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June 01, 1984 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-06-01

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2 Friday, June 1, 1984



The holiday of Shavuot calls

Many definitions are ascribable to Shavuot. The basic
one that fits the important occasion on the Jewish calendar
is that it is the.Festival of the Giving of the Law. Therefore,
the obligation for the commitment to the high ideals that
have sent forth to mankind the Commandments which call
for justice, human decency, respect for life, rejection of
everything that approaches diminution of such principles.
A summary of such duties can be claimed as the root of
allfaiths, of civilization itself. It can and must be claimed as
the priority of the human treasures stemming from Jewish
lore, from the Ten Words — Aseret HaDibros — that have
become acceptable as the Commandments. Therefore, ev-

The craving for humor.
drawing for inspiration
upon Sigmund Freud

Humor has been accredited among the great assets in
Jewish history. Even in the ghettos, or perhaps especially
there as evidenced in Sholom Aleichem and Mendele
Moher Seforim; confronting death threats, as in the concen-
tration camps — evidence prevails that Jews laughed at
their own troubles.
It has been called one of the strongest weapons for
survival. Jewish folklore is replete with resort to the
lighter vein and the anecdotal. Perhaps they have all been
more of the satirical. Nevertheless, the claim to such a state
of folkloristic mind is factual.
Currently, recurring concerns that Jews are beginning
to suffer from a diminution of humor, and that this is
especially true in Israel, leads to an accounting and to an
evaluation of the need for few inspirations. Much interest,
therefore, attaches to the Fourth International Congress on
humor, which opens in Tel Aviv next week. Commencing
with a colloquim on Jewish humor, Prof. Avner Ziv of Tel
Aviv University, chairman of the organizing committee for
both the colloquim and the congress, anticipating partici-
pation of eminent humorists, envisions the forthcoming
meetings as means of encouraging perpetuative means of
assembling the humor on the Jewish records and continu-
ing interest in the subject.
It should be noted that such efforts are not already in
the making, but have indications of positive results. While
it was not in relation to the Jewish assembly in Israel, the
recent publication of Oxford University's encyclopedic
Heine's Jewish Comedy A Study of His Portraits of Jews
and Judaism by S.S. Prawer, is an indication of an arousing
interest of great significance. (Prawer's scholarly study
was reviewed in these columns in the April . 13 issue).
Now comes an even
more direct application to
the theme of Jewish humor
in The Jokes of Sigmund
Freud: A Study of Humor
and Jewish Identity (Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania
Press). Here, Dr. Elliott Or-
ing, professor and chairman
of the department of an-
thropology at California
State University, Los
Angeles, conducts thorough
research, delving into
Freud's treatment of the
subject of humor, inter alia
qtioting scores upon scores
of Freud's favorite stories.
Sigmund Freud
Freud is on record with
numerous comments defining the Jewish quest for humor.
In Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, he made this
telling statement:
This determination of self-criticism may
make clear why it is that a number of the most
excellent jokes ... should have sprung into exist-
ence from the soil of Jewish national life.... I do
not know whether one often finds a people that
makes so merry unreservedly over its own
An assembly of humorists is certain to provide the
curiosity needed for an analysis of the character of the
people under scrutiny. In the present instance, the em-
phasis being on humorists as well as humor, the roles of
such eminent personalities in history as Freud and Heine
will lend themselves to closer acquaintance with the eras in
which Jewish characteristics had their effects on litera-
ture, psychiatric analysis and group relationships.
Prof. Ziv and his associates who organized the ap-
proaching assembly on humor, in Tel Aviv, merit commen-
dation and encouragement for sponsoring a Jewish self-
study that can be both unique and revealing. /

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