SUBJECT: Undercurrent in Jewish jokes.

A joke from Jewish circles (published in 1981) celebrating Jewish intelligence, Gentile stupidity, and Jewish fraud, runs like this:

"On a train in czarist Russia, a Jew is eating a whitefish, wrapped in paper. A Gentile, sitting across the aisle, begins to taunt him with various anti-Semitic epithets. Finally, he asks the Jew, 'What makes you Jews so smart?'
'All right,' replies the Jew, 'I guess I'll have to tell you. It's because we eat the head of the whitefish.'
'Well, if that's the secret,' says the Gentile, 'then I can be as smart as you are.'
'That's right,' says the Jew, 'And in fact, I happen to have an extra whitefish head with me. You can have it for five kopecks.'
The Gentile pays for the fish head and begins to eat. An hour later the train stops at a station for a few minutes. The Gentile leaves the train and comes back.
'Listen, Jew,' he says, 'You sold me that whitefish head for five kopecks. But I just saw a whole whitefish at the market for three kopecks.'
'See,' replies the Jew, 'You're getting smarter already.'"
[NOVAK/WALDOKS, 1981, p. 91]

"Not surprisingly," note William Novak and Moshe Waldoks about the above joke, "anti-goyism is rarely stressed in public discussions of Judaism ... But centuries of hostility between Gentiles and Jews have led to a large body of aggressive and unpleasant feelings on both sides." [NOVAK/WALDOKS, p. 91]

Another extremely disturbing joke circulated in Jewish circles (one directly paralleling the vicious "Too bad Hitler didn't get all the Jews" tone) is noted by Jewish authors Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, who cite the work of Jewish psychoanalyst Theodore Reik:

"Reik explains Jewish wit as a safety valve that transforms perceived hostility toward non-Jews in a manner designed to reduce the danger of retaliation. Sometimes, however, Jewish jokes (told, of course, among Jews only) reveal the anger quite directly:

'Little Moritz sees an historical film showing the early persecutions of the Christians. During a Roman circus scene in which many Christians are thrown to the lions, Moritz breaks out in sobs and says to his mother: 'Look at that poor lion there, it has not got any Goy to eat!' Under the guise of duty for the neglected beast is an old hatred and repressed cruelty towards Gentiles. It breaks through here, surprisingly, and reaches the emotional surface.'" [ROTHMAN/LICHTER, 1982, p. 122]

Jay Gonen notes an old joke about Jewish obsession with money even in religious contexts, circulated not by Gentile anti-Semites, but by Jews in Israel:

"Two Jews, by a miracle, find time to pause and reflect in front of a holy site, the Wailing Wall, or the western wall of the Second Temple. One of them notices that the other is weeping profusely over the destruction of the Second Temple. 'Why are you crying so much?' he says, 'True, the Temple has been destroyed, but the lot is still worth something." [GONEN, p. 27]

Jewish comedian Joan Rivers explains materialist and ostentatious Jewish identity this way: "I'm Jewish. If God wanted me to exercise he would've put diamonds on the floor." [SAPOSNIK, 1998] Another joke of the same genre circulated in the American Jewish community runs like this: "And then there was the Jewish Santa Claus. He came down the chimney and said: 'Hi, kids. Want to buy some presents?'" [BLOOMFIELD, p. 29]

Another joke even addresses manipulation of anti-materialist notions of respect in the Gentile world towards Jewish economic advancement:

"A wealthy Boston Brahmin was on his deathbed. The end was near, and he asked his three business partners, a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew, to come to the hospital to discuss some matters pertaining to his estate.
'You boys know I have no family,' he began, 'so I'm dividing my wealth among the three of you, in three equal shares. As a sign of your good friendship, however, I would like each of you to make a token gesture after I'm gone, by putting a thousand dollars into my coffin before it is lowered into the ground.'

Several days later, the funeral was conducted according to the wishes of the deceased. At the appropriate time, the Catholic friend walked up to the coffin and placed in it an envelope containing one thousand dollars. The Protestant friend came forward and did likewise. Finally, the Jew walked up to the coffin, took out the two envelopes, and replaced them with a check for three thousand dollars." [NOVAK/ WALDOKS, 1981, p. 95]

As always in Jewish folklore, Gentiles are -- to the wily, down-to-earth Jew -- stupid. William Novak and Moshe Waldoks call the following joke "a favorite, found in most collections of Jewish humor":

"A minister, a rabbi, and a priest were discussing how they made use of the funds in the collection plate. The minister said, 'I draw a line on the floor, and I throw the money into the air. Everything that lands to the right of the line is for God; everything on the left is for me.'
'That's pretty much what I do,' said the priest. 'But instead of a line, I draw a circle. Everything in the circle is for God; everything outside the circle I keep for myself.'
'I, too, have a system,' said the rabbi, 'I take the money and throw it up in the air, and whatever God catches He can keep." [NOVAK/ WALDOKS, 1981, p. 95]

Such observations about Jewish values are acceptable, and common, within the Jewish community itself but, as Jewish scholar Nancy Jo Silberman-Federman notes, such a joke told from a Gentile would flag him or her as an anti-Semite. She notes the self-deprecating (and/or exploitive) tone of many Hanukkah cards sent by Jews to each other:

"[In one case] the front of the card pictures a Jewish woman hugging Santa. The copy reads, 'Merry Christmas! Thank goodness for Gentiles.' The inside reads, 'Somebody has to buy retail!' If certain jokes are told by non-Jews, both the teller and the joke would be considered anti-Semitic ... This [celebrating of such jokes in Jewish circles] may be seen socially as a mechanism for in-group solidarity." [SILBERMAN-FEDERMAN, p. 220]

Jewish psychoanalyst Theodore Reik, in Jewish Wit (his volume about the subliminal psychological meanings of Jewish humor) notes:

"All kinds of deception and cunning, of fraud and trickery, devised and committed by Jews, either to get money or to avoid paying money, are exposed and candidly revealed by Jewish jokes." [REIK, T., 1962, p. 67]