What makes a Jewish joke Jewish

You don’t have to be Jewish

Jewish Comedy: A Serious History. By Jeremy Dauber. W.W. Norton & Company; 364 pages; $28.95.

The Jewish Joke. By Devorah Baum. Profile Books; 184 pages; £9.99. To be published in America by Pegasus in May.

Feeling Jewish. By Devorah Baum. Yale University Press; 296 pages; $26 and £18.99.

IS JEWISH humour a laughing matter? Perhaps not. Students of Jewish jokes have certainly revealed dark sides to Mr and Mrs Goldberg, their long-suffering rabbi and the implausibly articulate beggar at their door. Freud, for instance, found that the humour of the Jews was especially self-denigrating. His analysis was unscientific—the data set was nothing more than his own favourite jokes—but his conclusion rings at least true-ish. Ruth Wisse, a Harvard professor of Yiddish, suggested in 2013 that too much joking may in fact be bad for the Jews. And,…Continue reading

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Redeeming Mary Magdalene

EVERY generation of artists has brought its own sensibilities and experiences to the depiction of canonical Christian stories. Giotto, an Italian painter, set Bible scenes in medieval Tuscany. Rembrandt gave his a hint of mercantile 17th-century Amsterdam. “Mary Magdalene” is similarly a retelling of some of the faith’s main events …

The mysterious reggaeton bangers of Mexico’s election

FOR evidence that modern democracy has lost its pep, look back to the age of cheery campaign jingles. The art form dominated elections from America to the Philippines after the second world war. Australian political parties used them well into the 1980s. It is tempting to believe that melodious campaigns …

The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few …