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According to this article, what we know as Jewish humour today (as well as the numerous examples of comedy, from Hollywood gross-out to the African-American tradition of "the Dozens", influenced to some degree by Jewish comedic culture) owes its existence to a rabbinical edict, passed in the wake of a wave of pogroms, banning most forms of jollity, and driving almost all forms of humour in the Yiddish-speaking world into extinction. Only one type of entertainer, a kind of crude, cruel jester named the badkhn, was spared prohibition, on the grounds that his shtick wasn't actually funny:
The badkhn was a staple in East European Jewish life for three centuries, mocking brides and grooms at their weddings. He also was in charge of Purim spiels in shtetl society. His humor was biting, even vicious. He would tell a bride she was ugly, make jokes about the groom’s dead mother and round things off by belittling the guests for giving such worthless gifts. Much of the badkhn’s humor was grotesque, even scatological.
t’s that same self-deprecating tone that characterizes the Yiddish-inflected Jewish jokes of the 20th century, Gordon points out. Who is the surly Jewish deli waiter of Henny Youngman fame if not a badkhn, making wisecracks at the customer’s expense?
“Even today, almost all Jewish entertainers have badkhn humor," Gordon said. "Sarah Silverman is completely badkhn. What did my father find funny? Dirty jokes. Because that’s the badkhn humor he grew up with.”
(via Boing Boing)
Some anonymous person entered the phrase "why are religion so" into Google, and plotted the completions it suggested (based on past searches) in a Venn diagram, coming up with this map of stereotypes:
It's interesting to note that no trait is popularly attributed to all three of the Abrahamic religions. (Perhaps the average web user can't spell "monotheistic"?)
Meanwhile, typing "why are atheists so" suggests the words "stupid", "smart", "intolerant", "mean", "annoying", "angry", "hateful", "hated" and "awesome".
New York Magazine has an interesting piece on tensions between hipsters and hasidim in Williamsburg, which began when hipsters started moving to the staunchly Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn in the 1990s and came to a head with a dispute over a bike lane which, the hasidim complained, funnelled a steady stream of immodestly-clad nonbelievers through the core of their devoutly observant community:
But after a while, says one Hasidic real-estate developer, “People started talking to the rabbis—‘Hey, something’s happening, all these young white people are moving in.’ ” When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.While there is an element of conservative-old-timers-vs.-offensive-newcomers to the story, it is (as most things are) more complex than that. Most of the property rented out to the artisten was done so by Hasidic owners, who have mostly kept the hipsters out of the core of their community. Meanwhile, there is more interplay between the ultra-conservative community and the newcomers, with some fence-sitters putting a foot in both camps:
For South Williamsburg’s Hasids, Traif Bike Gesheft functions as a semi-secret window onto the larger world and a clubhouse of mild transgressions. Herzfeld rents bikes to Hasids at no cost, just to get them to venture beyond the neighborhood. (Among Satmars, bicycles are not specifically disallowed but are considered taboo nonetheless.) Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. “The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman,” Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. “Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program.” A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.
If hipster Williamsburg has a social architect, it is Schwartz. His first project, in 1999, became the mini-mall that redefined Bedford Avenue. The retail collection he developed was both a parody of the American mall and a startling improvement on it. It housed an artisanal-cheese shop, a wine store, a bookseller with Guy Debord window displays, a Tibetan tchotchke store, a vinyl-heavy indie-record emporium, a Mac-friendly computer shop, and, of course, a coffeehouse. Many of these businesses later grew to take up their own storefronts on what became the hipster side of Bedford. Schwartz followed it up with Opera House Lofts, another ambitious development targeted squarely at the Artisten. His latest and largest project—Castle Braid, a 144-unit complex so named after the factory in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—is borderline hipster pandering. The game room has foosball and air hockey. On my arrival, the PA system in the lobby was softly playing Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.” The building holds its own film festival (the first prize is six rent-free months) and a tenant-compiled library with Erotica and Gay-and-Lesbian sections. “It is totally kosher,” explains Schwartz, a devout Hasid. “I’ve been joking that I do this to make sure the Artisten stay on the other side!”
(via Ian W.)
In Williamsburg, tensions between hipsters and Hasidim have erupted in conflicts over bike lanes. Some Hasidim want them removed to keep fast-moving, indecently-clad cyclists out of their neighbourhood, whereas the cyclists want their direct route to Williamsburg Bridge, and are willing to repaint removed bike lanes to get it:
Many of the hipster cyclists wear too little clothing for the Hasids, who are not supposed to stare at members of the opposite sex and wanted the enticement removed.
There's an intriguing article in the Guardian about the descendents of German Nazis who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. The article interviews several such converts (the son of a SS man who's an Orthodox rabbi, a left-wing lesbian campaigner for Palestinian rights, and a professor of Jewish Studies who is related to Hitler, and who describes his (Israeli-born, Arab-hating) son as a "fascist").
One somewhat obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that of assuagement of guilt by rejecting the oppressor population one came from identifying with the victims, and this explanation is floated by an expert on the psychology of the children of perpetrators. Interestingly, though, none of those interviewed, when asked for why they converted to Judaism, mention the Holocaust or Nazism, instead giving theological reasons:
"During my theological studies at university it became clear that I couldn't be a minister in the church," he says. "I concluded that Christianity was paganism. One of [its] most important dogmas is that God became man, and if God becomes man then man also can become God." He pauses. "Hitler became a kind of god."
I tell Bar-On they talk obsessively about the Trinity. But is incredulity really a reason for abandoning a religion with a three-in-one god for one that still believes bushes talk and that waves are parted by the will of God? "That is another way of saying what I have already told you," he says. "They want to join the community of the victim. They may have their own way of rationalising it."
Yiddish spam titles. (Well, Yinglish, to be precise, but still amusing:)
If they have the internet in the world of The Yiddish Policemen's Union, the mailboxes would probably be full of subject lines like these.
Do shiksas heckle your schmeckel?
XXX ... Yenta noshes on pisher's trayf blintz! Hot!
Take this and you'll need another bris!
Also in McSweeney's Lists: Brews to Accessorise the Modern Hipster ("I Don't Really Like This but I'm Drinking It to Get Back at My Parents and/or Friends With an Overt and Crass Display of Being Cultured Lambic", "Rummage Sale Pale Ale"), and Phrases Commonly Used By 1950s Housewives That Were Often Misinterpreted As Blatant Requests For Sex.
Apparently the next Coen Brothers film is going to be an adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, an intriguing-sounding book which recasts Alaska as a latter-day Birobidzhan:
The movie is set to be a noir thriller in the vein of Miller's Crossing. However, this is also an Alaska with a twist, as in the original book the state has been turned into a homeland for Jewish refugees displaced after the second world war, following the collapse of Israel. Decades later, the US government is considering displacing the Jewish settlers to return the land to Alaskan natives.
In Poland, where the mainstream culture is dominated by a conservative, nationalistic monoculture, more often than not with an anti-Semitic streak, rebels, refuseniks and rootless cosmopolitanists are embracing all things Jewish. Klezmer bands (comprised mostly of non-Jewish musicians) are forming everywhere, people are taking classes in everything from Hasidic dancing to Hebrew calligraphy, and replicas of 1930s-vintage Jewish merchants' signs are cropping up all over Krakow streets like some kind of theme park:
Interest in Jewish culture became an identifying factor for people unhappy with the status quo and looking for ways to rebel, whether against the government or their parents.
"The word 'Jew' still cuts conversation at the dinner table," Gebert said. "People freeze."
The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation's effort to rise above the country's dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.Not everybody's pleased with this:
Many Jews are offended by the commercialization of their culture in a country almost universally associated with its near annihilation.
Others argue that there is something deeper taking place in Poland as the country heals from the double wounds of Nazi and communist domination. "There is commercialism, but that is foam on the surface," Gebert said. "This is one of the deepest ethical transformations that our country is undergoing.Perhaps we can expect to see a new wave of klezmer-punk bands emerging from Krakow any day now?
Could this be the greatest piece of religious tat ever?
Sadly, it is also a fire hazard and has been withdrawn. Expect to find the few remaining ones on eBay and/or in the religious-kitsch collections of lucky hipsters.
Santiago Sierra, the Mexican conceptual artist who, in the past, hired labourers to masturbate, created casts of prostitutes' genitals and invited patrons to an art opening which was blocked off (thus demonstrating that they were more concerned with free champagne than aesthetic experiences), is back. His latest project involved turning a former synagogue in Germany into a gas chamber:
The Mexico-based artist has parked six cars outside the synagogue and attached their exhaust pipes to the building using plastic tubes. It is then filled with deadly gas. Visitors are invited to go inside one by one wearing a gas mask, escorted by a firefighter. Before being allowed in, they have to sign a disclaimer stating they realise the room is full of carbon monoxide.Sierra claims that the installation, titled 245 Cubic Metres with chilling blandness, is a protest against the "banalisation of the Holocaust". Germany's Jewish groups, however, don't see it that way and have denounced the exhibit as "scandalous". Visitors' reactions have been mixed. The exhibit has since been suspended until Sierra meets his critics to discuss the project.
The comments in the Guardian's blog raise some interesting points, with some claiming a second subtext, equating personal automobiles with genocide, and others comparing it to a notional installation spraying the inside of a mosque with pigs' blood.
A request for help from one "Adoh Fadduq" of the United Arab Emirates, found in gnu.emacs.help:
Insha Allah, I am now trying to choose an editor for my software development and typesetting work. I have closely considered Emacs, which fits my needs in some respects. I do, however, feel that there is a big security issue with it for me and my brethren: Emacs was largely developed by Jews and for Jews. Considering how cunning the Jews are, I would not be surprised to find that they have hidden special bugs and booby traps inside emacs, in order to spy on and disrupt work of my Allah believing brethren. Are my concerns justified?
A paper recently published by the University of Utah makes several controversial statements: that Ashkenazi Jews have genetic mutations which enhance their cognitive abilities, making them more intelligent than average, that this originated from selection pressures in mediæval Europe (where Jews could only make a living in various cognitively-demanding niches, many of which Christians were barred from), and that the same mutations cause many of the degenerative diseases common among the Ashkenazi population, as well as high incidences of depression (could it be no coincidence that cities with high Jewish populations (such as New York and Buenos Aires) have the most psychiatrists?):
Greg has referred to this hypothesis as "overclocking". The analogy is to overclocking computer processors (computer processing units or CPUs). Some hobbyists turn up the clocks on their desktop PCs to them run faster than they were designed to run. This can cause system instability and other problems. In the case of the Ashkenazis in Europe the hypothesis proposes that selective pressures for higher Ashkenazi intelligence were so high that it caused the propagation of mutations that pushed their intelligence up so quickly (evolutonarily speaking) that the selective pressure overrode the reduction in reproductive fitness caused by the deleterious side effects on some of those who received those mutations. The problem with overclocking is that "Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't."
More generally, if this is what I think it is, all these Ashkenazi neurological diseases are hints of ways in which one could supercharge intelligence. One, by increasing dendrite growth: two, by fooling with myelin: three, something else, whatever is happening in torsion dystonia. In some cases the difference is probably an aspect of development, not something you can turn on and off. In other cases, the effect might exist when the chemical influence is acting and disappear when the influence does. In either case, it seems likely that we could - if we wanted to - developed pharmaceutical agents that had similar effects. The first kind, those affecting development, would be something that might have to be administered early in life, maybe before birth. while the second kind would be 'smart pills' that one could pop as desired or as needed. Of course, we have to hope that we can find ways of improving safety. Would you take a pill that increased your IQ by 10 or 15 points that also had a 10% chance of putting you in a wheel chair?The article goes on to suggest that mediæval laws on Christian and Jewish occupations were ultimately responsible for the founding of the state of Israel. Meanwhile, there's a New York Times piece on the paper here, which has a quote from evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker:
"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."Anyway, back to selection pressures in medieval Europe; I imagine that the fact that the brightest Christians were put into monasteries and sworn to celibacy could also have had an effect on inherited intelligence among that group. Could it also be that Europeans of Christian descent are (inadvertently) bred for low cognitive ability?
Kinky Friedman, arguably the world's most famous Jewish cowboy detective novelist and author of songs like Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns Into Bed and They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus No More, has announced that he will follow in the footsteps of Jesse Ventura and run for Governor of Texas.
Friedman is the latest representative of an American trend known to detractors as anti-politics and to the more charitable (including me) as narrative politics. The former argue that voters are demonstrating their contempt for democracy by choosing jokes; the latter that, for an electorate increasingly shaped by the grammar of movies and television, the most attractive candidate will be the one whose bid most closely resembles a Hollywood pitch. This makes non-politicians attractive because their very improbability becomes their compelling storyline.
Of course, the powers that be are cluing into this trend and running politically naïve but photogenic celebrity candidates whose platforms consist of vague motherhood statements about being against bad things and for good things, knowing that the real decisions the voters don't want to worry their pretty heads over will be delegated to faceless administrators and, some would say, unelected representatives of vested interests who will benefit from them; thus the causal chain between the popular election of politicians and the appointment of decision-makers is broken. (According to investigative journalist Greg Palast, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's first actions as Governor of California was to basically let the managers of Enron off the hook for screwing Californians with rigged electricity prices.) Americans, however, seem to be eating it up; enough so that now there's a campaign to amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born Schwarzenegger to run for President in 2008.
Of course, which is not to say that the Kinkster is necessarily the pawn of powerful interests. Given his lack of a serious platform (or, for that matter, of his spouting of comfortingly "sincere" homilies), he's probably more like the American Screaming Lord Sutch than anything else.
A cross-dressing Hasidic man was charged with murder after the death of a rabbi, with whom he was sharing a flat, in New York.
Goldstein was dressed in a gray blouse with a plunging neckline, dark slacks and pink high-heeled shoes, a police source said. His face was made up with bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow that clashed with his long beard, the source said.
This evening, I watched a DVD of The Believer, a US independent film from a few years ago about a young Jewish man from New York who became a neo-Nazi skinhead. It was very interesting, and explored the main character and his motivations and contradictions in good detail, without copping out and relying on clichés. (For example, it appeared that to him, anti-Semitism was a sort of negative Judaism, much as Satanism is a negative Christianity; despite (or perhaps because of) his hatred for his rejected Jewish culture, he cannot let go of it entirely; meanwhile, in an ironic touch, his girlfriend, the fucked-up and masochistically submissive daughter of neo-Nazis, ended up getting deeply into Jewish religious rituals after learning them from him, ostensibly in a "know your enemy" context.) I found it intelligent and thought-provoking. (I picked up the DVD for $7.95 from my local Video Ezy; you may be able to find it at a similar price.)
Bizarre musical juxtapositions of today: Li'l Gn'R, the "first ever Guns n' Roses kids tribute band", and Jewdriver, an all-Jewish band playing tribute to neo-Nazi "white power" band Skrewdriver (and apparently fronted by one "Aryan Sharon"). (Unfortunately, though, the Jewdriver site isn't Mozilla-friendly, and all the links are covered up by a gig flyer in an IFRAME.) (via Rocknerd and cnwb, respectively)
Who says different people can't live in harmony? In a heartwarming display of what is possible, Neo-Nazis and Jewish extremists have put their differences aside, teaming up to produce anti-Arab hate sites. Perhaps that's the secret to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence: finding someone both parties despise even more. (via The Fix)
An interesting article by an American Jew in Germany, about cultural identity, history, bootywhang and wacky Germans in films (including The Big Lebowski, Graham). (via Reenhead)
Proof that terrorist whackos come from all stripes: The FBI has arrested the chairman of the Jewish Defence League, the militant Jewish nationalist group founded by the late Meir Kahane, over plans to blow up a mosque in Los Angeles and the office of a congressman of Arab descent. According to an informant, the attacks were planned as a "wake-up call" for Arabs. (Presumably Arabs being kicked off flights for their suspicious names and skin colour and randomly assaulted by all-American rednecks (along with turban-wearing Sikhs) wasn't enough of a wake-up call.)
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