The First Book of Jewish Jokes

The First Book of Jewish Jokes

The Collection of L. M. Büschenthal
Edited by Elliott Oring, translated by Michaela Lang
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Format: Hardback 5 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-03831-9
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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.

Author Bio

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.


“The translation of [these works]...shed[s] light on the beginning of collection and scholarship of a genre that...contributes more than other Jewish folklore genres to the understanding of Jewish culture.”
 — Haya Bar-Itzhak, author of Israeli Folk Narratives: Settlement, Immigration, Ethnicity

“As a reference text, both Oring’s analysis and Lang’s translation will prove to be invaluable to scholars looking for the etiology of a certain comic trope, or those trying to trace the history of certain comedic ideas. ”
 — Reading Religion

The First Book of Jewish Jokes is an interesting hybrid: a joke book that offers a glimpse of what was considered funny in the past and two excellent essays by Oring that place the jokes into historical context. Readers interested in Jewish folklore and those curious about the nature of Jewish humor in the 19th century will find this work of interest.”
 — The Reporter Group

“All told, this is an excellent piece of scholarship. . . it can serve as a capstone to Elliott Oring’s lifetime project on understanding the joke and the Jewish joke in particular. ”
 — Western Folklore

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Table of Contents



Part I: Introduction

1. On Jewish Jokes and the Collection of Lippmann Moses Büschenthal

2. The Jews in the Century of Büschenthal

Part II: The Texts

3. Collection of Witty Notions from Jews as a Contribution to the Characterization of the Jewish Nation / L. M. Büschenthal

4. Selections from The Friend of the Jews or Selected Anecdotes, Pranks, and Notions of the Children of Israel / Judas Ascher

Appendix I: Büschenthal Texts Taken from Judas Ascher, Der Judenfreund

Appendix II: Sources of Joke Analogs

List of References