Concerning Jew-jokes

One of the responsibilities I took over from the late lamented Jack Hirshleifer as the rapporteur of what is now the Hirshleifer Tanakh Study Group at UCLA was sending out a weekly joke to accompany the notes on that week’s discussion. I don’t make them up; I remember them, or I find them. A common theme of Yiddish humor is Jews getting clever revenge on goyim who mistreat them.

For example:

During World War II, hostess who lived near an Army base dealt with the difficulty of finding enough young men to balance her dinner parties by inviting soldiers. One day she called the base and told the sergeant who answered the phone that she needed six guests, in full dress, for 7:30 Saturday night. “And Sergeant,” she drawled, “please don’t send any of the Hebrew persuasion. I don’t really cotton to Hebrews.” “Yes, Ma’am,” said the sergeant. “Six soldiers, full dress, Saturday night, 19:30 hours, no Hebrews.” “Why, thank you, Sergeant.” “No problem, Ma’am. Glad to be of service.”

Promptly at 7:30, a Jeep pulled up at her mansion and five PFC’s and a corporal got out. They were all tall, all handsome, all wearing impeccable full dress … and all black.

The hostess, at the door, spluttered with confusion. “Corporal, there must be some mistake.” “No, Ma’am,” replied the corporal. “Sergeant Goldberg, he don’t put up with no mistakes.”

Now, I’d be a little careful about telling that joke in public or in mixed company, because dialect other than your own is always potentially offensive, and it’s not quite clear whether the black soldiers are in on the joke (which is the way I would understand it) or are also being made dupes – in their case innocent ones – by the clever Sergeant Goldberg. But though I’d be a little afraid – not very afraid, but a little – of offending black or Southern audiences, I know that one gets a big laugh from Jews.

The joke about the Taliban militant and the Jewish merchant that Jim Jones told (text at the jump) is exactly in that tradition. It’s deeply offensive – if you’re a Taliban sympathizer. It makes out the Taliban member to be a rude buffoon, and also laughs at the fact that he’s dying of thirst. Despite what the professionally offended Abe Foxman says, there’s not a hint of greed in the actions of the two Jews; they don’t try to make money off the militant’s need for water, they just collude in tormenting him. (Someone should tell Foxman that he, personally, is a walking Jew-joke.)

I would certainly not advise Jones to give up his day job and go into stand-up. It’s not a bad joke in concept, but the way he told it makes it maximally un-funny, and I can’t imagine for the world why he prefaced it with “I’d just like to tell you a story I think is true.” It couldn’t possibly be true, if only because Afghanistan doesn’t have a lot of Jewish dry-goods merchants. And if I’d been telling it, I would have given the merchant a Yiddish accent.

Lame? Yes. But “anti-Semitic”? Give me a break!

Update I just did the experiment by telling the joke to my sister, who didn’t know that Jones had told it (and who doesn’t always laugh at my jokes). She thought it was hilarious. I’m going to send it out as the Hirshleifer joke this week.

I’d just like to tell you a story that I think is true. It happened recently in southern Afghanistan. A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert, lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out it was a little store owned by a Jewish merchant. And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, ‘I need water. Give me some water.’ And the merchant said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any water, but would you like a tie? We have a nice sale of ties today.’

Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can’t repeat, but about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family, and just said, ‘I need water, you try to sell me ties, you people don’t get it.’

And impassively the merchant stood there until the Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, ‘Well I’m sorry that I don’t have water for you and I forgive you for all of the insults you’ve levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles, there is a restaurant there and they have all the water you need.’ And the Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back an hour later. And walking up to the merchant says, ‘Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.’