No Joke: Making Jewish Humor by Ruth R Wisse - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Fooling with Feinstein

No Joke: Making Jewish Humor


Princeton University Press 279pp £16.95

Here is the favourite joke of Ruth R Wisse, Harvard Professor of Yiddish Literature and the author of this book, in its entirety: ‘Jews are a small people, but rotten.’ There follow about 25 lines of explanation, turning at length on the ‘but’, which denotes ‘reversal’. To this kind of exegesis I can mutter only, ‘oy veh’. If I have to explain those words, this book is not for you.

I declare an interest: I love Jewish jokes. I wait every day to hear or read a new one, which I burnish up and tell almost everyone on my road in London, a close friend in Scotland, and the staff of Literary Review. Some even ask for the latest ‘Feinstein’ – the hero of all my jokes. I

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