To Jest or Not to Jest: How Conflicting Attitudes toward Humor in the Talmud Foreshadowed a Jewish Cultural Divide Today
21 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2019
Date Written: February 20, 2019
Is humor an affront to God or a divine gift to humanity? Two Talmudic sages were known as jesters: Bar Kappara and Rabbi Yirmiyah. They both tried to get their teachers - who felt that one should be morose until Messianic times - to laugh. This debate over whether one should serve God with joy or be morose is still going on. The chassidic view, based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, is that one should serve God with joy. The misnagdim disagree and feel that one should refrain from levity and excessive joy. This paper examines conflicting attitudes towards humor in the Talmud in terms of a forerunner to some of the Jewish cultural conflicts of today.
Keywords: Talmud, Talmudic Stories, Jesters, Bar Kappara, Rabbi Yirmiyah, Chassidim, Misnagdim, Jewish Humor
JEL Classification: J50, M12, M14, M54
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation