Join Rabbis Stiffman, Goldstein to learn “The Spirituality of Laughter”


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Laughter is one of the great joys of life.  There are a lot of ways to laugh, from the full-on belly laugh to the “courtesy chuckle,” you might receive when you crack a not-so-funny line. Laughter is part of a universal language of basic emotions that all humans recognize. Health care providers have even studied and documented the power of laughter and its effect on health.

More specifically, much has been written and discussed over the decades on how Jews love to laugh.

Jewish Humor

“What do we mean by Jewish humor,” asked William Novak, in his essay on the ‘4 Components of Jewish Humor’. To begin, it is humor that is overtly Jewish in its concerns, characters, definitions, language, values or symbols. (A Jewish joke, goes one definition, is one that no none Jew can understand and every Jew says he has already heard.) But not all Jewish humor derives from Jewish sources, just as not all humor created by Jews is necessarily Jewish.”

But some will say that Jewish humor is too rich and too diverse to be categorized by any one single generalization. Jewish theologians used to say that it is easier to describe God in terms of what He is not; the same process may be useful in understanding Jewish humor.

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“It is not, for example, escapist. It is not slapstick. It is not physical. It is generally not cruel and does not attack the weak or the infirm. At the same time, it is also not polite or gentle,” wrote Novack.

The spirituality of laughter

In preparation for Purim, Congregation Shaare Emeth’s Rabbis Jeffrey Stiffman and Andrea Goldstein are exploring why this holiday, with its emphasis on revelry and laughter, has always held a special place in the heart of the Jewish people. Rabbi Stiffman will also share his perspective on how to find humor in almost any situation, why laughter is so important to our health and well-being, and where he has been finding joy during these pandemic days.

The story of Purim is actually a pretty dark story. But Rabbinic teachings on Purim look to the traditions of the Purim holiday and conclude that one of Purim’s most important lessons is that of being able to laugh at ourselves and not take any tradition, ritual or story so seriously that once a year (on Purim) it can’t be made fun of.

“In The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, Michael Strassfeld writes: “The Talmud says that we fully accept the Torah only on Purim, for only when we can mock the tradition can we fully accept it,” said Rabbi Goldstein.

Finding humor in tough situations, including a global pandemic isn’t easy, but doing so is what Jews have done for generations.

“Doing so is very much a part of our own spirituality, and is a strength that has helped our communities persevere through challenging and painful situations,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “Jewish faith and traditions also help us become more attuned to joy – and laughter and joy often go hand-in-hand.”

“I am lucky in that I am married to someone who makes me laugh every day, and I was especially grateful for my husband’s humor during the pandemic,” said Goldstein. “My daughter and husband also learned over 100 Tik Tok dances during the early days of the pandemic that kept me and many others who watched their videos laughing and smiling a lot.”

The scripture of laughter

Many have said that humor helped save the Jews. It can help diffuse terrible situations and allow the Jews to refortify and move on. And in scripture, I’ve learned that the whole book of Jonah in the Bible is one of satire.

“It says that their bitter enemies repent, but the children of Israel do not,” said Rabbi Stiffman. “Also – Jonah gets upset that the Ninevites repent and he doesn’t get the chance to punish them. God causes a plant to grow above him and give him shade during the heat of the day. Then God kills the plant and Jonah gets really angry. God says to Jonah, “You get angry about a little plant, shouldn’t you not get angry that my children (the Ninevites) repented?”

The Spirituality of Laughter – An Evening of Conversation, Jokes, and Joy

The event will take place on Wednesday, March 9th at 7 p.m.

Whether you choose to join us in person in the Kehilah Center at Congregation Shaare Emeth or watch online, registration is required.