7

Is making a joke in the Talmud something Chazal would do?

What makes me wonder is the gemara in Pesachim (9b), which, in discussing the concern that a weasel may drag chometz around the house and leave it in a spot already checked, makes the following exlamation:

וכי חולדה נביאה היא

Is a weasel (chulda) a prophetess?

It happens to be there is a prophetess who was named חולדה, as in מלכים ב' פרק כ"ב פסוק י"ד, so... yes, חולדה נביאה היא. So, it seems to me that either Chazal were willing to put puns into the Talmud, or this was a highly coincidental unintended pun. Which is it?

6

This article from the OU's magazine “Jewish Action” says that there are jokes in the Talmud,

“It is related that Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was once asked if there are any jokes in the Talmud, and his response was, “yes, but they’re all old.” Jokes with a “Hechsher” A cursory reading of the Talmud’s text validates that assertion. An informed reading may yield that jokes are not only present in the Talmud, but abundant.”

The article quotes the Chulda pun as one example.

5

Yes, you are correct, the Talmude here [pesachim 9b] is making a pun. This is mentioned as one of the more famous examples, but there are others.

Another example is Kiddushin 25a, Students called Rav Hemnuna 'cold fish' (for being unable to answer their questions) - המנונא Hemnuna, is similar to חמנונא Chamnuna, which is a 'warm fish.'. See also here for another example.

"The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature" has a chapter on "Multilingual puns in Rabbinic Literature" (pages 222-239) (part of it is viewable on Google Books.)

See also: Binyamin Engleman, “Humor Mutzhar, Galuy vi-Samuy bi-Talmud Bavli,” Badad, vol. VIII (winter 5759).

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