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There are many Jews in America who publicly engage in comedy, whether as a career path or as a way of expressing themselves (blogs, art, etc.). Is there historical precedent to this? Are there any religious and/or historical texts that point us towards finding humor in life as a coping mechanism?

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I'm not sure this is off-topic (though I'm willing to be convinced). However, "[w]e expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion." (That's one one of the standard closure reasons, and it seems to fit this question precisely.) I'm closing it. Feel free to rework it into a different question of the sort appropriate for the site, and it can be reopened. – msh210 Jul 18 '11 at 16:49
I was expecting that reaction. I just don't know how to rework it into a more standard question. Any suggestions? It's about Jewish Life, but it's also about subjective feelings regarding our place in society. I'm not sure how to narrow that divide. – Seth J Jul 18 '11 at 17:04
@Seth, in that this question is asking for people's opinions on a pretty open-ended normative question, I don't think it's going to work on the SE platform. The one thing I can think of where this site may help would be to ask for sources on using comedy and/or on relating to the surrounding society. – Isaac Moses Jul 18 '11 at 17:57
I would suggest that you end the question differently. Try asking: something along the lines of... Are there any counter points to his examples? Or, is there evidence to suggest that the writer of the article is basically correct or basically incorrect. You can then get answers which brings facts. Those facts will highlight general feelings. – avi Jul 19 '11 at 10:59
Does it work now? – Seth J Jul 19 '11 at 15:53
up vote 14 down vote accepted

As far as comedy in Jewish history goes: the Gemara, in Taanis (22a), has a story where Eliyahu Hanavi tells Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah that two particular men would merit the world to come. Upon asking them, the two men said that they were comedians, and that when they see someone who is depressed they try to cheer them up. Also, they said, that they always try hard to make peace between quarreling parties.

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Porn stars also cheer people up and make peace. Would they get a share in the word to come? I hope that's true because otherwise, heaven will be too boring with all the porn stars in the other place right? +1 – Jim Thio Dec 24 '11 at 10:04
@jimthio. I think many would disagree that they create peace in any way. Just the opposite. In any event, it's irrelevant. If I could (theoretically) create peace by murdering innocent people (or some other sin), I would not end up in heaven. In Judaism, the ends do not always justify the means. Also, your conception of heaven is distinctly non-Jewish. Heaven is not some country-club where you go to relax after a hard life. Perhaps you should ask a question here about this. – HodofHod Dec 24 '11 at 23:09
Jim, pornographers do not make peace or cheer people up any more than your neighborhood crack dealer. Also note that what's not mentioned, but perhaps implied, in the Ta'anit passage. Comedy can be destructive when it's mean-spirited and used to denigrate and mock good people and ideals (Elsewhere the Talmud frowns on mocking). The point seems to me, that even a seemingly frivolous talent can be sublimated into something righteous. – Ephraim Oct 18 '13 at 7:04

The Gemara (Bab. Pes 117a) reports that Rabbah used to open his Shi'ur with a joke to put everyone in a good mood before starting to learn in earnest and with fear of Heaven.

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It's also in Shabbos (around daf 30) – Shmuel Brin Oct 17 '13 at 15:26

IIRC, Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, the funniest rabbi in New York, taught us that when the B'nai Israel asked Hashem why He had to take them out of Mitzrayim to die in the Midbar as if there were not enough graves for Him to bury them in Mitzrayim, it was the B'nai Israel who were trying to alleviate their situation by finding some comic relief.

This was a teaching of Rabbi SR Hirsch, and Rabbi Fleischmann had expanded on it.

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Can you cite RSRH? – msh210 Jul 5 '12 at 20:54
I could ask R' Fleischmann, but I suspect that it is in RSRH's commentary to the either the book of shemot or bamidbar. – Adam Mosheh Jul 5 '12 at 22:24
Source that Rabbi Fleischmann is the funniest rabbi in New York? – Seth J Aug 20 '15 at 20:29

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