Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Teaching Judaism via humor

Once, when I already had become religious and I read the funniest and most complete collection of Jewish Jokes I’ve ever seen, Der jüdische Witze by Salcia Landmann, I said to myself, If I ever have time, I should write a book that teaches Judaism through Jewish jokes. Two examples.

The soldiers Moishele and Shloimele get to guard the ammunition depot Friday night. Moish wants to light a cigarette. No, shouts Shlomi, that’s forbidden! Ah, answers his friend laconically, so many things are forbidden. I’m not that religious.

Then, my book should say something about why smoking is forbidden on Shabbat but once was allowed on the Festivals. The advantages of keeping that Injunction. The importance of guarding one’s health and saving lives.

The vicar and the rabbi of the village are friends. One very warm day, they are walking in the woods together, talking, as always, as they get to a lake. Yeah, says the Jewish teacher, let’s go for a swim. The Catholic shepherd replies, frightened, but we don’t have any bathing suits with us. His Jewish colleague doesn’t see a problem. It’s so hot; who could come by and see us? Just when they’re stark-naked ankle-deep in the cooling water, the local bus passes by. The vigor quickly covers his crotch but the rabbi covers his face. When the ordeal is over, the former asks, Why did you cover your face? O, is the answer, me they know by my face.

So much to unpack there. That the third, and supposedly most painful day, after Abraham’s circumcision, he’s sitting at the heat of the day at the entrance to his tent, waiting for visitors. That G^d made it very hot to spare him the physical pain of running around to be a perfect host. But when the first Patriarch showed his eagerness anyway, He sent three Angels. That the Talmud explains that men are forbidden to cover their crotch because it’s as if one is ashamed of their circumcision. That there is nothing shameful of nakedness and sexuality. Rather, that they are not dirty but sacred, not to be taken lightly or abused. That Judaism does not believe in life-long celibacy as humanly possible for most men. And, Jewish Law must be tenable for the average person.

And so my book would teach Judaism through jokes. Maybe someone else is willing to steal the idea? So many decades later, people don’t read so much anymore. They watch. So lots of visual humor is published.

We had The Life of Brian, a full-length movie making fun of Jesus (and his mother). From the country where they mercilessly make fun of dying and the queen (Monty Piton). Would never happen in the Netherlands. Last satirical mention of a Dutch royal was in 1966 when in a cabaret song, it was suggested that Queen Juliana was just a silly old simpleton.

Fundamentalist Christians were pained about the lack of respect for Jesus, whom they regard a godly rather than human. Blasphemy it was deemed.

In contrast, Jews don’t think that the highest human needs to be Divine or to be unrelated to sex. The High Priest cannot even ask forgiveness for the Jewish People on Yom Kippur if he’s unmarried. Nor will the Messiah show up without spouse. And the extra-religious, the Biblical nazarite, refrains from touching the dead and from wine products–but not from sex.

And the nazarite needs to bring a sin offering at the end of his abstinence. One Talmudic opinion is that the sin was breaking off his extremist service. But another view holds that his sin was withholding himself from some of the worldly pleasure granted to mankind. (Which always must be enjoyed in moderation, within a certain framework, to show that the person is in charge chose the pleasure and is not enrolled in enslavement to pleasure.)

Fanatical Muslims threatened to kill those maligning or even normalizing or even depicting Mohamed. Jews teach that we are not allowed to depict G^d but this limit does not extend to humans. Nevertheless, Middle-Age portrays of humans in religious-Jewish texts depict people with the heads of birds. And some modern ultra-religious Jewish illustrators and painters always make sure to paint human heads from the back or faceless because humans are created in G^d’s image. But that’s a stringency–not an obligation. No Jew ever threatened anyone for depicting Moses.

But now finally, we have “The Jews are coming.” An Israeli satirical TV program than makes fun of our holiest teachings. I saw some clips on YouTube. It’s really well-done. The clips that I saw come in different categories:

1. Making fun of Ashkenazic Diaspora Jews
2. Making fun of Antisemitism and even the Holocaust.
3. Making fun of Mizrachic Jews.
4. Making fun of one or the other Torah or Biblical story.
5. Making fun of one or the other Jewish belief.
6. Longer clips with several of the above.
7. Making fun of Israeli sensitivities (here: without English subtitles).

Also Arab viewers enjoy it (the Sacrifice of Isaac).

Probably no coincidence that the clip of Noach with English is removed.

None of it for the faint of heart faith!!

Finally, after 11 seasons, an angry crowd protested against the channel’s blasphemy. That’s really the funniest. I assume these are actors, hired by the TV broadcasting cooperation. I mean, whom of these supposedly ultra-Orthodox activists has a TV or Internet to ‘be offended’ by this? In truth, most demonstrators are probably some traditional Jews who don’t know much Judaism. Anger and fanaticism are always hallmarks of insecurity.

We now only need a seriously Orthodox rabbi who uses these clips for a laugh and then does what I suggested above, teach based on them.

Seriousness relates to ridicule as love to anger. Their common opposite is indifference.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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