jewish Humor Course

Welcome to the course in Jewish Humor at Baruch College

Just about everything we need for the course may be found on this website.

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Course Description: Engaging in scholarly discourse on humor is probably the surest way to actually not be funny. Still, in this course we will attempt to walk the fine line between scholarship and playfulness. Scholars and other mavens consider whether there is such a phenomenon as Jewish humor. While opinions vary, in this course we consider that Jewish humor exists, and that it has its own peculiar characteristics and unique elements. This course will investigate what makes a joke Jewish, employing multiple perspectives: topic (such as Holocaust, assimilation, God); attitude (such as sarcasm, gallows humor, overcoming oppression, self-deprecation); devices used (such as wordplay, Talmudic logic, Jewish or Scriptural references). Ancient Jewish humor from the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and the Midrash will also be studied, specifically, language-based humor, rhetorical questions, sarcasm, irony, arguing and generally conversing with God. Religion and humor have both been deemed vehicles for salvation and, as we know, religion can just as easily be a force for evil as a force for good. One thing religious zealots all have in common is that they lack the ability to laugh at themselves. Just as humor can close the distance between the teller and the listener, humor involving religion can close the distance between God and humanity – and so perhaps unite humanity as well.


Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

    • Identify and explain the major theories of humor – why we laugh and what makes us laugh
    • Identify and discuss the characteristics of Jewish humor – in form, content, and devices used – as well as how far back this humor goes, in particular, to ancient Jewish sources including the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.
    • Discuss the importance of humor in cross-cultural communication
    • Understand how it is that humor can sometimes be toxic and hurtful, while at other times a powerful tool with the ability to encourage open communication, productivity and diversity.
    • Improve their skills in the areas of: written and oral communication, and critical thinking