As the satirical film JoJo Rabbit is released in cinemas, what does the Torah say about finding humour in such serious matters as the Holocaust?
Jewish humour is a deadly serious topic. Mel Brooks once quipped: “If they’re laughing, how can they bludgeon you to death?”
Our history is like no other nation. The 19th century philosopher Nietzsche wrote in his book, The Dawn of Day, that Jews “have gone through a schooling of eighteen centuries such as no other nation has undergone…
as a consequence of this, the resourcefulness of the modern Jews, in both mind and soul, is extraordinary”.
Part of this resourcefulness is – coupled with a lot of Hashem’s help – our sense of humour; the ability to laugh at ourselves, our protractors and the situation in which we may find ourselves is a reflection of an ability to see beyond the here and now and to see those who try to cause us harm as pawns in a divine plan, however dark and distant the goal may be.
Being able to laugh at the impossible is not new: Isaac was named for laughter. Yitzchak’s name stems from tzachok, meaning laughter.
Of all the forefathers, his existence was the one considered most impossible and least guaranteed. He was born to a mother who was biologically infertile, and at the Binding of Isaac, came face to face with the paradoxical fragility of existence. Yet he laughed, and God laughed with him.
Of course, no one has the right to laugh at another and God forbid we find any humour in the river of tears of individuals and communities that is our shared heritage.
Yet, in the footsteps of Isaac, we have laughed at the impossibility of the situation and the improbability of our survival.
Some faced adversity with defiance, tenacity and raw courage, but realising this world is a mirage, a smokescreen with the occasional divine wink, gave so many of our ancestors the ability to deal with the worst that history has thrown at us.
- Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning