The intertextual Jewish joke at the turn of the twentieth century and the poetics of a national renewal

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The article examines the role of the intertextual Jewish joke at the turn of the twentieth century, in its historical and cultural contexts. The case studies would be Alter Druyanow's popular anthology, Sefer Habediha Vehahiddud (The Book of Jokes and Witticisms, Frankfurt 1922), and his archived, unpublished collection of sexual jokes. The frequent use of quotations from sacred Jewish texts, characteristic of these collections, is discussed in light of the distinction between sub-genres of the intertextual joke: the allusive joke, the parodic joke, and the satiric joke. While most reflect the folklorist's ambition to bridge the gap between Hebrew as a holy language and Yiddish as a Jewish vernacular, a deeper examination of the jokes may discover Druyanow's subversive motivations as a national activist as well. Druyanow and his contemporaries engaged the biblical and rabbinical sources freely, as vessels capable of sanctifying the secular subject matter of the Jewish national revival. Moreover, the unpublished collection exposes satirical elements embodied in the intertextual Jewish joke of the time, potentially threatening the traditional Jewish worldview.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-621
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - 25 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Prof. Haya Bar-Itzhak, Prof. Elliott Oring and Prof. Dan Ben-Amos who read early drafts of this essay, and gave valuable comments. This research was supported by the ISRAEL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (grant No. 386/16).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston 2018.


  • Jewish joke
  • humor and religion
  • modern Hebrew literature
  • obscene humor
  • secularization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology (all)
  • Linguistics and Language


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