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A Jewish Theory of Humor

July 29, 2014

In a discussion of Sholem Aleichem, Dara Horn elucidates two classic theories of humor. The first, from the literary critic Henri Bergson, states that we laugh when something “mechanical” is “encrusted on the living.” We laugh at others’ expense. The other theory, authored by Sigmund Freud, involves laughing at ourselves to release ourselves from a humiliating circumstance. But there is a third—Jewish—theory of humor. In the Jewish theory, we laugh when we give random, absurd events an uncanny meaning, like the imposition of a divine meaning on the text of the Book of Esther.

More about: Theology